You Can Leave Your Hat On

You Can Leave Your Hat On

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Handmade Schwerdtfeger hats Wanita got at their auction and gave to me


When I was a child I would accompany my Mother once a week to the hat store that sat for years on the Main Street of Cowansville, Quebec. It was a place of serenity for me as I sat quietly while my Mother “window shopped” inside. I can still remember the bright yellow walls and a lot of flowery hats perched upon the hat racks. The clerks were petite, well dressed, and all I ever seemed to hear them say was “Yes Madam”. In those days you agreed with the customer as the customer was always right.

My love of hats stemmed from that very shop in Cowansville that I used to visit once a week. Years later I have a room full of hats, mostly made by myself, but some are vintage. The vintage ones were given to me by friends as they knew I would make a home for them as I have done. Each hat has a story, and that bedroom is now almost a hat museum. My latest acquisitions were given to me this week by my friend Wanita Bates, and these vintage hats are all about local history. They once belonged to the iconic Schwerdtfeger sisters of Carleton Place, Ontario who will be remembered for life by most citizens of the town.

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Schwerdtfeger sisters

After their parents death, sisters Hazel and Gladys Schwerdtfeger, (who never married) lived together in the old family home in my rural town in Ontario.  Hazel became a registered nurse, and the sisters lovingly kept all their mother’s millinery sundries. After the last sister’s death most of it was auctioned off, and some of the collection went to the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum.

But these were not ordinary sisters–most people feared them when they walked down the street as they were so unusual. They were real mad hatters. One sister always lead the way with her quick gait, and the other one  would huff and puff behind her trying to keep up to her sister’s pace. The daughters of former milliner Bertha Mayhew Schwerdtfeger were also known by their dainty hats they sported at every outing. One wore red, and the other blue.


Linda and Wanita in Linda’s hat room


So today when I went to vote at the advance provincial election poll I wore one of my hats. I am sure I too was thought of in the same manner as the Schwerdtfeger sisters, but I didn’t really care. Hats are far more nostalgic than practical in my life, but it all stems back to the hat store back in Cowansville for me. I’m not trying to be edgy and vintage, but my Grandmother always reminded me that ladies never went out without a hat.  

Hats are about emotion, and how it makes you feel. Really, it’s about what went in the inside, not what’s on the outside. I can still remember every one of Mother’s and Grandmother’s hats as expressions of a identity, pride, dignity and strength. When I wear a hat it reminds me that like them, I have now become the keeper of past memories. Style endures, and so do the memories.


Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun andScreamin’ Mamas (USA)


A Letter from a Local Student Nurse 1930s

Before the Schwerdtfeger Sisters – There was Aunt Sophia

So was there Money Hidden in the Schwerdtfeger House?

The Schwerdtfegerisms of Tobacco and Gambling

Bertha Schwerdtfeger — Mother of the Carleton Place Schwerdtfeger Sisters

Another Episode in Spinsterdom–The Armour Sisters of Perth

Reverend Schwerdtfeger Buried in the St. Lawrence Seaway

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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