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Centre for Scottish Studies - Simon Fraser University

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Leith Davis, Professor of English at Simon Fraser University, is the current director of the Centre. She is the author of Acts of Union: Scotland and the Negotiation of the British Nation, 1707-1830 and Music, Postcolonialism, Gender: The Construction of Irish National Identity 1725-1874 as well as co-editor of Scotland and the Borders of Romanticism. She has also published numerous articles on the poems of Ossian, Robert Burns and other aspects of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Scottish and Irish literature and culture.

Why Scottish Studies?

Historical and contemporary Scotland resonates with themes that have important connections with Canada. Lying next to its own elephant with a shorter but just as undefended border, modern Scotland has managed to retain its unique identity and create a diverse economy and a vibrant culture. Especially relevant to contemporary political concerns, Scotland has chosen to sustain this national identity, economy and culture through a process of devolution rather than separation—a “stateless nationhood” which may provide an important model for a new 21st century nationalism or transnationalism. British Columbians, living in a diverse multi-ethnic community, and in a country with two founding nations, could clearly benefit from an on-going examination of this evolving Scottish relationship with England and with the European Community. 

Besides these more obvious points of connection between the interests of contemporary Canadians and the study of Scottish themes, there are more esoteric but equally important sets of themes. Important archaeological work goes on in Scotland from the Orkneys to the Borders; the Roman struggle with the Celts remains an important chapter in ancient history; medieval Scotland figures prominently in history and theology, and in the Reformation Scotland plays a central role in the emergence of Protestantism. Finally, in the modern era, 18th century Edinburgh was known as the ‘Athens of the North’, reflecting its central contribution to the European Enlightenment and the establishment of modern thought through the work of individuals such as Adam Smith in economics, David Hume in philosophy, and James Hutton in geology.

Historically, Scots played a major role in the exploration, exploitation and settlement of North America from the 17th century on, with Western Canada in particular owing much to the likes of Alexander MacKenzie and Simon Fraser. Towns, rivers, mountains and regions across the West were named in honour of the Scottish explorers, traders, and adventurers who formed the vanguard of the movement of Europeans across the continent. In more modern times, emigrants from Scotland played a leading role in the social, political and economic history of Canada, being prominent in banking, in labour unions, and in the leadership of political parties. John A. Macdonald and Tommy Douglas are only two examples while writers of Scottish origin such as Ralph Connor, Hugh McLennan, Margaret Laurence and Alistair McLeod have made major contributions to Canadian literature. Burns, Scott and Stevenson who were always popular with Scottish immigrants, are being re-discovered and re-evaluated in modern literary studies while contemporary Scottish writers and poets such as Hugh McDiarmond, Edwin Muir, Muriel Spark, William McIlvanny, Liz Lochhead, Sorley MacLean and Irvine Welsh demonstrate the on-going strength of this literary tradition. Clearly, there will be no shortage of scholarly topics, issues, themes and controversies for students, faculty and individuals from the community to engage with through the activities of the Centre for Scottish Studies.

Why Simon Fraser University?

Several universities in Eastern Canada have well-established academic programs in Scottish, Celtic or Irish Studies, but west of Ontario it becomes nearly impossible for students to engage with this central influence on Canadian history and culture. The Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University has begun the process of correcting this regional imbalance in Scottish Studies in Canada. Simon Fraser University reflects, in many respects, the Scottish heritage implicit in its name. Its symbol is a claymore donated by Lord Lovat, Chief of Clan Fraser. The name of the University has been proudly carried by the SFU Pipe Band to the homeland of the Frasers on many occasions, to the extent that almost anyone in Scotland will know of Simon Fraser University. You can listen to a 6 minute medley at SFU Medley from the 2002 World Pipe Band Championships. Finally, of central importance to the Centre for Scottish Studies is the existence at SFU of a strong core of faculty from several disciplines. There is an ‘elective affinity’, then, between this university and Scotland and the establishment of this Centre will serve to make that affinity a concrete reality.

Academic Programmes.

Through a series of major conferences and public lectures, the Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University has attracted a distinguished collection of scholars to British Columbia. These scholars include:

James Hunter, Highland and Island Enterprise
George Dalgleish, National Museum of Scotland
Marjorie Harper, University of Aberdeen
Tom Nairn, Edinburgh University
Ken Simpson, Strathclyde University
Robert Crawford, University of St. Andrews
Chris Smout, University of St. Andrews
Lawrence Keppie, University of Glasgow
Ted Cowan, University of Glasgow
Ina Ferris, University of Ottawa.


Courses with Scottish themes that have been offered at SFU since the opening of the Centre include:

English 378 – Robert Burns
Humanities 240 – Reason and Passion in the Scottish Enlightenment
History 424 – The Scots in Canada: Migration, Memory, Myth and History
History 487 – The History of Scotland 1600 – 1800
English 320 – Scotland and the Culture Politics of Nostalgia in 18th Century Britain
Humanities 340 – Adam Smith: Humanist and Realist
English 325 – Romantic Poetry: Robert Burns and William Wordsworth
Philosophy 355 – Hume and Empiricism
Humanities 355 – Scottish Society and Culture 1707-1939

Community Programmes.

The Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University works closely with the Scottish community in British Columbia. In the last two years, the Centre has undertaken two major projects with the Scottish community in the province – an archive project and an oral history project.

Archive Project.

The archive project began with the intention of identifying and locating sources for the history of the Scots in British Columbia. From there, it expanded to include the collection of material that had not previously been archived. In the 1930s there were over thirty Scottish societies in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and many more in the rest of the province. Many of these societies have disappeared and those that are left have an aging membership. The Centre has been collecting the records of these societies where they are still available. Recent acquisitions include minutes and membership roles for various camps of the Sons of Scotland and the Moray, Nairn and Banff Association.

The archive project has now expanded again to include the collection of materials that relate to the Scots in British Columbia other than society records. An interesting recent addition are the memoirs of the Reverend Donald Gillies who was born on St. Kilda in 1901 and lived there until he went to Glasgow to study of the ministry in 1924. The memoirs were handwritten by the Rev. Gillies when he was in his eighties and living in Vancouver and include not only his recollections of St. Kilda, but the fifty years he spent as a Free Presbyterian Minister in Canada. They are written in seven notebooks and include a section by his brother Neil Gillies who left St. Kilda in 1930 but returned soon after as a watchman on the islands.

Oral History Project.

In 2004, the Centre for Scottish Studies began an oral history project entitled, “Scottish Voices from the West: The Story of the Scots in Modern British Columbia.” The project is intended to collect the stories of men and women who are Scottish or of Scottish descent and have contributed to the development of the province of British Columbia. The interviews will be stored digitally and transcribed for the use of scholars and members of the general public.  The Centre will also be creating an interactive website indicating the history of Scots in BC.

Alma Lee, Artistic Director, Vancouver International Writers Festival.
Glen Clark, Senior Executive Pattison Group of Companies and Former Premier, Province of British Columbia.
Terry Lee, Pipe Major, Simon Fraser University Pipe Band.
James McMillan, Prominent authority on piping and piping teacher.
Murdo MacIver, Retired Captain, Vancouver Fire Boat and Gaelic speaker.
Donald Sinclair, Founding Member, Vancouver Burns Club.
John McCuaig, Impresario.
James Balfour Buchanan, Senior Research Scientist and Inventor Dupont International.
Ian Ross, Professor Emeritus UBC, leading authority on Adam Smith.
James Russell, Professor Emeritus UBC, Classical Studies scholar and archaeologist.
Mary Macaree, Teacher-Librarian and co-author of several books on hiking.
Edward Gibson, Cultural Geographer, retired from SFU.
Ron MacLeod, Former Director-General of Pacific and Freshwater Fisheries.
Charles Humphries, retired history professor UBC and Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
Miriam MacDougall, Political Fundraiser.
Dorothy Brown, Curator, British Columbia Golf Museum.
James Bain, Chief, Sons of Scotland.
Hugh McLennan, now deceased Professor Emeritus UBC in Physiology.
Lew Ross, retired executive Canada Safeway and Masters Champion, Highland Games Heavy Events.
Mary Wattum, Scottish Country Dancing Pioneer in British Columbia.
Gordon Sutherland, Geologist and Geographer.
Cilla Bachop, Plant Manager, Blanchette Press and on the original student editing board of the Peak SFU.
Strachan Birney, Senior Banking Executive.
Donald MacKay, Senior Executive, Empire Shipping Company.
Marjorie MacLean, Principal, Vancouver Oral Centre and Former Artistic Director, Vancouver Children’s Festival.
John McIlwraith, retired broadcaster.
May Duncan, St. Andrew’s and Caledonian Society of Vancouver.
Mary Morrison, Highland Association of Vancouver.
Iona Campagnolo, Lieutenant Governor, Province of British Columbia
James Barrie, Retired Motor Vehicle Branch executive, Piping teacher and Recording Engineer.
James Troy, Piping teacher and manufacturer of drone and piping reeds for Highland Pipes.
W. Merrill Leckie, Retired Lawyer, Trade-Mark Agent & Chartered Arbitrator.
Duncan and Donnelle MacKenzie, Gaelic Society of Vancouver.
Alisdair Seton Gordon, retired builder.
Isla Robertson, Moray, Nairn and Banff Association.
Gordon McRae, Superintendent, R.C.M.P. Commercial Crime Division.

James Rawlinson, British Consul General in Vancouver, delivers a cheque for
$5,000 to Harry McGrath, Coordinator of the Centre for Scottish Studies at
Simon Fraser University to support the Centre's oral history project,
"Voices from the West - the Story of the Scots in Modern British Columbia

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