Moose, Toques and Back Bacon with Karen Evenden: The significance of the toque

Trying on a selection (literally) of toques
Trying on a selection (literally) of toques

One of the first lessons a Brit living in Canada needs to learn, is how to endure the Canadian winter! To even consider surviving this brutal season, there is one imperative detail that needs to be recognised... the significance of the ‘toque’.

A real Canadian is inherently and unashamedly proud of the Canadian toque. This sense of pride cannot be feigned, therefore to attain this level of respect; there are a number of steps that newcomers can follow:

Step 1 - Determine exactly what a toque is. Not, it seems, 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’. Although, rather confusingly, another definition states that the toque ‘may sometimes have a small brim’. Clear? Hmm right. 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 ‘ballcap’.

Me: Does it have to be a ballcap? Couldn’t I just ask for a cap?

Canadian friend: No. It’s a ballcap.

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!

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. ‘too-ook’.

It is also imperative to know the correct spelling of the 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 currently own three, although have discovered from recent research, that I am sadly lacking a respectable number. Seven or more seems to be the national average!

Step 4 – Know the history of the toque. So where does a toque come from? The ‘tuque’ originated from the twelfth century close fitting, round hat worn by females, made from velvet or silk. A ‘tuque-blanche’ is a chef’s hat, traced back to eighteenth century French chefs. This is useful to know, as in some French speaking parts of Canada; they have stuck with the original spelling ‘tuque’ rather than deferring to the Canadian version. This information may or may not be useful, but can render you a person of great intelligence during a social gathering.

Step 5 – Never forget your toque! Probably the most important step in this process particularly as the average Canadian winters here in Edmonton reach average lows of -11 degrees Celsius and often creep down to -25 or lower.

An essential point here ... ‘never’ means NEVER. As a proud Canadian, we must accept, embrace and almost cherish the fact that we occasionally experience snow in the middle of July!

‘Snow in the middle of July?’ you ask! ‘Are you kidding?’ I’m afraid so. Although come to think of it ... I believe there’s a toque for that!