Thou shalt know thy toque

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Posted January 3, 2012 by Karen Evenden in Winter Activities
Canadian toque

The mighty toque is a Canadian icon. Get to know it and you'll be deemed a patriot in this country. (©Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Story by Karen Evenden

One of the first lessons a Brit (or anyone for that matter) living in Canada needs to learn is how to endure those legendary Canadian winters.

If you’re serious about surviving a typical winter in this country, the first thing you need to understand is the significance of the “toque” to Canadians. A real Canadian is inherently and unashamedly proud of his or her toque. The sense of pride this nation’s people get from wearing one cannot be feigned. It’s a sign of respect.

For newcomers, here are steps to follow to be part of this peculiar Canadian obsession:

Step 1 – Know what a toque is

Not as easy as it sounds. The definition of a toque is “a knitted cap,” sometimes with a tassel or pom-pom but never with a “brim.” Confusingly, another definition states that the toque “may sometimes have a small brim.” Clear? Hmmm, not really. So I decided to ask a friend:

Me: Can I borrow a hat?
Canadian friend: A toque?
Me: I don’t know; a warm hat.
Canadian friend: A toque then.
Me: Okay. So … what if I just asked for a hat? What would I get? A cap?
Canadian friend: No. That would be a “ball cap.”
Me: Does it have to be a ball cap? Couldn’t I just ask for a cap?
Canadian friend: No. It’s a ball cap.
Me: Well what do I call my winter hat with the wide brim?
Canadian friend: The red one?
Me: Yes.
Canadian friend: That’s a hat!
Me: So … if I asked for just a cap, what would I get?
Canadian friend: Please stop asking silly questions!

Confused? That’s okay. So was I …

Step 2 – Master the correct pronunciation and spelling

The “toque” is pronounced “took” but in the same way someone from up north would pronounce it; with a couple of extra o’s. So it sounds more like “too-ook.”

It’s important to know the correct spelling of said toque in the instance that you would need to defend your place as a real Canadian and not an imposter.

Step 3 – Purchase an acceptable number of toques

Like jeans, toques are a crucial item in the Canadian wardrobe. The average person cannot own just one, but instead needs an assortment to fulfill various needs. I own three, although have discovered from recent research that I’m sadly lacking a respectable number. Seven or more seems to be the national average — based on my personal research. As special as toques are, you don’t have to spend a lot to own one. They’re readily available and can be as cheap as $5, but a well-made one with lots of warmth will cost $25 or more.

Step 4 – Know the history of the toque

So where does a toque come from?

The “tuque” originated from the close-fitting, 12th-century round hat worn by females, made from velvet or silk. A “tuque-blanche” is a chef’s hat, traced to 18th-century France.

This is useful to know, because some French-speaking parts of Canada have stuck with the original spelling: tuque. This information may or may not be useful, but can give you seem highly intelligent during social gatherings.

Step 5 – Never forget your toque

Probably the most important step in this process, especially since here in Edmonton temperatures can reach average lows of -11 degrees Celsius in winter and can easily creep down to -25 or lower.

An essential point here … “never” means NEVER. As a proud Canadian (or Canadian visitor), you must accept, embrace and almost cherish the fact that parts of the country experience snow in the middle of July!

“Snow in the middle of July?” you ask. “Are you kidding?”

Okay, yes I’m just kidding. Canadian winters are bad but not bad enough to snow in July.

But it probably wouldn’t hurt to bring along your toque anyway. Just in case.


About the Author

Karen Evenden
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