The University of Guelph
explores Scottish culture through an academic program and a library
collection that are second to none
University of Guelph
Department of Communications & Public Affairs
Some of the oldest
materials in the University of Guelph library archives are seven Scottish
charters dating from 1491 to 1547. Legal documents (one bears the royal
seal of King James V), they confirm the transfer of land and titles of
nobility from one generation of a family to the next. The weathered ornate
script on linen parchment is difficult to read, but the charters reveal
much about Scotland's complex system of land ownership and privilege,
which carried on for centuries. Paradoxically, the same social system that
kept the Scottish nobility rooted to the soil created a highly mobile
lower class and eventually contributed to the large numbers of Scots who
immigrated to the New World in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
The first Scots in Canadian
territory landed with the Vikings (c. 1000 AD), but the first real
settlers probably came in the early 1600s as indentured servants. Since
then, Canada has received more Scottish immigrants than any other country
in the world. They've been a remarkably successful people who have made
countless contributions to Canadian government, education, culture and
In fact, the contribution
of Scots throughout North America has been well documented and is
recognized as an important area of study at a number of major
universities. But none earlier than the University of Guelph, which has
offered a graduate program in Scottish studies since 1965.
When Stanford Reid came
from Montreal to head U of G's first history department, he surely
recognized the strong Scottish heritage in this part of rural Ontario, and
he knew the City of Guelph was founded by a Scotsman's axe. Those who
worked with Reid say he was committed to the establishment of an academic
program devoted to Scottish studies and saw it as an important area in
which the new University of Guelph could make a unique and significant
Dedicated to the study of
Scottish history and culture, the Scottish studies program was one of
Guelph's first graduate programs in the liberal arts and is still one of
the most popular. The program has 75 alumni and a dozen students currently
enrolled in master's and PhD programs.
"Faculty from across
Canada, the United States and Europe send their students to Guelph for
graduate work because of the quality of our academic program and our
library collection of Scottish material," says Prof. Jamie Snell, chair of
the Department of History.
From the rare charters
governing Scotland's rugged landscape to the numerous letters and diaries
written by Scottish families who immigrated to Canadian territory,
Guelph's Scottish Collection is one of the finest in the world. Snell says
it is the best Scottish collection in North America and one of the
University's biggest drawing cards for historians. The library attracts
international scholars researching Scotland's history, literature and
culture, as well as the descendants of Scottish immigrants looking for
genealogical materials to help trace their ancestry.
Like two sides of a
shilling, U of G's academic program and library collection in Scottish
studies have grown in value together. The Scottish studies program created
a reason for Guelph to build a library collection, while relying on it for
the resources that would attract faculty and students to help the academic
Building a National
Tim Sauer tells wonderful
stories about his experiences in helping to build U of G's library
collection in Scottish studies. In the company of Ted Cowan, a previous
chair of Scottish Studies and the Department of History, Sauer made some
of the early pilgrimages to Edinburgh to browse through local bookstores.
Their finds included a box of one-act plays - 200 in all - that they
bought for 40 cents apiece.
As head of library
collections, Sauer later negotiated with a Scottish book dealer to
purchase 1,600 novels. Almost 1,200 were books U of G didn't have,
including a nearly complete collection of novels by 19th-century author
Annie Swan. Although not in the league of other Scottish literary greats,
Swan enjoyed a huge following and wrote a book a year for 60 years. She
has recently been rediscovered by scholars delving into women's
literature, Sauer says.
The Guelph library
maintains a standing order with Scottish book dealers to continue to build
its collection of local histories. Each year, hundreds of visitors head
for the library's third-floor history section to browse through books on
genealogy, clan histories, travel, politics and economics. In this
location are extensive holdings of Scottish historical and antiquarian
society publications, including one of the few complete sets from the
Scottish History Society, which was founded in 1886 and is still
There is also a rare set of
works by Sir William Fraser, an amateur historian who recorded the stories
of numerous Scottish families, which includes portraits, family seals and
legal documents. Maps, travel guidebooks, government documents and
Scottish newspapers are other valuable resources. The library has the
longest run in existence (from 1774 to 1814) of the Edinburgh Advertiser,
once Scotland's most influential newspapers.
Cowan built on the Scottish
library collection and the graduate program established by his
predecessor, Stanford Reid. While Reid's interest was primarily history
and religion, his successors in the Department of History and other
faculty in the College of Arts have sought funding to increase holdings in
literature, culture and other areas. "This is a library collection focused
on Scottish studies in the broadest sense," says Sauer.
During the 1970s, the
library benefitted from a series of grants from the Social Sciences and
Humanities Research Council as part of a federal program to help Canadian
libraries build collections of national importance. Over a 10-year period,
the U of G Library received more than $1 million (most of it matched by
the University) to acquire material for the Scottish Collection.
Through the years, there
have also been significant additions to the collection through private
donations of material and purchases funded by private foundations. One of
the first was a 1975 gift from the Macdonald Stewart Foundation that
purchased an original collection of Jacobite works, including rare books
with flattering tales of Bonnie Prince Charlie and English newspaper
clippings from 1745 to 1747 that present anti-Jacobite views in the
flamboyant journalistic style of the times.
A recent acquisition funded
by the Toronto-based Scottish Studies Foundation is a seven-page pamphlet
produced in the late 1600s by the Royal Bank of Scotland. One of only two
known copies, the promotional pamphlet was an economic prelude to the 1707
Treaty of Union between Scotland and England and describes the new Royal
Bank's lending strategies designed to encourage manufacturing and economic
development in a nearly bankrupt Scotland.
The Scottish Collection
draws scholars from around the world and people from Canada and the United
States who are interested in tracing their Scottish ancestry. "In the
literature section, we have tons of stuff - books and poetry - written by
someone's aunt or grandfather," says Sauer. "It seems everyone in Scotland
thought they were gifted poets. Every now and then, a family member will
discover one of these gems in the library and will be disappointed when we
tell them the material is not for sale."
Many scholars who use the
University of Guelph library's rare book and archival collections say the
Ewen-Grahame manuscript collection is the most important in historical
value. It contains more than 12,000 items that document the history of one
family from 1732 to 1892. John Ewen was a merchant in Aberdeen who
corresponded with people from all walks of life on a plethora of topics
from art to politics and business to lunatic asylums. Legal documents,
letters, diaries and business and personal papers provide an unusual look
at everyday life over a span of 160 years.
In terms of
Scottish-Canadian history, the scrapbooks of 1830s rebel William Lyon
Mackenzie stand out, along with the extensive holdings of material from
other emigrant families.
Some 15,000 Scots came to
Canada before Confederation. Among the most prized possessions they
brought from Scotland were books, as evidenced by the large Lizars family
library that forms the basis of Guelph's Pioneer Collection. Daniel Lizars
was one of three sons of an upper-middle-class Edinburgh family who
settled in Goderich, Ont. in 1833. His books were well used by family and
pioneer neighbours, and he continued to expand the collection with
additions of Canadian works.
Sauer tells us that one of
the daughters of Daniel Lizars married the son of John Galt, the novelist
and adventurer who founded Guelph in 1827. A prolific writer, Galt
published close to 100 books and is credited with writing the first
political novel, as well as a historical novel on how to settle in Canada.
A literary critic and Galt
historian, Sauer says the novelist was often hounded by creditors, so he
produced many mediocre works just to make money. Galt used pseudonyms and
published what he thought were his best novels without any author's
credit. Sauer has compiled a descriptive bibliography of John Galt
materials and published it on the Internet at
He has also placed some of
Galt's first novels on the Web site. These first-edition books are
physically located in Guelph, but scholars and students anywhere in the
world are able to read them page-by-page on a computer screen from digital
images that are stored at both U of G and the University of Glasgow.
The Internet provides a new
way of sharing the library's resources just as it is expanding outreach
activities of the Scottish studies program through distance education
courses. The broader exposure will enhance Guelph's reputation as a
repository of Scottish materials, says Sauer. "After all, we didn't build
this collection just for undergraduate and graduate students at Guelph. We
built it as a national collection. And it's a wonderful Scottish studies
collection — one of the finest in the world and undoubtedly the best in
Studying the Scots
By 1832, the settlers of
Upper Canada were fed up with the British government's indifference to
their hardships, so they sent a scrappy Scotsman to London to air their
grievances. Armed with a list of economic woes dating back to the War of
1812, William Lyon Mackenzie filled British newspapers, parlours and
political watering holes with stories from the colonies for nearly two
yeas — and filled his own scrapbooks with newspaper clippings, letters and
notes to document his efforts.
Among those British
subjects who took exception to Mackenzie's view of life in Upper Canada
was John Galt, another Scot and a popular novelist who had travelled much
of the territory on behalf of a British development company known as the
Canada Company. In 1827, Galt felled a large maple tree to found the town
of Guelph, but by 1832, he had been recalled to the United Kingdom and was
trying to publish another book to stay ahead of his creditors.
The paths of colourful
Scots crossed often in the early years of Canada's history and are still
weaving themselves through the country's development. Half of the Fathers
of Confederation, 13 prime ministers since Sir John A. Macdonald and more
than two million Canadians today trace their ancestry to Scotland.
There is in North America a
tremendous public interest in all things Scottish - because of Scotland's
romantic history, because of the renaissance of Celtic music and art,
because of the tremendous impact Scottish traditions, literature and
culture have had on the development of Canadian and U.S. society, and, for
many of us, because of great stories about pioneers and rebels like Galt
and Mackenzie. These are the things students devour and analyze in U of
G's Scottish studies program.
Originally established by
the Department of History, the graduate program now offers
interdisciplinary graduate degrees with the disciplines of English, music,
philosophy, art history, land resource science and geography, and draws
additional support from graduate faculty at the Scottish universities of
Glasgow, Strathclyde, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and St. Andrews, as well as
University College Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. Guelph faculty also
maintain collaborative links with the National Archives and National
Library of Scotland, the School of Scottish Studies and the National
Museums of Scotland.
Student exchange programs
with three universities in Scotland provide Guelph students with a worldly
perspective, and community involvement at the local level adds meaning to
their research initiatives.
Scottish studies graduate
students are encouraged to share their knowledge by participating in
heritage events and by speaking at genealogical and historical societies.
They are primary contributors to the annual Scottish studies journal
Scottish Tradition and share the podium with international scholars at an
annual colloquium where academics meet Scotophiles.
Community outreach begins
with the faculty who teach Scottish studies courses. History professor
Elizabeth Ewan has been known to give as many as four public talks a
month. The topic could be anything Scottish, but her research on women in
medieval Scotland — particularly the role of women as brewers — has been
popular with local service clubs and Scottish societies across the
country. She was the first woman ever invited to speak to the Burns
Society in Vancouver and looks forward to participating in clan events and
"This is the kind of
interaction that makes Guelph's Scottish studies program unique," says
2002 PhD graduate Scott Moir. He once delivered a public lecture that
ended in a discussion with the audience about the practice of birching in
Scotland's schools. "Some people shared their personal experiences, and we
had a lively debate about corporal punishment," he says. "You rarely get
that kind of discussion at an academic conference."
Moir's research involved
Scottish criminal law and included the application of law in cases of
witchcraft. He says Scotland had huge witch hunts, out of proportion to
the country's population, that were fuelled by a combination of religion,
cultural beliefs in supernatural forces and a judiciary willing to
prosecute on the basis of those beliefs. His lectures on witchcraft filled
the seats in an undergraduate course he taught last year and earned him
numerous invitations to address off-campus groups.
Moir also managed U of G's
Scottish studies office, which was established in 1999 to provide a direct
link with the community and is funded by the Scottish Studies Foundation.
That Toronto-based group actively promotes the recognition of Canada's
Scottish heritage and does it primarily by supporting the Scottish studies
program at Guelph. Moir says the enthusiasm shown by foundation members is
duplicated by the people who call the Scottish studies office. During a
typical week, he provided a speaker for a clan association meeting,
arranged for U of G participation at the Fergus Highland Games, answered
questions from a CBC reporter, helped third-generation Scots find
genealogical material in the library collection, and gave several mini
lessons on why Scotland wanted to reopen its parliament.
"There's a lot of interest
in Scottish topics because so many people in Canada have a personal
connection to Scotland," says Ewan. Her parents were both Scottish, and
she is a former Highland dancer, but she says it was a university exchange
program at St. Andrews University that turned her interest into a career
in Scottish history and archeology. She left an academic position at the
University of Victoria in British Columbia to come to Guelph because U of
G "is the best place to do Scottish history work in North America."
Ewan's scholarly work was
recognized in 2002 when she received a prestigious award from the Royal
Historical Society at University College London for an article she wrote
on defamation and gender in late medieval Scotland. It appeared in a
publication called Medieval Scotland that was edited by Andrew MacDonald,
a professor at University College of Cape Breton who happens to be a 1993
PhD graduate of Guelph's Scottish studies program.
Not all Scotophiles are
Scottish, however. It wasn't family background that drew history professor
Linda Mahood to Scottish studies, but an interest in women's history and
social history. When she had an opportunity to do graduate work at Glasgow
University, she used the time to study the Scottish system of social
welfare, charities and women's shelters. Now looking at the juvenile
reform movement, Mahood says Scotland led the way in Britain and also
influenced the development of Canadian juvenile facilities.
All Canadians feel the
impact of social, political and economic structures that are based on
British models, says Mahood. "It's quite remarkable that the strategies
suggested to deal with the 21st-century problems of prostitution and
street kids are similar to those attempted by the Victorians." And as
happens too often today, she says, Victorian remedies improved the lot of
some people, ruined the lives of others and ultimately failed to solve the
underlying social problems.
Another area of particular
interest for the history contingent in Scottish studies is the migration
of Scots throughout the world and particularly to Canada. From 1783 to
1803, some 12,000 Scots sailed to Canada, most to Prince Edward Island,
Nova Scotia and Upper Canada, where there were already small centres of
Highland culture and spoken Gaelic.
Scottish immigrants to
Canada followed the same settlement pattern for the next century,
eventually leapfrogging west and north across the entire country. Scottish
migration is a research interest of one of the department's newest faculty
appointment, Kevin James, who completed doctoral studies at Edinburgh
University. His dedicated focus on Scottish immigration has enriched the
program at Guelph and benefitted the growing public interest in
That interest plays out at
U of G through increased enrolments in undergraduate and distance
education courses related to Scottish studies. The Scottish studies
program currently offers five distance courses, four of them Web-based.
Some 500 people took advantage of these courses last year, and enrolments
are increasing, primarily from students at other North American
"This is one of our most
important activities," says Ewan, who has begun discussions with Mearns
about developing a distance course in Gaelic and hopes to launch a
certificate program in Scottish studies to recognize people who complete
five distance courses.
The Internet also enables
Scottish scholars to collaborate more effectively, no matter where they
are in the world. Ewan maintains an online Scottish Women's History
Bibliography linked to the U of G Web site
http://www.uoguelph.ca/history/scotstudy. It's a list of primary and
secondary resources that cover the subject from medieval times to the 20th
century. Because it's on the Internet, it can be quickly updated as
scholars from around the world contribute information, and it's available
for use everyone everywhere who has an interest in Scottish women's
Scottish studies faculty
are also enthusiastic about posting some of Guelph's library resources on
the Web. The library catalogue is available through the U of G Web site,
along with selected material from the library's archival collections and
the Scottish Collection.
The Internet also provides
a useful way of collaborating with other libraries and institutions, says
Ewan. Simon Fraser University, for example, has excellent resources on
Scottish immigration that could benefit students at Guelph or at McGill
Dalhousie and other institutions across the country, she says. Eventually,
she envisions U of G becoming the Web centre of North America in Scottish
studies programming and library resources.
Perhaps the most exciting
initiative in Scottish studies, however, is the proposal to establish a
Scottish studies academic chair. It would be the first in North America,
says Snell, and the scholar hired in this position would focus primarily
outreach activities, travelling widely to attend Scottish events, to
lecture and to strengthen initiatives in all areas of Canada where there
is a significant population with Scottish ancestry.
The academic chair is being
supported by interested individuals and the Toronto-based Scottish Studies
Foundation. For more information, visit the University of Guelph campaign
Web site at
From the University of
Guelph Scottish Library Collection
Photography by Dean
The rich colours and
textures of parchment, leather and cloth bindings draw the photographer's
eye to the rare book section of the University Library's Scottish
Collection, but the largest part of the collection by far is housed in the
library stacks, where its holdings are easily accessible to library users.
These are just ordinary books that provide extraordinary insight into
literature and culture. Still accumulating, Guelph's Scottish Collection
not being built just for students and scholars, but for all Canadians who
value the country's Scottish heritage.
illustration in the 1832 Atlas of Scotland by engraver William Lizars sets
the tone for the Lizars Pioneer Collection, which includes several hundred
books brought to Canada by William's son Daniel in 1833. An
upper-middle-class Edinburgh family, the Lizars owned a printing and
publishing business. Historians speculate that Daniel came to Canada when
mechanization in printing reduced opportunities at home. Books were among
the most valuable possessions brought to Canada by Scottish immigrants.
The Lizars library covered a variety of topics and was well used by the
family and neighbours in the settlement town of Goderich.
The personal scrapbooks of
William Lyon Mackenzie document his 1832 expedition to London on behalf of
the British subjects in Upper Canada. The rebellious Scot was later
elected the first mayor of Toronto, tried unsuccessfully to establish a
provincial reform party, and led a group of armed insurgents in a bid to
overthrow the government. He fled to the United States in defeat and lived
in exile for more than a decade, but spent his later years back in
Toronto. Unfortunately, Mackenzie died 13 years before the birth of his
grandson - and future Canadian prime minister - William Lyon Mackenzie
U of G library holdings in
Scottish literature introduce readers to Scotland's "best" and "worst"
poets, Robert Burns and William McGonagall, as well as popular
19th-century novelist Annie Swan, who wrote a book a year for 60 years.
The Guelph collection also boasts Canada's best selection of John Galt
titles, more than 500 Scottish chapbooks and a book of engravings used to
illustrate the novels of Sir Walter Scott. Library shelves contain the
works of Scotland's major authors, and tons of poetry written by someone's
aunt or grandfather that, truthfully, has more historical than literary
Readers might also be
interested in the new digital scrapbook of L.M. Montgomery which was a
project of the University library. You can see it at