Thursday, February 19, 2009

Canmexirica, Cross Border Business, and Obama!





Ok, this is a bit of a cryptic post and will require stretching your ear a lot! I was listening to the radio today excited for Obama's first foreign trip, to Canada!!! It has always been tradition for the U.S. President to make his first trip to Canada, until that jerk Bush decided he didn't like Canada because it was too far away from Texas or something or other. Well, we here in Canada we love Obama, almost as much as we dislike Bush. Im personally hoping this guy can work out some miraculous solution to this mess George Jr created. Ok, so whats all this about Canada, the US and Mexico. A lot of people don't realize that workers used to travel pretty freely between borders in North America. It was not only routine for cattle from Texas to be run up to Canada but that the borders were barely even defined in the early 1900s. Mexican workers, American workers and Canadian workers would go to where ever there was work. Companies would open factories where ever there were customers. So Carhartt for example would have a factory in Detroit, Toronto and many other cities. If you were ever interested in how beautifully and respectfully our countries got along just read the John Dos Passos Triology. Dos Passos was a Portuguese American journalist who captured in his novels the most vivid pictures of early North America and our economies. It is a lesson for the stupid protectionists and xenophobes on all sides of the border.

What is unknown is that the U.S. and Canada are the world's oldest biggest longest sexiest trading partner on the planet. Im going to tell the story of the Mackinaw. Mackinaws are those cool wool jackets that keep everyone warm and dry. Ever wonder where they came from. Early leather jackets were always marketed with Mackinaw liners. They were advertised as the coats with a durable leather shell and warm wool liner that precursed the quality blanket liners of the 1940s !

Mackinaws were invented by a Canadian in Canada when Canada was America! How about that. Mackinac is a derivation of a Menomini or Ojibwe word "Michilimackinac". The c is silent. Legend has it the Mackinaw was made by Metis sewers commissioned by Loyalist "Canadian" John Askin. Askin was a merchant and fur trader in the the area where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron. He ran successful business in the fur trade and moved in and around the floating U.S. British border in the period. He was said to have commissioned the first Mackinaws for the military but ran out of blue wool and created the classic red and black check jacket out of necessity. This invention around 1800 was created when the Detroit area was Canada then America then Canada (after the treaty of Ghent) and on and on. It was the standard cold weather coat by 1910. In a short 100 years borders were decided and business was booming setting up the stage for all the great small companies and innovators of the early 20th century leather making. It is amazing to imagine all this style resulted from the cross fertilization of Irish and Native necessity. That is how long and lovely our countries have intertwined. Think that this very area of trade between natives, British and early Americans became the area of the automobile, and the "Mac" jacket became the motorcycle jacket of the future in the same spot!