Canadian Moccasins

Moccasins are comfortable soft leather boots worn around camp and in mountainous areas for grip on rocks. They were traditional native footwear for many centuries, but were issued by the Canadian Army to its troops in the Second World War as part of the winter equipment. In a military context they allowed much quieter movement than traditional ammunition boots and were also useful in mountainous terrain for grip on rocks. Pictures of them being worn are not common, but the examples that do exist tend to be of Canadian personnel rather than British suggesting they were predominantly used by this force. Here we see a soldier in winter clothing wearing a pair: 

And another in a canoe with the same footwear: 

The moccasins themselves are made of white leather, with a set of laces up the front: 

They seem to be designed to be worn on their own, rather than over a pair of boots. The sole is a single piece of leather, stitched to the uppers: 

Inside they are marked with a Canadian /|\ within a ā€˜Cā€™ mark: 

Sadly the leather on this pair is rather dry and stiff after all these years, but originally these boots would have been soft and comfortable and ideal for winter patrols in Western Europe in 1944/45.  

6 comments

  1. Still very common today here in various styles.

    I have a smoketanned moosehide low pair that has lasted me for many years as indoor/outdoor slippers.
    Higher ones, sometimes knee high are sometimes called larrigans.
    You can get them with fur trim or porcupine quill ‘beadwork’ but those are often ‘tourist quality’ and don’t last as long as a good pair of double thick moosehide ones.
    Similar ones worn by natives as decorated ceremonial dress or even just plain for everyday wear are much better made and last much longer.

    Different areas had different designs for different terrain, mine are from the Northern Alberta area which is different from the prairie region and are made to a different style accordingly.

    I’m surprised the ones shown only have single layer soles, they must be meant to be disposable or only worn for short periods at a time.
    Moosehide is very tough, especially if it’s tanned correctly but sharp rocks would still wear it out pretty quickly.

  2. I have never seen mention of moccasins in any British context, as opposed to Canadian, or for that matter, even in a Canadian context. There was no mention of moccasins in my small collection of Canadian Army Training pamphlets, even in a long section about a week-long cold weather exercise. Of course, that means next to nothing. Anyway, I understand that moccasins are really only suitable when conditions are continually below freezing.

  3. Moccasins are wearable all year round, the natives who came up with them didn’t go barefoot in summer that’s why they have different styles šŸ˜‰
    I’m not surprised they didn’t make it into a pamphlet, they’re not normally ‘combat’ items of kit although the higher, heavier mukluks definitely were worn as regular kit in colder weather, we still have them today albeit in nylon and felt instead of sealskin and fur.
    Most people will carry a pair of ‘camp shoes’ to wear when they get a chance to take their boots off. Moccasin style ‘slippers’ fit the bill ideally and are very common here, and other places although they might not call them that. Low leather slippers, lined or unlined, are both comfortable and warm. The leather on the soles soon becomes very hard to last longer and protect your feet better plus they don’t push rocks through your groundsheet or tent floor like boots do or catch stones/brass in the treads to really screw those things up fast.
    A good, properly made pair will last years and years, the store bought ones with the plaid cloth lining and rawhide decorative ‘laces’, not nearly so long.

  4. I managed to locate that copy of a Canadian Army Training Memorandum (No. 11, February 1942). One topic covered was on a week-long training exercise in cold weather, by Canadian standards I presume. Again, no mention of moccasins, only regular boots and overshoes. The US Army did a great deal of experimentation because of the operations taking place in Alaska. Since few army troops had been stationed there between the wars, the so-called Alaska list contained mainly commercially available cold-weather items and there was a great variety of items. It included “shoe pacs,” (Bean boots), a variety of heavy socks and insoles. There was an issue of felt boots, although I’ve never seen an image of them. One thing of “native” origin that was issued was the mukluk. Very similar to the moccasin illustrated above, it had a high canvas top and a porous leather sole. It had no laces, however, but adjustment was made with tapes that tightened around the ankle. I imagine issue of mukluks was limited to Alaska. I believe they’re still issued but the design is different.

    Two problems facing the army, presumably including both the U.S. and Canadian armies, was that traditional garments, such as fur, could not be supplied in the quantities required. Alternative materials such as shearling were required elsewhere and weren’t suitable for ground troops anyway. In wartime, of course, the biggest problem is that everything is in short supply, even now. Eventually new materials and methods were developed, including pile. That was all during WWII and everything went through the mill during the Korean War.

  5. Mukluks are issued today, or at least they were the last time I was issued them for winter ops on the flightline, and I’ve seen them in more recent photos as well as the local Militia wering them around. They’re white nylon with a heavy sole for insulation and a thick felt inner boot and woven plastic insole for more air gap between your foot and the ground. They’re great for walking in snow or standing around, not so much for pavement. They have virtually no ankle support and no steel toes which makes them a tad dangerous around A/C, but a lot less so than stumbling round on frozen feet.

    The ones in the picture are likely a limited issue, maybe a trial version, and would be good for places where a soft step was required or where boots might cause damage, like a canvas boat or wooden canoe, but would likely wear pretty quickly given the singkle layer outsoles. They’d definitely be warmer than ‘ammo boots’, especially if there was a liner or extra heavy socks issued with them, and may well have been issued for that reason in cold but not arctic climates where mukluks were too muchif it weren’t for the high laced uppers, the top photo would look very similar to the ones I wear pretty much daily, the men in the photos also seem to be kitted out in winter oversuits for layering so it makes sense they’d have suitable footwear. If there’s one thing we do know up here, it’s how to work in winter conditions, and the natives learned it first šŸ˜‰

  6. These are the sort of mukluks we wore when I was in and apparently are still on issue. One of the few cases of military brass recognizing “if it works don’t fix it” šŸ™‚
    Our adage was “if it works, take apart and see what makes IT so #$%^& special !!”
    The inner liner is shown in this picture but the insole isn’t, it was a thick weave of heavy solid nylon cords, like very heavy fishing or ‘whippersnipper’ line and only fit the mukluks, combat boots had something similar but much thinner and shaped to fit those.

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