Canada Canadas Scots and Tartan
Day Celebrations by Marie Fraser
Its refreshing to have a Scot like
Alastair McIntyre ask how Canadians perceive themselves and how they
celebrate their Scots heritage, rather than being lumped in with those
other descendants of expatriate Scots who settled on that smaller land
mass to the south of us. I believe it was Professor Edward J. Cowan, a
friend and former head of the School of Scottish Studies at the University
of Guelph, Ontario, now head of the Department of Scottish History at the
University of Glasgow, who, during one of his lively lectures, displayed
one of those traditional maps of Scotland showing the Shetland Islands in
a small box at the top right hand corner. Ted explained that the
inhabitants of the latter were so fed up with being identified as that
tiny spot at the top right hand corner of the map, they decided to produce
their own map of the Shetland Islands showing Mainland Scotland in a small
box at the bottom left hand corner of the map. My favourite analogy is
Ludovic Kennedys "In Bed with an Elephant, A Journey through Scotlands
Past and Present" (1995), where the Anglo-Scot broadcaster and writer
chose the title from a 1969 speech given by Canadian Prime Minister Pierre
Trudeau in Washington, DC to relate with humour his view of Scotlands
rather stormy relationship with England over the centuries. Trudeaus
mother was an Elliott and his father-in-law was Jimmy Sinclair, Rhodes
scholar, RCAF fighter pilot in WW II, a well-known federal politician and
businessman in Vancouver, BC who was born in Grange, Banffshire.
Scots have been leaving home for hundreds of years. While the
population of Scotland is around five million, it is estimated that there
are many more millions of people with some Scottish ancestry, worldwide.
Wherever they went, Scots adapted to their new country but seldom forgot
their heritage. If anything, these expatriates have held onto their
Scottishness more enthusiastically than Scots living in Scotland.
The impact of Scots on North America has been considerable. They have
integrated into the culture of their adopted countries and contributed to
many facets of society, but seldom have they been vocal about their
efforts. One might suggest that Scots tend to be "clannish", celebrating
their music and customs with one another, but they are often overlooked as
an ethnic group in the increasingly multicultural mix of Canada and the
United States. To add to this confusion, Scots are usually lumped in with
the "English" population when census time comes around, and it has been
difficult to estimate what a large group Scots really represent in the
population of Canada and the United States.
The impact of Scots on the development of Canada is remarkable. If we
accept the claim that Prince Henry Sinclair sailed from the Orkney Islands
and landed in what is now Nova Scotia and the coast of New England in
1398, or that Scottish sailors accompanied the early Vikings who landed in
Newfoundland in 1010, the influence of Scots may be greater than
previously imagined. It is a matter of record that the Fraser Highlanders
represented the largest contingent of troops in the British Army under
General James Wolfe (1727-59). The role of the 78th Fraser
Highlanders, raised in Scotland in 1757 to fight for the British against
France during the Seven Years War (1757-63), has been well documented.
Many Scottish soldiers stayed on after the regiment was disbanded in 1763,
married French women, and settled in the new country, leaving numerous
descendants, many of whom are totally Francophone, who are proud of their
Worsening economic conditions in the Highlands following the disaster
of Culloden in 1746 caused many Highland Scots to emigrate to countries
around the world in search of a better life. Scots came in vast numbers to
Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec and Eastern
Ontario in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
While conditions were harsh in the new country, the hardy Scots adapted
well and soon prospered. Highland Scots were the prime movers in the North
West Company of fur traders, based in Montreal. They helped to establish
trade routes and explore the vast country where only native peoples had
been before. Scots built Montreal, helped to establish banks, insurance
companies and merchant trading companies. They established educational
institutions, were prominent in medicine, law and the clergy. They
included politicians, educators and skilled tradesmen, manufacturers and
farmers. Scots excelled in all facets of life in their adopted country
which, in 1867, became Canada.
The idea of setting aside one day each year to honour the role of Scots
in the early history of Canada was put forward in the late 1980s by Mrs.
Jean Watson of Nova Scotia. Mrs. Watson worked tirelessly to solicit
support from politicians and Scottish groups in Nova Scotia to establish
Tartan Day, eventually gaining enough support for the idea to have it
accepted. She did not stop there, and continued to write letters to
federal and provincial politicians and Scottish groups across Canada,
urging them to adopt Tartan Day. Her persistence paid off, when the Clans
& Scottish Societies of Canada endorsed her idea and convinced Ontario MPP
Bill Murray to put forward a Private Members Bill in the Ontario
Legislature, to adopt Tartan Day in Ontario, which was passed on December
19, 1991, with unanimous support of all three parties. Other provinces and
the Yukon Territories followed with similar resolutions, and by 2000 all,
except Quebec and Newfoundland, recognized April 6th as Tartan
Efforts have been made to recognize the contribution of Scots by
establishing similar events to Tartan Day in other countries, but these
events have usually been held on July 1st. Since July 1st
is celebrated as Canada Day, the date of April 6th was chosen
to celebrate Tartan Day in Canada.
On 6th April 1320, at Arbroath Abbey on the east coast of
Scotland, the nobles, barons and freeholders, together with the "whole
community of the realm of Scotland," subscribed a letter to Pope John
XXII, asking him to recognise the countrys political independence under
the kingship of Robert Bruce, declaring the independence of Scotland from
English domination following the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Sir
Alexander Fraser, who in 1316 married Robert the Bruces widowed sister,
Lady Mary, was appointed Chamberlain of Scotland in 1319, and his seal
appears on this inspirational document which became known as The
Declaration of Arbroath.
if our King were to abandon the cause by being ready to make us, or our
kingdom, subject to the King of England or to the English, we should at
once do our utmost to expel him as our enemy and the betrayer of his own
rights and ours, and should choose some other man to be our king, who
would be ready to defend us. For so long as a hundred of us shall remain
alive, we are resolved not to submit to the domination of the English. It
is not for glory, wealth or honour that we are fighting, but for freedom
and freedom only, which no true man ever surrenders except with his life."
Since that time, Scotland has been a sovereign nation, now part of the
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
As Past Chairman of Clans & Scottish Societies of Canada, my husband,
W. Neil Fraser, represented CASSOC at a conference of the principal
organizations in the United States, convened by the Caledonian Foundation,
USA Inc., in Sarasota, Florida in March 1996. During that conference he
explained why it would have been inappropriate for us to choose July 1st
(Canada Day), in the same way that it would be inappropriate for them to
choose July 4th (Independence Day). He also reported on the
efforts of CASSOC to establish Tartan Day as a national day to celebrate
our Scottish heritage in Canada and explained the concept of the event
celebrated in Canada since 1987. The idea was met with great interest by
the participants and was subsequently adopted by the Coalition of U.S.
Scottish Organizations established as a result of the Sarasota conference.
The first observance of Tartan Day on a national basis in the United
States was on April 6th 1997, and a resolution proclaiming
April 6th as Tartan Day was entered into the U.S. Congressional
Record on the following day.
In February 2000, Neil and I were invited to attend the Sarasota
conference of the Scottish Coalition, representing six of the leading U.S.
Scottish organizations, where he chaired a workshop on Tartan Day (April 6th).
Alan L. Bain, President of The American-Scottish Foundation, Inc.,
based in New York, telephoned Neil and sent a transcript of his remarks
about National Tartan Day, on the occasion of the Wallace Award
Presentation to Sir Sean Connery in Washington, DC on April 5, 2001, in
the presence of Vice President Dick Cheney; Sir Sean and Lady Connery;
Senator Trent Lott, Her Majestys Ambassador to the United States, Sir
Christopher Meyer; First Minister McLeish, Dr. Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Senate
Chaplain and President of the St. Andrews Society of Washington, DC, and
other distinguished guests.
"And finally to two individuals who are not present today but for whose
efforts Tartan Day may have never come into being, Neil Fraser, Chairman,
Clan Fraser Society of Canada, who introduced the concept of Tartan Day to
the Scottish Coalition, and Duncan MacDonald, defacto Head of the Scottish
Coalition, a lady of indomitable spirit who, by sheer force of her will,
drove Coalition members to make Tartan Day a reality. Thank you one and
Proof, once again, that Scots can work together to accomplish almost
anything - especially when they are steered in the right direction by such
dynamic ladies as Duncan MacDonald and Joanne Phipps!
Celebrating Tartan Day in Canada
The date of April 6th was chosen to celebrate the role of
the independent Scots who helped to discover, conquer, explore, settle and
build the country now called Canada.
The Scottish Studies Foundation is a charitable organization dedicated
to actively supporting the Scottish Studies Program at the University of
Guelph, established in 1966, and the eventual establishment of a Chair of
Scottish Studies. The Foundation also plans to work with other
universities across Canada to create and develop similar programs for the
preservation of Canadas Scottish heritage. The Scottish Studies Society
hosts an annual Tartan Day Celebration Dinner in April, with the proceeds
being donated to the Scottish Studies Foundation. During this major
fund-raising event, which has been held in Toronto since 1993, a prominent
man or woman is honoured as Scot of the Year.
1993 - Major General Lewis W. MacKenzie, MSC, O.StJ., CD, BA; Canadian
forces officer; born 1940, Truro, Nova Scotia
1994 - The Hon. Bertha Wilson, CC, MA, LL.B, LL.D; supreme court judge;
born 1923, Kirkcaldy, Fife
1995 - Lloyd Robertson, O.C.; broadcaster; born 1934, Stratford,
1996 - The Hon. Donald S. Macdonald, P.C., C.C., B.A., LL.B., LL.M.;
born 1932, Ottawa, Ontario
1997 - Colonel The Hon. Henry N.R. Jackman, C.M., O.Ont., K.St.J., LL.D.;
executive; born 1932, Toronto, Ontario
1998 - John E. Cleghorn, B.Comm., C.A., banker; born 1941, Montreal,
1999 - Michael I. M. MacMillan, B.A (Hons.); film and television
producer; born 1956, Scarborough, Ontario
2000 - Lynton (Red) Wilson, O.C., M.A.; executive; born 1940, Port
2001 - Katherine Macmillan, B.A. (Hons.); executive; born Toronto,
2002 - Alistair MacLeod, B.A., B.Ed., M.A., Ph.D., professor and
writer; born 1936, Battleford, Saskatchewan
Scots would not be true to their heritage if they did not compete with
each other, and Canadian Scots are certainly not unique in choosing to
celebrate their Scottishness in their own way, in their own cities and
towns, across this vast country.
Congratulations to Alan Bain, and the American Scottish community, for
arranging a huge parade of pipers in New York to mark Tartan Day
celebrations in the United States in April 2002. However, my husband and I
will be quite happy and privileged to join the members of the Black Watch
(Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada, the 78th Fraser
Highlanders and other friends in Montreal on April 6th to watch
General John de Chastelain accept the 2002 Scotsman of the Year award from
the Quebec Thistle Council, where he will no doubt be attired in Drummond
tartan in honour of his grandmother, and will favour us with the bagpiping
skills he learned many years ago while serving with the Calgary
Highlanders. The former Canadian Ambassador to the United States and
former Chief of Defence Staff of the Canadian Armed Forces, now spends
much of his time away from his Ottawa home, as Chairman, Independent
International Commission on Decommissioning of Arms in Northern Ireland.
In 1999 he topped the Queens U.K. New Year List when he was made a
Companion of Honour for his role in the peace process.
James Bruce 8th Earl of Elgin and 12th Earl of
Kincardine (1811-1863) was Governor General of Canada 1847-54.
Notwithstanding the riot and burning of the parliament buildings in
Montreal, Lord Elgin proved to be one of the best appointments, and his
triumph was to secure responsible government, which would be accountable
to whichever political party dominated the legislature. As Lady Elgins
uncle, Earl Gray, had shrewdly admitted to Nova Scotias Lieutenant
Governor Sir John Harvey in 1846: "It is neither possible nor desirable to
carry out the government of any of the British provinces in North America
in opposition to the opinion of its inhabitants."
Andrew Bruce 11th Earl of Elgin and 15th Earl of
Kincardine, K.T., wrote to clarify comments made about his
great-grandfather in the Clan Fraser Society of Canada newsletter
"Canadian Explorer": "How good of you to keep up the little jokes which
make a few laughs in these dreary times but, of course, you have managed
to get it wrong yet again. The Governor General was not expelled from the
St. Andrews Society for non-payment of fees but for political reasons and
being deemed unfit to be considered a suitable holder of Honorary
Membership. Several curling clubs also expunged the name of their Honorary
Patron at the same time."
Following a visit to Canada in October 2001, he commented on an article
in the St. Andrews Society of Toronto newsletter entitled "Lord Elgin,
the mob, and the society" about his ancestor being pelted with stones: "I
am happy to let you know that two of these stones are very carefully
preserved among the other more delightful artifacts of his time of
Governor General. There was also mention of the St. Andrews Society of
Montreal returning His Excellencys subscription. My wife and I were
guests of that society and, to mark the occasion, I gave them a little
silver quaich with the inscription To mark the resumption of a friendship
between the Family of Bruce and the St. Andrews Society of Montreal which
had lapsed briefly over the past 123 years. "
My husband and I had the pleasure of being asked to greet the Earl and
Countess upon their arrival in Toronto, en route to Montreal where they
were guests of honour at the World Scottish Festival in August 1992, and
we have kept in touch since that time.
In conclusion, Alastair, Canadian Scots know what motivates them to
visit Scotland, and how they wish to celebrate their Scottish heritage at
home, but it is nice, nevertheless, to be asked. J
It's official! Canada's Maple Leaf Tartan, which has been our unofficial
national tartan for many years, has now become an official symbol of
"The Maple Leaf Tartan has been worn proudly and enjoyed by Canadians
for decades, but has never been elevated to the level of an official
symboluntil now," said the Honourable James Moore, Minister of Canadian
Heritage and Official Languages.
"Our national symbols express our identity and define our history. The
Maple Leaf Tartan represents the contributions that the more than four
million Canadians of Scottish heritage continue to make to our country,"
added Minister Moore.
The Maple Leaf Tartan was created in 1964 by David Weiser in
anticipation of the 100th anniversary of Confederation in
"The tartan is one of the most visual expressions of Scottish heritage
and culture," said the Honourable John Wallace, Senator (New Brunswick).
"Making the Maple Leaf Tartan an official symbol of Canada highlights
the many significant contributions that people of Scottish heritage have
made to the founding of Canada."
The Second Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment Pipes and Drums has
adopted the Maple Leaf Tartan, and National Defence Headquarters has
approved it for issue for Canadian Forces pipers and drummers who do not
have a specific regimental affiliation. It was also featured in costumes
worn last year during the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics.
On October 21, 2010, the Government of Canada announced that April 6
will be formally recognized as Tartan Day. This April 6, Canadians
across the country will be able to celebrate this day with a new
official symbol of Canada.
As an official symbol of Canada, the Maple Leaf Tartan joins Canada's
most significant emblems, such as the Coat of Arms and the National Flag
The colours of the maple leaf through the changing seasons became the
basis for the tartan designed by David Weiser in 1964. Known officially
as the Maple leaf tartan, the pattern incorporates the green of the
leaves' summer foliage, the gold which appears in early autumn, the red
which appears with the coming of the first frost, and the brown tones of
the fallen leaves.
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