Unlike those in the
United States, the Scots in Canada have always retained a high public
profile. From the sailing of the Hectar (the Canadian
"Mayflower") from Ullapool in 1773 to the Highland Clearances
of the 1840s—"nothing now remains but to have them removed to
Canada" wrote one observer—to the late twentieth century,
Scottish immigration has played a crucial role in Canadian
history." In 1841 Robert MacDongall wrote one of the few Gaelic
travel books—The Emigrant’s Guide to North America—for Highlanders
contemplating the move. The thirteen volumes of the Dictionary of
Canadian Biography, which carry the story to 1920, "are simply
full of Scots." Historian J. M. Bumsted has argued that Scottish
immigration to Canada remained roughly stable throughout much of the
nineteenth century—around 3,000 a year. One hundred and seventy
thousand arrived between 1815 and 1870; 80,000 between 1870 and 1890;
and 246,000 between 1900 and 1918. This consistent influx of settlers
kept memories of the old country alive for each generation. By 1870 at
the latest, the Scots had established themselves as the third largest
ethnic group in Canadian society. By 1911 one observer boasted that
Scots held about half of the nation’s top positions. Even today, many
Scots who have never set foot in the United States have made numerous
trips to Canada.
Unlike the States,
nineteenth-century Canada never developed any melting-pot ideal. Their
preferred metaphor of national identity became a mosaic. Thus, Canadian
Scots found it easier than those in the States to retain their
ethnicity. As a result, assimilation into the dominant culture varied
considerably from province to province. During the late eighteenth and
early nineteenth centuries, whole clans settled in Nova Scotia (New
Scotland) and Cape Breton Island. The region today is studded with
Highland place-names. Even after five generations of settlement, Gaelic
remains the preferred language for thousands of Cape Bretonites. The
last all-Gaelic newspaper MacTalla (Echo), which survived until World
War I, was published not in Inverness but in Sidney, Nova Scotia. In
1930 a Scots writer observed that "there is no part of the Empire
more Highland than Cape Breton." Ontario also produced a vibrant
Scottish subculture. In 1990, when Canadian writer David Craig began
searching for stories of the Highland Clearances, he discovered a
history of family legend and artifacts throughout all of eastern Canada.
In 1949, when the St. Andrew’s Society of Detroit held its
one-hundredth anniversary celebration, virtually all the pipers, bands,
and Highland dancers hailed from either Ontario or the Prairie
Provinces. As Ged Martin and Jeffrey Simpson have recently observed, few
places have as much in common as do Canada and Scotland. To a large
degree, they wrote, "the history of the one is the history of the
Although the impact of
Scots on eastern Canada has been fairly well studied, the story of the
western migration has been less highly profiled. Yet because the Prairie
Provinces and British Columbia contained relatively few people, the
power of a strong personality—often touted as a Scots characteristic—could
reach a great distance. Historian J. M. Bumsted’s figures for Scots in
the Canadian West read as follows:
Even though declining slightly
over time, as late as 1941 Scots still composed almost one-seventh of the
western Canadian population.
The story of Scottish
settlement in the Canadian West begins with Thomas Douglas, Fifth Earl of
Selkirk. Born in 1771, Selkirk reached his maturity during the heady days
of the French Revolution. His idealism also drew on the Scottish
Enlightenment, whose principles he absorbed while attending the University
of Edinburgh (where he knew Walter Scott). A man of catholic interests,
Selkirk wrote books and essays on numerous themes: national defence, the
fur trade, American Indian civilization, and poverty in Edinburgh. No
armchair theorist, he mastered Gaelic so as to understand the Highlands
better and also inaugurated a modest scheme to alleviate Edinburgh’s
worst social problems. In 1799, much to his surprise—for he was the
seventh son—he succeeded to the family title. Afterwards he had the
resources to enact some of his ideas on a grand scale.
During the course of his
education Selkirk had read McKenzie’s Voyages and been deeply
impressed. Later he sought out other books
on the fur trade, even adding one to their number. By chance his interest
in North America coincided with his long.. standing concern over the
plight of the Highlanders. In 1802 Selkirk established a pioneer Highland
colony on Prince Edward Island, which, if it was not quite a success, was
not a failure either. Then, in 1811, he purchased title to 120,000 square
miles along the Red River of the North from the Hudson’s Bay Company for
what became his most celebrated venture. Terming the area "Assiniboine,"
Selkirk selected Miles MacDonnell as governor and oversaw the 1812 arrival
of thirty-six Scottish and Northern-Irish workers in one of the grandest
colonial ventures in the Canadian West. The new colony sited itself a mile
below the North West fur-trading post of Fort Gibraltar in Manitoba and
soon became known as the Red River settlement.
On one hand the little
settlement at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers produced an
object lesson in Enlightenment humanity. But it also produced a clash of
cultures and economics. The fur traders of the rival North West Company
viewed Selkirk’s settlement and the Hudson’s Bay Company’s
management of the situation with a jaundiced eye. They interpreted Red
River as a bald attempt to cut off their supplies of furs and block them
from their traditional lines of communication. Consequently, in June 1816
a group of North Westerners, led by Cuthbert Grant, a Scoto-Indian
mixed-blood, murdered twenty-two settlers in the now-infamous "Seven
Oaks massacre." Lord Selkirk arrived the next year with troops to
restore the settlement. While tension remained for years, further dangers
to the colony came primarily from other sources: frosts, grasshoppers, and
especially floods. Although the community contained a number of ethnic
groups from the onset, the Scottish immigrants predominated. In 1821 Scots
comprised more than 50 percent of the population of Red River (221 of
That same year the North
West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company united, thus closing more than
two decades of bitter rivalry.
The union not only ended all danger of raids on Red River, it began to
alter the nature of the community itself. The largely mixed-blood trappers
began to consider the settlement as their own. After retirement from
trapping they moved there in large numbers. By 1836 the population had
grown to five thousand; by 1845 it had reached seven thousand. With this
growth the Scots component of the Red River community lost its dominance.
In 1845 it had dropped to a mere 5 percent (four hundred of seven
thousand). It remained at that level when Manitoba became a province in
1870 (seven hundred of twelve thousand).
With the Red River
experiment Lord Selkirk forged the model that would be followed all
through the century for Scottish settlement in the West. If kith and kin
emigrated together, departure from Scotland did not necessarily mean
exile. But, as time would show, it proved far easier to sustain Scottish
group loyalty in eastern Canada—Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton, and
Ontario—than in the vast regions of the Canadian West.
If the Scots component of
Red River faded over time, the number of Canadian Scots mixed-bloods in
the region rose. Cuthbert Grant was appointed "Warden of the
Plains" by the Hudson’s Bay Company and eventually established the
community of Granttown at White Horse Plains, west of Winnipeg. On the
west bank of the Red River, mixed-bloods and Orkney farmers steadily
carved out small homesteads. Other Scoto-Indians assumed leadership roles,
notably Captain William Kennedy, an explorer, trader, legislator, and
negotiator of Indian treaties. Alexander Ross, who lived there with his
Native wife and mixed-blood children, always thought that Red River might
serve Canada as its "city on the Hill" (on the plains?)—a
model to imitate regarding national race relations.
During the 1860s Scots-born
politicians John A. Macdonald and George Brown led the movement for
confederation; both of the first two Canadian prime ministers were
childhood émigrés. In addition about one-fifth of Canada’s
industrialists in the 1880s were of Scottish birth, as were many of the
timber magnates and bankers. Scots also served as the first veterinarians
of the West. Most of the great railway entrepreneurs, from surveyors to
builders, were also Scots, Donald A. Smith and George Stephen of Moray
Firth being perhaps the most famous. When the last spike was driven in
1885 at a spot named Craigellachie, British Columbia, an observer noted:
His [Lord Strathcona’s]
presence recalled memories of the Mackenzies, Frasers, Finlaysons,
Thompsons, MacTavishes, McLeods, MacGillivrays, Stuarts, and McLoughlins,
who in a past generation had penetrated the surrounding mountains.
In a real sense the laying
of the Canadian Railway track created the west country. Outside of slow
and ineffectual river communication, no real settlement was possible
without effective transportation. Until the arrival of the railroad in the
1880s, neither the government nor private individuals made any concerted
effort to open the Canadian West to European settlement.
From the 1870s forward, however,
Canada’s dreams of populating its West fit well into Britain’s plans
to resettle displaced crofters from the Highlands and Islands. In 1886 the
Canadian high commissioner agreed to provide financial aid to this scheme
for "so desirable a class of settlers as the Scotch crofters."
Since life on the prairies
in Victorian Canada proved largely male, a considerable demand arose for
women settlers as well. Shetland author Jessie M. Saxby wrote to encourage
middleclass Scots women to immigrate to the Canadian West, as did
Edinburgh native Elizabeth Mitchel. Western Canada, they suggested,
offered both economic opportunity and a chance for social advancement.
"There is so much room here" became their major message. Each
individual, especially the women, counted, because "there were so few
of them." Moreover, most Victorians believed that the mere presence
of women would cause men to behave better. Thus, the appeal for women
settlers would help civilize the barbaric West.
Because of the demand for
settlers, a minor "recruiting war" erupted between the various
public and private agencies. Agents from the Canadian Pacific Railway, the
Canadian National Railway, the Canadian national government, and the
various Canadian provinces sometimes worked with, and sometimes against,
one another in the quest for settlers. In addition they jostled with
agents from the American western states and the American railroads.
The Canadians generally won the
recruiting war for Scots with ease. Historian Marjory Harper has counted
16,000 immigrants from northeast Scotland who left for Canada in the
middle of the nineteenth century. During a later period, 91 percent of all
emigrants from the port of Aberdeen listed Canada as their destination.
Canadian adverts continually emphasized the theme that their provinces
were "more like home" than the United States. From 1910 to 1914
about 170,000 Scots emigrated to Canada.
Canadian agents based in
Scotland raised recruiting to the level of high art. They commissioned
booking agents in all the major cities and in many remote parts of the
land. From a Glasgow base they sent speakers out on a steady tour of the
farming regions of the Lowlands and northeastern Scotland. Since the
Canadian prairies demanded agricultural skills, the various recruiters
began to turn away from the crowded British cities to concentrate on
Scotland’s richer farm regions. The culmination came in 1907 when agent
John MacLennan, a Gaelic-speaking Canadian from Alberta, established a
permanent office in Aberdeen. For over a decade he regularly sent hundreds
of agricultural Scots to Canada.
MacLennan proved a master
of his trade. He met with from twenty to thirty visitors a day in his
downtown office. He obtained posters, pamphlets, and leaflets, which he
distributed at numerous local gatherings at hotels, working men’s clubs,
annual hiring fairs for farm workers, livestock markets (held weekly), and
summer shows. He hired billboards and sent out a traveling display of
Canadian produce and natural resources to every local fair. Its message,
"You need Canada—Canada Needs You," was also echoed in the
regular adverts placed in area newspapers. On occasion he helped fund
visits by Scottish journalists or representatives of local farm
MacLennan’s message bore
fruit. During his first year in Aberdeen he replied to more than 100
letters a week. During January 1910 he responded to more than 320 a week.
During a 1909 speaking tour he drew an audience of 400 in Insch and 1,800
in Elgin. The Aberdeen Journal suggested that Canada’s interest
in the area reflected a recognition of the superior quality of settlers
from northern Scotland. Local pride notwithstanding, the Journal
had a point. The small farmers, farm workers, farm wives, and maid
servants all possessed skills that were immediately applicable to the
recently opened Canadian prairies. One Canadian Pacific Railway agent in
the early 1 920s actually journeyed with his Black Isle recruits to
northern Saskatchewan to make certain they were properly settled.
Moreover, as Harper has noted, the emigrants from northeast Scotland
seldom left without some modest financial means. The region was losing
"the backbone of the rural population," complained the Aberdeen Herald.
About 20 percent of the 1.2 million British people who arrived between
1901 and 1914 were born in Scotland. Canadian recruiting agents could be
found touring northeast Scotland until the 1930s.
Once the railroad opened up
the Canadian prairies, a number of private organizations made similar
attempts at settling Scottish immigrants. The huge Scottish-Canadian Land
and Settlement Association, Ltd., the Dundee Land Investment Company, the
Scottish Ontario and Manitoba Land Company, and the Dundee
Investment Company all tried to establish various "Scottish
colonies." In 1888 the Canadian Pacific Railway proclaimed that
"millions of acres" of rich land awaited the landless and touted
Assiniboia as a virtual utopia. Their brochure depicted the climate of
Calgary as benefiting from warm Chinook winds that kept the "ground
free from snow in the winter, except for a day or two at a time."
Comments that most Métis children who lived on the Red River shared
"the blood of men who fought with Lochiel near Inverness on the 15th
[sic] April 1746" rounded out the appeal for Scottish immigrants. In
large measure the publicity worked, and Manitoba, in the words of one
historian, "became the El Dorado of many a Scots lad."
In the early 1880s Lady Gordon
Cathcart of Cluny Castle in the Western Isles attempted to establish a
settlement of Island crofters in Manitoba. By then I.ady Cathcart had
attained a modest reputation as an idealistic heiress with concern for the
plight of the crofters on her estate, even going so far as to offer one
hundred pounds to any family willing to immigrate to Canada. At her urging
a crofters’ delegation from Benbecula, in the Outer Hebrides, visited
Manitoba in 1881 and reported back favorably. Given this impetus, Lady
Cathcart teamed with the Canada Northwest Land Company and funded the
passage of eleven families (one came independently), so that in 1883
fifty-one people arrived in what would be named New Benbecula, Manitoba.
Her plan, as the Manitoba Daily Free Press reported, hoped "to
combine sound finance and genuine, clear-eyed philanthropy."
Encouraging reports enticed forty-six additional families the next year.
By 1885 the community numbered 239. The experiment aroused sufficient
interest that Professor G. G. Rarnsay made a trip to Canada to report
their story for Macmillan's Magazine.
proved quite positive. He praised the émigrés’ Canadian sod houses,
with their thatched roofs woven from the abundant prairie grasses. He
noted that all households had planted oats,
barley, and potatoes and kept cattle for butter, cheese, and milk. Because
of their farm skills, the men found that they could always get work at
harvest time. The young women similarly discovered that they could always
find temporary work as servants. Anticipating Frederick Jackson Turner’s
famed frontier thesis by eight years, G. G. Ramsay marveled how land
ownership could transform Gaelic culture. The Highland settlers began life
with "charm of manner" but without the "energy of the
lowlander." Yet, after a brief period of land ownership, "all
this seems to disappear in Canada." Other travelers gathered comments
from the settlers to confirm their impressions. "If they saw me
owning soil like yon in Aberdeen," said former Banchory blacksmith
John Murray, ‘They’d a’ tak’ their hat aff to me." "How
can we thank Lady Gordon enough?" said a New Benbecula resident.
"She has made lairds of us all."
Later historians, however, have been
far more critical of Lady Cathcart’s efforts. Hugh MacPhee has noted
that she encouraged her crofters to emigrate just as the famed Napier
Commission began its investigation into landlord-crofter relations.
Although the seventeen letters from Benbecula émigrés that were included
in the Napier report presented to Paliament praised her beneficence, it is
somewhat suspicious that all were written in clear English rather than the
crofters’ native Gaelic.
The Gaelic poem composed by
Manitoba resident Donald Mackinnon from Balivanich, Benbecula, presents a
very different picture of life in Canada:
A thousand liars, well
Went about with books
Extolling the North West
and the excellence of Manitoba.
In our cheerless houses
in the cold morning
There is hoar frost on the blankets;
water and ale, whey or milk,
all like frozen glass.
When there is a blizzard
in the bleak land
One needs the fur of every animal for clothing.
Woollen tweed will not
The wind whips our flesh off.
In Scotland on a May
I would go barefooted to the moors;
There was no need of the ugly Moccasin,
Nor were we clothed in furs.
If I survive until Spring
I shall leave the ‘Land of Promise.’
I’ll go to Dakota;
Land and gold abound there.
crofter sentiment lies far closer to Mackinnon’s view than to Ramsey’s.
It recalls Lady Cathcart as a grasping evictor, unsympathetic to the
Catholic faith of her tenants. One historian has termed her "a
notoriously implacable proprietrix." Modern scholars have concluded
that in spite of the benevolence involved in all the landlord-assisted
emigration schemes, the ultimate goal was to free the estates of people to
increase financial profit.
The Canadian West hosted a
number of these quasi-utopian Scottish resettlement schemes. Between 1888
and 1889 Killarney, Manitoba, and Saltcoats in the Northwest Territories
(now Saskatchewan) were each begun with high hopes, both from the crofters—who
had resisted group emigration for a generation— and from various
officials of the Canadian government. As historian Wayne Norton has shown,
however, the emigration scheme was "flawed in conception and rushed
Killarney proved marginally
successful, but the community established at Saltcoats failed miserably.
When the forty-one crofter families from the Isles of Lewis, Harris, and
North Uist arrived in Saltcoats in 1889, they met a variety of
bureaucratic blunders, including a shortage of supplies. After a winter of
genuine suffering the community faced several years of drought, hail, and
early frosts. By 1894 forty-eight families had abandoned their homesteads.
Only a Donald Mclver determined to meet his obligations. A decade later
the Imperial Colonization Board, which had overseen the experiment, washed
its hands of the whole affair by selling the land to a Minneapolis
Well-intentioned though it was, the
Saltcoats crofter resettlement plan failed for several reasons. Foremost,
perhaps, was the initial stretch of bad weather, always a concern for
agriculture at that latitude. But some of the blame should be placed on
the crofters themselves. Many had primarily been fishermen in the Western
Isles, and they did not take easily to the demands of breaking virgin
Canadian prairie soil. Moreover, the men discovered that they could earn
modest wages by working as day laborers for the railway, cutting wood in
winter, or hiring themselves out during the harvest season. In addition
members of the community often quarreled among themselves. Consequently,
after fourteen years, the Saltcoats residents disbanded and the former
crofters disappeared into Canadian society. The failure of these prairie
colonies also basically spelled the end of government-assisted crofter
In spite of such failures numerous
private agencies continued to set forth a vision of western Canada as a
solution to Highland and Island social problems. A c.1912 Canadian Pacific
pamphlet virtually promised social advance to any Scot willing to journey
to the Canadian West. In the 1920s Benedictine priest Andrew MacDonell
urged his South Uist flock to form a group settlement in Manitoba. A
January 28, 1927, Stornoway Gazette article still praised Alberta
as the "land of opportunity" for Highland
Scots. As late as 1936 the Duchess of Atholl funded the passage of
twenty-eight children to the Prince of Wales Fair-bridge Farm School on
Vancouver Island. There these (mostly) orphans joined nearly one hundred
other young people who had been sent there from similar situations with
the hopes of turning them into potential farmers. In short, the Earl of
Selkirk’s experiment at Red River had many echoes.
Scottish farmers not only settled
the southern Canadian plains, they emigrated to the cosmopolitan western
cities as well. Many immigrants from industrialized Glasgow and commercial
Edinburgh also sought their fortunes in urban areas. In fact so many Scots
landed in Vancouver that one reporter suggested in 1933 that one needed to
be born "in Aberdeenshire or thereabouts" in order to work for
the police force. Aberdonians were found in all walks of Vancouver life:
medicine, commerce, law, trade, and the churches. The people of
northeastern Scotland, an Aberdeen reporter concluded, "are helping
to mold the character of this western city."
The link between Scotland and the
Canadian Northwest received yet another boost when the Canadian Bank of
Commerce transferred a twenty-seven-year-old teller from Victoria, B.C.,
to Kamloops, B.C., in 1901. The teller was Robert W. Service, son of a
Scottish bank teller of the same name who had emigrated from the
Lancashire region to Canada on a tramp freighter in 1895. From Kamloops
young Service moved on to Whitehorse and Dawson, Yukon Territory. Although
he soon resigned his position with the bank, he remained in Dawson for
several years, working chiefly as a free-lance writer. During his stay he
witnessed firsthand the decline of Klondike gold-rush society, which he
decided to try to capture in verse.
His first collection of poems
appeared in 1907 as in Canada
and The Spell of the Yukon in the States. The volume
sold over a million copies, an enormous print run for a book of poetry,
and a sequel, Ballads of a Cheechako (1909), did almost as well.
Reporters soon dubbed him ‘The Poet of the Yukon" and "The
Canadian Kipling." Modestly claiming that he was simply an "inkslinger"
or "rhymer," not a true poet, Service nevertheless reached an
enormous audience. From 1907 to the mid-1920s he was probably the most
popular household poet in both the United States and Canada. Afterwards he
moved to France, where he lived until his death in 1958. Although he
turned out a steady stream of works, none approached the appeal of his
memorized poems of the Yukon and the Klondike drew heavily from the
Scots/Scots-Irish/Irish tradition of folk balladry, which he must have
absorbed during his youth in Britain. In this largely oral world the bard
assumed the mantle of public historian, the person who recorded the
crucial events of the day for posterity. Without a bard to record his
deeds, the old saying had it, a great leader would soon be forgotten.
This broadside tradition of
balladry usually began with an invitation. "Come all ye fair and
tender maidens," the poet might say, or "Come all ye noble
patriots and listen to my song." The invitation theme is nicely
reflected in the opening lines of Service’s "The Cremation of Sam
There are strange
things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have
their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was the night on the Marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
The balladeer’s theme
of invitation is raised to even greater heights in the opening lines
of Service’s "The Shooting of Dan
A bunch of the boys
were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon;
The kid that
handles the music-box was hitting A jag-time tune;
Back of the bar, in
a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,
And watching his luck was
his light-o’-love, the lady that’s known as Lou.
It would take a hard
heart, indeed, not to want to read those poems to conclusion. And, it
should be noted, Service’s two most famous protagonists bore the
names of "McGee" and "McGrew."
Since the world of
religion has always been central to the Scottish experience, it is not
surprising that the kirk and the clergy played important roles as they
followed, and in some cases led, the Scots to the Canadian West. In
Red River during the 1820s Church of England chaplain John West
complained that neither the Gaelic-speaking Highlanders nor the
American Indians could understand his sermons. While he tried to
minister to the numerous Scots settlers, they usually rebuffed his
efforts. In the 1850s Red River had a major
confrontation over issues of faith. The repeated requests from the
Gaelic settlement in Killarney, Manitoba, for a minister who spoke the
old language reflected this concern.
As historian George
Bryce has shown, Baptist, Methodist, and Roman Catholic Scottish
clerics were very active in the Canadian West. Yet the
two churches that played the most central roles were
probably the Presbyterian and the Episcopal. Religion was as important
as race and the Scots influence proved vital in the
"churching" of the Canadian Prairie West.
Churches have seldom
been given their due in the story of the settlement of the Prairie
West. But both south and north of the 49th parallel, they often served
as the "glue" that kept an ethnic community together. In the
more crowded urban areas of Toronto or Chicago, an immigrant community
could support a variety of institutions: bakeries, restaurants,
mutual-aid societies, even newspapers. But in the vast region of the
Great Plains, the church had to assume all of these social roles. No institution played a larger part in reinforcing ethnicity in
the plains than did the ethnic church.
The various divisions
among Presbyterian factions in the States were not duplicated in
Canada; initially all Canadian Presbyterians united in a single
denomination. Although Scots were crucial to the development of
American Presbyterianism, one would not say that either the Northern,
Southern, or Cumberland Presbyterians in the States were a "Scots
Church." This proved to be very different in Canada, where, as
histonan John S. Moir has noted, the Presbyterians began as an ethnic
church and never really lost that dimension. George Bryce’s
compilation of 390 Presbyterian clergymen who served in western Canada
from 1871 to 1910 revealed only a handful who lacked a Scots or
On the Canadian
frontier the Presbyterian clerics virtually served as "Scottish
shepherds." "I never take a trip away from home," one
wrote in 1884, "but Scotch immigrants from Highland glens and
Lowland straths are met with, and they prove to be excellent
settlers." One of Presbyterian T. N. Richmond’s duties in
Winnipeg in the 1890s was to meet Scottish settlers on arrival and
give them aid as they sought places of settlement.
Missionary aid from the Church of Scotland proved a major funding
source for Canadian Presbyterian home missions, and Scots
theological students often tested their skills in a temporary Canadian
pulpit during the summer. Missionary letters are replete with tales of
Scots immigrants who sought out the ordinances of the Canadian church:
men who returned to services after years of indifference; an Edmonton
woman from Logierait, Scotland, who drove sixty miles in November to
have her child baptized; another emigrant, handicapped by age, who
devised a homemade sled of rope, hay, and an old tray so that she
could attend services. The novels by Ralph Connor, especially The Sky
Pilot, reflect the central role of the church in western Canadian
Although the ethnic
dimension was central to Canadian Presbyterianism, over time the
church took on a wider set of responsibilities. Joining with the
Anglicans, the middle-class, generally well-educated Presbyterian
clerics also saw themselves as engaged in a great crusade to save the
Canadian West for "British civilization." Thus, by 1895 home
missionaries were preaching the gospel in six languages. Often they
concentrated especially on those other ethnic groups, such as the
Hungarians, who also had a Reformed tradition in their past.
Theological boundaries slipped considerably in the vastness of the
prairies, and most settlers, whatever their affiliation, welcomed a
visit from a Presbyterian cleric.
The western clerics
viewed the presence of the church as the chief counter to barbarism.
Scorn, indifference, and occasional threats of rotten eggs made the
plains ministers well aware of the fragility of
"civilization" in their region. Judging from the accounts in
the Home and Foreign Missionary Record, civilization contained a
number of aspects: sacredness of life; sacredness of marriage and the
rights of property; control of liquor; and the closing of gambling
halls, base playhouses, and houses of ill repute. But the most
prominent symbolic element that decided whether a community passed
muster or not was its observance of the Christian Sabbath. "There
is no heathen so low as the heathen with a white face," one
minister warned, and the solution was to keep the Sabbath intact. As
events transpired, however, most prairie communities reached a
compromise. On weekdays and Sunday Victorian respectability reigned
supreme, more or less, in western Canada. But especially on Saturday
nights, the towns became the property of the wilder elements.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "never goes out of style."
The late-Victorian Canadian West boasted three Scottish religious
personalities who had major impacts on their regions. One was
Presbyterian and two were Episcopalian.
The Presbyterian was John
Robertson. Born in Perthshire, Robertson served as superintendent of
Presbyterian Home Missions in western Canada from 1881 to 1902. In
addition to his numerous travels, Robertson enlightened readers of the
Home and Missionary Record with tales of adventure from the
Great Northwest. Although he occasionally denounced the "infidel
views and lax morals" of the region, he concentrated primarily on
depicting social progress, especially the increased respect for rights
of property and for the sacredness of life. The census of 1891 showed
that the Presbyterian Church of Canada had become the nation’s
largest Protestant denomination, and Robertson’s career—as the
driving force behind the church in western Canada for over two decades—formed
an important part of this story.
Robert McKay and John Maclean were born in northeast Scotland. Each
came from a Presbyterian background but converted to the Episcopal
Church at university, probably as a reaction to the Great Disruption
of 1843, which split the Presbyterians. After ordination McKay was
appointed bishop of Rupert’s land and, from a base in Winnipeg,
presided over the church in western Canada for forty years. His
diocese originally contained two million square miles. Maclean, in
turn. became the first bishop of Saskatchewan, a post he held until
his death in 1886, at which time he was proclaimed "the central
figure of our community."
Given the vast distances and
sparseness of population, these well-educated, peripatetic Scots
clerics had considerable personal influence. For example, like many
pioneer clergymen, they established institutions that long survived
them. McKay revised and reorganized St. Johns College in Winnipeg and
also served as first chancellor of the University of Manitoba. Maclean,
in turn, established Emmanuel College at Prince Albert in 1879,
intending it as a teaching center for Native clergy. Robertson helped
establish Knox College, Winnipeg. Presbyterian George Bryce founded
Manitoba College in the same city and also had a part in the
establishment of the University of Manitoba in 1871. Thus, kirk and
education overlapped considerably in this "brick-and-mortar"
era of the Canadian West.
The church was not the
only bastion of Scottish culture in the Canadian West. One could find
overt manifestations of "Scottishness" in a wide variety of
areas. Former Highland farmers cursed their oxen in Gaelic, and local
entertainment always demanded the pipes and a Scottish reel. Men
donned the kilt for numerous ceremonial occasions, especially
weddings, funerals, Burns Day dinners, and St. Andrew’s Day
celebrations. Canadian Scots soldiers usually disliked the kilt, but
the "ladies from hell" (as they were termed by the Germans)
wore it bravely during World War I. Transported Highland games,
performed from Nova Scotia to Vancouver, also provided a fine
opportunity to parade things Scottish. There is general agreement that
the Canadian national sport of ice hockey had its origin in the
ancient Gaelic game of shinty.
During the early
twentieth century, the Canadian railways discovered the appeal of
Scottish customs to tourists. They hired pipers to dress in kilts and
play traditional tunes at stations along the way west. Later, the
brilliant novels of Margaret Laurence, depicting life in her
fictitional Manawaka (Keepawa), Manitoba, also reflected Scots themes.
Scots names retain a
high profile in western Canadian life. On the map one finds Calgary
("clear running water" in Gaelic), Banif, and a host of
other towns that betray their origin. Among Canadian citizens the
surnames MacLeod or MacDonald imply "Scots" just as Boudreau
or Chevalier imply "French" or Goldberg and Epstein,
"Jewish." One does not find this immediate Scottish
connection with American Scottish surnames. For example, Montana
Magazine editor Charles Rankin discovered that no one identified
his name as Scottish until he moved to Helena. In the South a name
such as McLelland or McGregor is perceived as an American surname. In
the Southwest MacDonald is seen as a Navajo surname, for the father of
a former Navajo tribal chairman took it from a song ("Old
MacDonald Had a Farm") when asked for his last name by a teacher.
culture is woven all through the Prairie Provinces, it is nowhere more
prominent than in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. As noted in
the previous chapter, Lord and Lady Aberdeen planted some of the first
fruit trees there in 1892; in 1895 they subdivided the property into
units of ten to one hundred acres each. These they sold to prospective
fruit ranchers, many Scottish themselves. Lord and Lady Aberdeen also
introduced the first irrigation system into the valley. Although they
eventually lost money on the venture—in fact, their Scottish estates
financed much of their Canadian programs—the Aberdeens prided
themselves on shaping the future economy of the Okanagan region. They
took credit not only for the shift from cattle to fruit but also for
encouraging wealthy Scottish immigrants to the region.
But the Scots
immigrants brought more to the Okanagan than simply their wealth or
their farming skills. They also brought with them their love of
mystery and romance. Even in the decidedly unromantic late-twentieth
century, Americans and Canadians have looked to Scotland for an aura
of mystery. How else can one explain the popularity of Alan Jay Lerner
and Frederick Loewe’s Brigadoon, a fantasy tale of two hunters who
stumble upon a mysterious Scottish village that appears only once a
century? This musical has charmed audiences ever since it was first
performed in 1947 and remains a perennial favorite among high-school
and college drama students.
Equally enticing was the
greatest discovery of its day: the Loch Ness Monster. Prior to 1933
Loch Ness ranked as only one of Highland Scotland’s striking lakes.
That year, however, the government commenced construction of an
improved road on the west side of the loch. The constant noise and
commotion, so it is said, drew the monster from its deep sea lair and
a wave of sightings alerted Fleet Street that a major story was in the
making. Over the years the story has grown steadily. Today, if one
mentions Loch Ness outside the Highlands, the first reaction is
certain to be: "the monster."
Loch Ness is the
largest body of fresh water in the United Kingdom. About twenty-three
miles long and a mile wide, it is over seven hundred feet deep, about
twice the depth of the North Sea. This depth has served to discourage
swimmers, and it has earned the grim reputation as the loch that never
gives up its dead. Monster supporters maintain that this is why no one
has ever found a carcass.
From 1933 to the
present day Loch Ness has attracted millions of visitors who hope
against hope for a glimpse of Scotland’s most famous resident. The
visitors range from the stern Englishman who left after an hour,
threatening to sue for "false advertising," to engineer Tim
Dinsdale, who has spent his entire life searching the lake for
ultimate proof of the monster’s existence.
The literature on
"Nessie" or "The Great Orm" is enormous. The
official Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre at tiny Drumnadrochit
also contains examples of numerous photographs, all suitably blurry.
While other Highland lochs, Loch Morar and Loch Shiel, have traditions
of similar sightings, knowledge of their stones remains confined to
locals. Only Nessie has achieved an international reputation.
The settlers of the
Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, many from Lady Aberdeen’s
birthplace of Inverness-shire, brought these ideas with them. In Lake
Okanagan, virtually alone among North American lakes, one can find a
similar "Great Orm." It, too, received its first publicity
in the 1930s. The publicity surrounding the Loch Ness Monster gave new
life to its Canadian counterpart—named "Ogopogo" after a
popular song of the day—and it has received a great deal of interest
Ogopogo has often been
seen but, unlike Nessie, has never been captured on film. No photos of
the lake surface show anything of interest either, but the 1938
discovery of the living fossil coelacanth, a five-foot-long fish
thought to have died out seventy million years ago, has given
believers hope. If the waters off Madagascar could produce a living
fossil, what might these deep-water Canadian lakes contribute? Some
have suggested that the creatures might even be hatching from eggs
laid in preglacial times.
The parallels are
uncanny. The Loch Ness tale stretches back to St. Adamnan’s
biography of St. Columba (c. 565 A.D.) and even, perhaps, to the
Celtic Highland lore of the water horse or water kelpie. Similarly,
American Indians of the Columbia plateau have termed the Okanagan
creature "Naitaka" and have allegedly tried to pacify it by
sacrificing small animals before crossing the lake. As Loch Morar and
Loch Shiel have tried to usurp the fame of Loch Ness, so, too, have
Lake Simcie in Keswick, Ontario, and Lake Winnipegosis, Manitoba, come
forth with their various creatures, "Igopogo" and "Manipogis."
Vancouver Bay also boasts an ocean-going sea monster named
"Caddy." One should not be surprised to learn that the chief
historian of Ogopogo, journalist Mary Moon, was the daughter of a
well-known Scottish novelist. Finally, there is a persistent legend
that as the Okanagan Valley was initially settled by Highland farmers,
one approached the lake and asked a local resident, "What kind of
beasties do ye hae in this loch, laddie?" The Scottish links to
the Canadian West come in a number of guises.
The question, "Why
were the Scots so drawn to western Canada?" has often been asked,
but no reply has been completely satisfactory. In 1911 writer John
Murray Gibbon wryly observed that the best passport for any Canadian
immigrant was to speak with a Scots accent. But he also put forth his
own explanation of the Scots’ success in Canada: "They were
able to adapt themselves to any circumstance, they had faith in
themselves, and they stuck together." To this one might add the
generous experiments of the philanthropists, the community role of the
clergy, the promotion efforts of the Canadian Railroads and land
companies, and the vast richness of the land itself. When combined,
the attraction proved irresistible.
The above information is from
the book Scots in the North American West,...