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The first attempts to entice Scottish settlers to Canada began as early as 1622, when Sir William Alexander obtained permission from King James I to establish new Scotland or Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, his colonization efforts failed, and only a small number of Scottish families settled in Canada prior to the conquest of New France in 1759. Those who did make a home on Canadian soil were mainly Roman Catholic Highlanders who sought political and religious asylum following the failed Jacobite uprisings in Scotland in 1715 and 1745.

Those immigrants who arrived after 1759 were Highland farmers who had been forced off their rented land or "crofts" to make way for sheep grazing. Most of these Scots settled in what is now Atlantic Canada. In 1772 a wave of Scottish immigrants began to arrive in Prince Edward Island and one year later in Pictou, Nova Scotia. At the end of the 18th century Cape Breton Island became a centre of Scottish settlement where only Gaelic was spoken. A handful of English-speaking Scottish Lowlanders, mainly labourers and artisans, also joined the Scottish exodus to Canada at this time. Likewise, a number of Scottish United Empire Loyalists who had fled the United States in 1783 arrived in Glengarry (eastern Ontario) and Nova Scotia. In 1803 Lord Selkirk, who was sympathetic to the plight of the dispossessed crofters, brought 800 colonists to Prince Edward Island. In 1812 Selkirk founded the Red River settlement in what is now Manitoba, where he also settled Highlander and Irish immigrants.

The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 was followed by an economic depression in Europe that caused many Scots to leave their homeland. Some settled in the eastern townships of Lower Canada, while others were directed to Upper Canada to discourage further American settlement in the area. By the 1820s both Lowland and Highland Scot were arriving in Canada in large numbers. Continuing unemployment in their homeland, in addition to the lure of cash and land grants offered in Canada, led to a fairly steady stream of Scottish immigration throughout the remainder of the 19th century. By 1871 the Scottish population in the four original provinces of Canada reached 549,946.

The 20th century also witnessed high levels of Scottish immigration, which peaked between 1910-1911 when over 62,000 Scots arrived in Canada. By 1931, the Scottish population was 1,346,350 and is today there are upwards of 4 million Canadians who claim Scottish heritage. 

Since they first arrived on Canada's eastern coast, the Scots have played an influential role in Canadian commerce, politics and industry. Many were attracted to Canada by the political freedoms life in the colony afforded, and took the opportunity to become politically active. Others tapped the West's resources as fur traders and explorers, establishing forts and trading posts that formed the anchors for permanent settlement. Many Scottish names are found during a role call of Canada's earliest adventurers: in 1795, Alexander MacKenzie reached the Pacific Ocean via an overland route; and in 1808 Simon Fraser followed the treacherous river that now bears his name to the Pacific Ocean. Scottish fur traders and their families were among the first to settle Lower Fort Garry (Winnipeg), Fort Pelly (Saskatchewan), Fort Victoria (Pakan, Alberta) and Edmonton. At the latter settlement, tough young Highlanders were instrumental in the establishment of the Hudson's Bay Company's Edmonton House in 1795.

A number of Scots gained distinction in the Northwest Mounted Police, which was formed in 1873 to bring law and order to the West. A famous Scot in the force was Colonel James McLeod, whose accomplishments include the founding of Fort McLeod and Calgary. In addition, prominent Scottish-Canadian politicians include William Lyon MacKenzie, who led the rebellion of 1837 that ultimately resulted in the granting of responsible government to Canada in 1841. Sir John A. Macdonald, probably Canada's most illustrious Scot was a key figure in bringing about Confederation and was the country's first Prime Minister. In Alberta, Alexander Rutherford, an Ontario-born Scot, was the province's first Premier in 1905.

Scots have traditionally place high value on education. In Canada, Scots founded Dalhousie University, McGill University, the University of Toronto, Queen's University, St. Francis Xavier and the University of New Brunswick. The Scottish contribution to Canadian arts and letters has likewise been remarkable. Luminaries in this field include Hugh MacLennan, Marshall McLuhan and Robert W. Service.

Scottish-Canadians have maintained close links with the past, promoting and preserving their history and their heritage. Clan societies, country dancing and highland dancing are important cultural traditions, and Gaelic is still taught as a language option in Nova Scotia schools. No concrete numbers are available, but at least one source states that there are between 500-1000 native Gaelic speakers on Cape Breton Island as of July 2002. In addition, pipe bands and traditional Scottish sports such as golf and curling remain popular pastimes across the country. The Edmonton Scottish Soccer Club, for instance, holds regular tournaments and events and the Calgary United Scottish Games Association sponsors the Calgary Highland Games every summer. Other highland games take place throughout the province of Alberta in the summer months. The Alberta Highland Dancing Association has chapters in Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge and Red Deer. The Edmonton Scottish Society also sponsors a number of events in the city throughout the year, including Robbie Burns dinners and celebrations on Tartan Day (April 5th), which celebrates Scottish independence and the Scottish presence in Canada.

Today, nearly 560,000 Albertans can trace their ancestry back to Scotland, evidence that the Scottish influence on the province has been vast. Scots in Alberta have made their mark in virtually every realm of public and private life.

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