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Cats, Otters and Racoons: How We Created the Canadian City Collection Silk Scarves with Personal Memories and Hidden Secrets

By Iris Ma |

 “Why do we have cats on our Montreal scarf?”

“Did you know there are like a million cats in Montreal?”

I didn’t. Looking at the lavender cats sitting on top of the St. Louis Square fountain in the Montreal design, I was again amazed by how we each hold unique knowledge and memories of a city, even though we both breathed the same air, bit into the same street bagels, and we both walked down St. Catherine Street.

When I first decided to put together a silk scarf collection featuring Canadian cities, I turned to New Zealand-born and Toronto-raised artist Lilia Andrade. We are both Torontonians; we are both immigrants. Interesting, but not surprising, as almost half of the population in Toronto are immigrants.

We hosted votes via Instagram, TikTok and email campaigns to ask people which Canadian city they’d like to see on our silk scarves. The top votes were for Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. Then Lilia started painting.

Lilia had just returned to Toronto last year after living in Montreal for eight months. To an artist hungry for inspiration, Montreal is a feast. “There’s art everywhere,” she said. “It’s beautiful. It’s chaotic. I’m constantly looking at all these creations that I want to include in this scarf.” 

As a result, she designed the Montreal scarf with more sketches than the other two. On a lavender-pink background, Lilia piled up everything she saw and loved, each a piece of her life in the city; the flowers from Montreal Botanical Garden, cobblestone streets, Mount Royal,  riding a bike, sipping wine, and, of course, the iconic Montreal bagel. “I’d go back to the city just for the bagel,” she concluded.

After all, what is a city if it’s not the sum of our personal memories? Lilia added Highway to Heaven to the Vancouver scarf, drawing from her memory of driving from Vancouver to Tofino and using long, wavy lines to express a west coast spirit. I insisted that we add sea otters to the scarf. They are from a sunny afternoon I spent with my high school English teacher at a seaside dock. We chatted about our favourite books while the otters leisurely floated in the water, sunlight glittering in their fur.

Then there’s Toronto. Toronto - The word comes out short and soft from the locals. The last “t” omitted, like a pebble dropped into Ontario Lake, bouncing once before being completely swallowed.

The Toronto scarf carries hidden secrets that put a smile on Torontonians’ faces. The raccoon, which is climbing the CN Tower on the scarf, has a special place in Toronto. We confront them whenever they dig into our trash bins; we laugh when a local comedy club made a show for them; we even made a memorial when one of them died on the street. We have a love-hate relationship with them. “It’s more hate than love for me,” said our copywriter Caroline Chuang, who once lifted her trash bin lid only to find a raccoon mom with babies hissing at her.

My favourite element on the Toronto scarf is the cherry blossom branch. Every April, Torontonians chat about cherry blossoms, check the weather forecast, follow the High Park Sakura blog, and text friends and family to go together to the park. 

Lilia’s first memory of Toronto, however, is the snow. Arriving in Toronto in January from New Zealand, where it was still summer, three-year-old Lilia saw snow for the first time in her life. The white, fluffy, soft stuff covered everything. 

She jumped right into it.

By Iris Ma


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