Switzerland is a small, land-locked nation renowned for the beauty of its its picturesque towns and the Alps. Almost 100 of the peaks in this mountain range, including the Matterhorn, are close to or higher than 4,000 metres. Switzerland’s name comes from Schwyz, one of the three cantons (provinces) that originally formed the Swiss Confederation. It is also known as Helvetica because its original inhabitants were called Helvetians. Home to thousands of streams and rivers and more than 1,500 lakes, water is Switzerland’s richest resource. There are four national languages: French, German, Italian and Romansch, which makes Switzerland the most multi-lingual nation in Europe.
While traditions and customs vary in each of four linguistic regions of the country, the Swiss people as a whole are known for their skill, integrity and punctuality. They are hard-working people with a deep sense of responsibility. They take great pride in their homes and gardens, and value neatness and order. Often recognized for banking, the Swiss army knife, yodeling mountaineers, chocolate-making and dairy products, Switzerland offers much more in the way of cultural diversity through architecture, fine arts and literature. Swiss Family Robinson, written in 1813 by Johann David Wyss, and Heidi, written in 1880 by Johanna Spyri, are but two of the classic works read the world over.
Switzerland became known for its watchmaking industry starting in the 16th century. The ruler of Geneva at that time frowned on the wearing of jewellery so the resourceful goldsmiths and clockmakers pooled their efforts to create the practical and precise, yet beautiful watches and clocksthat remain a Swiss trademark. Some of these are still made entirely by hand, but as this process is so labour intensive and thus very expensive, most watches are now machine-made, making them more affordable. The Swiss have built on this expertise and produce music boxes and precision instruments.
Other traditional crafts include Scherenschnitt, the art of paper cutting, Poya painting, which depicts the Alpine farmland, making alpenhorns, (trumpet-like wooden instruments, five to 15 feet long, used for signaling between valleys), woodworking, and the detailed, embroidery found on regional costumes. The costumes vary according to the canton from which they come and can range from exquisite and expensive versions to simple rural stules. Swiss whitework is a popular form of embroidery often used on white, linen handkerchiefs, in which various stitches are combined with pulled work to create intricate motifs and borders. This art is mostly concentrated around the town of Appenzell. St Gallen produces innovative, exclusive textiles that are used by famous haute couture designers.
Swiss people have been coming to Canada since the 1600s, many for the opportunity to own land. Early settlers, merchants and pioneers were granted land at Le Grand Anse in Québec (now called La Pocatière,) but still popularly known as Le Canton des Suisses. Others contributed to extending the fur trade or were instrumental in opening the Canadian Rockies to tourism through their expertise in mountaineering. There are now over 146,000 Swiss living throughout Canada, in Québec, Ontario and the Prairie provinces, who continue to have an impact on multiple facets of the Canadian economy and culture.
Sponsor: Embassy of Switzerland and Swiss Needleworkers of Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons