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The Scottish Tradition in Canada
The Gaelic Tradition in Canadian Culture
George S. Emmerson

The term "Celtic" is more precisely applied to a culture than to a race, a culture which has jostled with its principal rival, the Germanic, for a place in Europe over the centuries. In the eighteenth century, the geographic boundary between the two cultures in Scotland was roughly defined by the merging of the mountains of the northwest with the lowlands of the southeast, and were distinguished by their respective languages - Gaelic and "Lowland Scots." The latter language, now usually referred to simply as "Scots," is a northern branch of English or Anglian with its own infusions from the low countries and France and from Gaelic itself.

In Medieval times, Gaelic was the language of the Scots and was then referred to as Erse (Irish) by the English speakers of the southeast and eastern ports. In 1363-5 Fordoun wrote:

The manners and customs of the Scots vary with the diversity of their speech. For two languages are spoken among them, the Scottish and the Teuton, the last of which is the language of those who occupy the seaboard and the plains while the race of Scottish speech inhabit the Highlands and outlying islands. The people of the coast of the islands, on the other hand, are a savage and untamed nation, rude and independent, given to rapine, ease-loving, of a docile and warm disposition, comely in persons but unsightly in dress, hostile to the English people and language and, owing to diversity of speech, even to their own nation, and exceedingly cruel. They are, however, faithful and obedient to their king and country and easily made to submit if properly governed.

This seems a remarkably perceptive report.

The Norse marauders and settlers of the Hebridean and West-Highland fringe had some impact on names and no doubt also on social customs, lore and music, but in these higher arts the Celtic strain was overwhelmingly the stronger. The first rulers of the united kingdom of Scotland (844 A.D.) spoke Gaelic. It was the Anglo-Normans who established the Anglian dialect in Scotland as the language of state even before it was so established in England, where French remained the dominant language at court practically to the time of Henry VIII. King James IV (c.1500) of Scotland, who married Henry's sister, Margaret, was the last of the Scottish kings to be fluent in Gaelic. It was he, too, who broke the Norwegian king's hold on the Hebridean clansmen and set up the Earl of Argyll, chief of Clan Campbell, to erode the dominion of the Macdonald clan over the Isles. This is the true origin of the well-known Macdonald-Campbell feud. It is ironical that it was to the Macdonalds and their associates, adherents to the Roman Church, that James IV's direct line of descent had ultimately to look for its support in the eighteenth century. It was from these clans that a large proportion of the earliest settlers in the New World were drawn.

By this time (1707) Scotland had entered into an incorporating union with England while retaining her own church, educational structure and law. It is to Scotland's control over these vital institutions that Canada owes so much, a phenomenon which provides the subject for several other articles in this symposium. It is certain that when the British government decided to recruit the Scottish Gaels (or Highlanders) into the British army and form Highland regiments, it could not have imagined the many ramifications of this which would develop within the British Empire and its influences on the spread of Scottish Gaelic culture in the world. Its contribution to the depopulation of the Scottish Highlands was seen as an advantage. Through these regiments hundred of Gaels reached North America and remained there to form Gaelic-speaking communities on lands granted by the Imperial government. The first really major Gaelic settlements in Canada began in this way, that in Glengarry, Ontario, being the most noteworthy. The Highland military tradition in such settlements remained strong over the years and it is therefore surprising that the tradition of the great Highland bagpipe as a military instrument did not share this strength. The Scots, both Highland and Lowland, and the Irish too, were often led into battle by a bagpiper in centuries past; but it is the Highland Gaels who cultivated their Great Bagpipe (Piob Mohr), so-called from its size, and its music, for a military role. With the creation of Highland regiments went the development of the combination of piper and drummer which evolved into pipes and drums - the military pipe band - thus founding a new tradition of bagpipe music for marching which is now as strong in Canada, and as indigenous, as it is in Scotland itself. Yet one looks in vain to the Canadian Gaelic settlements for a tradition of piping that reaches back to their origins.

In the tradition of the Gael, the Great Pipe had its own unique art music - Pibroch - a theme and variations form of great variety and subtlety both melodically and acoustically. While Pibrochs have most frequently been composed to commemorate some warlike achievements, or lament the death of a hero or a loved one, they are not restricted to heroic themes. They require great technical skill and musicianship which is not easily acquired without much study and practice. This has often called for something like full-time devotion to the instrument, restricting it, if you will, to professionals. The great patrons of the professional pipers in Scotland were clan chiefs or lairds and the study required of such a piper often involved a few years at one of the special piping schools or colleges such as that of the MacCrimmons in Skye, or under the tutelage of a master of the art. Conditions in the pioneering settlements were not conducive to this kind of application. As for dance music, the fiddle was, in Canada, a more accessible and less temperamental instrument, requiring less skill to play acceptably.

The principal Gaelic-speaking Scottish settlements in Canada by the middle of the nineteenth century were well-established in Nova Scotia, particularly in Cape Breton, Pictou and Antigonish, parts of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, the Ottawa River Valley, the Red River in Manitoba, and in parts of Ontario - particularly Glengarry, Stormont, Zorra, Elgin, Bruce and Baldoon. There were others of less significance and kindred settlements of Lowland and Ulster Scots whose native tongue was modern English and Scots.

Apart from the distinctions associated with their respective languages, the Highland and Lowland Scots were - in general - products of different environments. By the eighteenth century, the Highlander was predominantly a hunter and fisherman or a crofter picking meagre crops from a thin and rocky soil. He lived very close to nature, and was inured to hardship. The cold and wet of the North Atlantic climate held no terrors for him. The Hebridean, living in the eternal presence of the sea, on bare windswept islands, remote and magical, was a different person from the Gaelic-speaking Highlander of the mountains, of the old Pictish regions of Breadalbane and Strathspey, and both differed again in some degree from their brethren in the broad moorlands and glens of Sutherland and Caithness. Their pronunciation of their common language was different, just as the dialects and pronunciation of English differed with fine gradations from the borders with England to John o' Groats, Orkney and Shetland.

Associated with the Gaelic language was an ancient and rich oral tradition of literature, descended from the great bardic culture of former days and largely devoted to the legendary heroes of the race. By the eighteenth century the long bardic epics were preserved in whole or in part in the mouths of the story-tellers with which every clan abounded, mixed with a multitude of those folk tales which John F. Campbell has recorded for us and which Helen Creighton has traced anew in Nova Scotia. In addition to this was the wonderful inheritance of song - the work song, the rowing song, the song of incantation, the love song and the song of live experience. What a treasury was there!1

In eighteenth century Scotland, a notable development in Gaelic literature was the emergence of Gaelic poets who turned from the traditional subjects of their predecessors and composed poems on the themes of their daily life, in the manner of poets in the other European languages. Some of these poets could read and write Gaelic, but most did not. Duncan Ban Macintyre, perhaps the most gifted of these, had all his compositions committed to memory. The Rev. Dr. Stuart of Luss wrote down many of Macintyre's poems from the poet's dictation and published them in 1768. Similar collections of other Gaelic poets followed, but much remained only in oral circulation, for the Gaelic tradition was yet essentially oral.

In his The Literature of the Highlands, Magnus Maclean wrote:

At the beginning of the nineteenth century quite an unprecedented number of Highland bards existed; among others Duncan Ban Macintyre, Ewen Maclachlan, Alan MacDougall, Alexander Mackinnon, John Maclean, Donald Macleod, Kenneth Mackenzie, James Shaw, James Macgregor, John Macdonald, Donald Macdonald, Angus Fletcher and Allan Macintyre. The splendid renaissance of the '45 had thus culminated in the remarkable result that there was scarcely a parish or a clachan throughout the Highlands and Islands that had not its own poet. And yet the noontide glory had already departed for of the great sons of the Muses, Macdonald, Maccodrum, Macintyre, Roy Stuart, Macpherson, Buchanan, Rob Donn and William Ross, only one was still living [Macintyre], the venerable hunter-bard of Glenorchy, who outlived his peers and died at Edinburgh in 1812.

It was the society which produced this outpouring which was now breaking up and transplanting itself on the opposite Atlantic shore. Although the tension which is the mainspring of great art was present in this experience, the leisure for its expression had to give way to the unfamiliar tasks of clearing forests and coping with the problems of survival in an unfamiliar terrain and climate of extremes of sunshine and ice.

Bard MacLean in Nova Scotia despaired in his desolation:

Tha mulad diomhair an deigh mo lionadh
Bho'n 's eiginn striochdadh an seo ri m' bheo
Air bheag toilinntinn 's a' choille chruim seo
Gun duine faighneachd an seinn mi ceol.

Cha b' e sin m' abhaist an tus mo laithean;
'S ann bhithinn rabhartach aig gach bord,
Gu cridheil sunndach an comunn cuirteil,
A' ruith ar n'uine gun churam oirnn.

A hidden grief has overfilled me since I've been doomed to stagnate here for the rest of my life with little amusement in this gnarled forest and without anyone to ask me if I'd sing a song.

That was not my custom in the early days; then I used to be frolicking at every table, happy and contented among cultured companions, passing the time without any care.2

This, however, was a passing phase. MacLean soon began to appreciate some of the recompenses of the new land, and Charles Dunn truly observes that if MacLean had written in English he would have been more widely esteemed as a classic poet of pioneer life. He was the most versatile and renowned of the Highland poets to settle in the New World.3 None of the several Gaelic poets who emigrated to Canada was quite of this calibre. Nevertheless, one must comment on the Rev. Duncan Black Blair who was inspired to write a number of poems on the Canadian scene, of which the following is a good example:

Anns a' gheamhradh neo-chaoin
This a' ghaoth le fead ghoineant',
'S bidh cruaidh ghaoir feadh nan craobh,
'S iad for shraonadh na doininn.
Bidh sneachd trom air gach gleann,
'S cathadh teann mu gach dorus;
Ach bidh Ion againn 's blaths,
'S bidh sinn manranach, sona.

In the surly winter the wind comes with its shrill whistle, and there's a loud moaning among the trees under the blast of the storm. There's deep snow in each valley and heavy drifts around every door; but we have food and warmth, and we're companionable and contented.4

Other Gaelic poets emerged from the new settlements in some profusion, and the work of the best of them has that same vigour and unsentimental awareness of nature that was characteristic of the compositions of the great eighteenth century Gaelic poets.

In contrast, the emigre Lowland Scots writing poetry in their own tongue were constrained by its associations of "hame and infancy" and pawky humour. They came to its traditions via the works of Burns and his contemporary song writers, and imitated these models, but in a way that often tended to artificiality and the rudest sentimentality. This corruption of taste was somehow a peculiarity of their associations with modern English, and the postures of the period. Modern English was now the dominant dialect for serious literature and discourse in Scotland although, curiously enough, it made remarkably slower progress within the legal profession. With its increasing ascendancy for higher literary purposes since the appearance of the King James translation of the Bible, it caused the decline of the growing Lowland Scots literary tradition of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Gaelic has had a much longer run as a working language and is consequently a more fully developed language than Scots had a chance to become. But Scots was the language of "feeling" for most non-Gaelic speakers in Scotland and remains so to the present day although to a lesser extent than formerly, with the exception of those brought up within the Glasgow industrial region, in which the vernacular is a corrupt patois. Great poetry on universal themes has been written in Scotland in the vernacular Scots tongue, or its literary synthesis, in recent times, starting with Hugh Macdiarmid's Sangschaw, Penny Wheep, and A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle of the 1920s. This development has had no manifestation in Canada corresponding to that which one can trace among the nineteenth century immigrants and which is the subject of another contribution to this symposium. Gaelic poetry in Scotland has been touched by this modern movement, its crowning glory being the work of Sorley Mac-Lean, but this also has had no impact in Canada - as yet.

The poetry of the pioneering Gael in Canada expresses the simple wonder of his new habitat and the struggle of the experience in a more immediate way than the corresponding endeavours in English or Scots. Nevertheless, being in a minority language, this poetry has had no apparent effect on the mainstream of English or French literature in Canada. This does not preclude the discovery of Canadian works here and there which draw their expression from the Gaelic tradition, just as one encounters Gaelic constructions and expressions in the English speech of people raised where Gaelic was indigenous in Canada. That "indigenous" is not too strong a word is well illustrated by the experiences of that great Scottish divine, Norman Macleod, when he toured the eastern provinces in 1841. While proceeding by steamboat from Kingston, Ontario, to Toronto, for instance, he heard a number of voices from a lower deck singing a Gaelic chorus. After seeking them out, the following dialogue ensued:

"Pray what language is that?"
"Gael, sir. ..."

"Is it a language?"
"It's the only true langidge. English is no langidge at all, at all."
"It must be banished; it is savage."
"It's no you, or any other, will banish it.''
"Pray let me hear you speak a sentence of it. Address a question to me."
"Co as a thanaig thu?" (Where do you come from?)
"Thanaig mis as an Eilean Sgianachl" (I come from the lsle of Skye.)
"O, fheudail! 'Se Gael tha am" (Oh goodness! He is a Gael!)5

None of these men had ever been in Scotland; all were natives of Glengarry, Ontario. This did not surprise Macleod; he was meeting with this sort of thing wherever he travelled in Upper Canada and the Maritimes and, not long before, he had participated in open air religious services in Gaelic at Pictou, to which nearly five thousand people had thronged from near and far. He had never seen the like in Scotland.

When formal education was introduced to the Gaelic-speaking communities in Canada the principal use of the language in the schoolroom was to teach English - just as in Scotland. Thus most Gaels everywhere came to read and write English better than they could read and write their parent tongue, the tongue in which they expressed themselves best, the vehicle of their literature! A considerable incentive towards literacy in Gaelic, however, was provided by the publication, in 1841, of a valuable collection of the best Gaelic poets of the eighteenth century, entitled Sar Obar nam Bard Gaeloch (Masterpieces of the Gaelic Bards). This was compiled by John Mackenzie and published in Glasgow. The poems were in the original Gaelic and the biographies of the poets and an introductory dissertation were presented in English. Charles Dunn, whose study of the Gaelic literature of Nova Scotia6 is an indispensable guide to this subject, tells us that Sar Obar nam Bard Gaeloch had a remarkable effect on the cultural life of Canadian Gaels, enticing the curious into learning to read their own language.

The attachment of the emigrant Gaels to their native islands and mountains was deep and intense. Unlike their Germanic tormentors, the Vikings of the Middle Ages, the Gaels, as a people, were not maritime adventurers. Perhaps their internecine feuds, to which they were peculiarly addicted, provided sufficient release for their aggressive instincts. In their days of crisis in the eighteenth century, however, these feuds melted into insignificance and the more civilized side of Gaelic life enjoyed the greater prominence it so richly deserved, although observers were usually deceived by the trappings of poverty.

The Protestant Reformation spread into Sutherland and Caithness in the seventeenth century but was much slower in penetrating the remoter Highlands. A Gaelic translation of the Bible was not available until the late eighteenth century. When the missionary zeal of the reforming ministers bore fruit, it was with a startling fervour and earnestness which was quickly reinforced by the anguish of parting from friends and relatives in the time of wholesale clearances, and by the resulting desolation. Thus a peculiarly puritanical branch of the Protestant church made great headway throughout the West Highlands during the nineteenth century. The Gael was ever close to the supernatural and wove some of his superstitious propensities into whatever creed he adopted. Not even the strictest Cal-vinist in the Hebrides would readily scoff at the phenomenon of "second sight," for instance. This was the most common and best authenticated form of extra-sensory perception within nearly everyone's experience. The Gaels took this with them and their heightened sense of the "other World" to their new home in the forest and by the sea of new shores. The Rev. W.A. Ross of Zorra, for instance, recorded that nearly all the superstitious Halloween rites described by Burns were practised by the Zorra pioneers, a Protestant Gaelic community.7

The Catholic part of the Scottish Highlands still embraces the Great Glen, Glengarry, Ardnamurchan, Knoydart, Moidart, and the islands of Rum, Eigg, Canna, Barra, South Uist and Eriskay. It is from these regions that the Catholic Gaels of Canada set forth, settling mainly in Cape Breton, Antigonish, Prince Edward Island and Glengarry, Ontario. It is among these that the traditions of the Gael have been most tenaciously preserved in both Scotland and Canada. The relationship between the Catholic and Protestant Highlanders has been traditionally cordial and tolerant. The binding force of the Gaelic language was proof against sectarian hostility. It was a very different case in Ireland, where Catholics spoke Gaelic and Protestants spoke English. The Rev. Norman Macleod the elder, father of the minister of the same name mentioned above and composer of the favourite Gaelic song, "Farewell to Fiunary" (Fiunary was the name of his manse in Morven), frequently entertained "old Mr. Cattanach," the local Roman Catholic priest at Campbeltown, and often provided board for the priest of his parish in Morven.8 But we can find many examples of this spirit in the ministrations in Glengarry of Bishop MacDonell, whose unbigoted acts of Christian charity earned a generous encomium from the Orange Body of the City of Toronto (c.1835).9 The divisions which developed among the Protestant brethren, however, were sometimes more deeply felt, and were a vexatious intrusion into immigrant Highland settlements.

The Scottish Kirk, however, was an influential democratic power in Scotland, largely taking the place of a parliament. It was a great force towards literacy - in English - and it produced or fostered a disputatious body of parishioners, particularly in the Lowlands, who made "points of doctrine" and consequently philosophy, theology and science their profound concern. The West Highland Presbyterians were more likely to follow their ministers and fall under the spell of repressive piety. Many regarded their misfortunes as judgements for sinful living, and for these the rejection of all expression of secular joy seemed only too appropriate. Some of this is seen in the Gaelic-speaking pioneer settlements of Nova Scotia, and where it is strong it has had an inhibitory effect, as in Scotland, on the preservation of the traditional customs, dances and songs. The Catholic communities have largely been spared this cloud of guilt, but they have had their puritan devotees too. Nevertheless music and dance have occupied a paramount place in the culture of all Gaels. The folk music of the British Isles is predominantly Celtic in origin and no community in Europe has exceeded Ireland and Gaelic Scotland in the variety, extent and beauty of its instrumental music and songs.

In both music and dance, Gaelic society developed sophisticated art forms: the port of the clarsach, the piobairechd of the piob mor, or great bagpipe, and Highland dancing. The Gaelic-speaking pioneer communities of North America were heirs to these, but had little apparent opportunity to cultivate them. In their recreational life they took inspiration from the smaller folk forms - the traditional dance music and martial airs played on both fiddle and bagpipe and the immense resources of song. The latter included the work or occupational songs which lightened every task. Communal tasks - such as waulking the cloth and rowing the long boat -were accompanied by the appropriate songs, usually comprising alternating lines of solo and chorus. Survivals of this great accumulation reaching back into distant time are still being collected in Nova Scotia and the Hebrides. As J.L. Campbell expressed it, "Work in the Gaelic-speaking Highlands and Islands was performed as a joyful social creative activity, integrated into the lives of the people and expressing their personalities-. .. their great store of traditional folksong enriched their lives and lightened their labours."10

That great Gaelic social institution, the ceilidh, a domestic gathering combining entertainment and conversation, has survived as a vital characteristic of life in the Gaelic communities of Canada right into modern times although, recently, it has more commonly been replaced by public concerts. Public Gaelic concerts, as distinct from those of the Gaelic societies of the cities, are more of an institution in Cape Breton than elsewhere in Canada, for it is there that the Gaelic language has been most tenaciously preserved. Nevertheless, the visitor to many concerts in Glengarry County, Ontario, would be excused for thinking that he had arrived in the Scottish Highlands, for, although English is the language now used, it is the music, songs and dances of Scotland that dominate the programme. There are still a few districts in Scotland in which one could summon up a band of twenty fiddlers at short notice, but it would startle any Scot today to walk into a hall in Maxville, Ontario, or Sydney or Halifax, Nova Scotia, and find a score of fiddlers who had never seen Scotland, crowding onto a platform to play reels, hornpipes, jigs and Strathspeys with all the love and fervour in the world. This, in large measure, is the very stuff of Canada, let alone of Scotland, in the experience of thousands of Canadians.

Traditional Scottish dance music can be categorized under two generic heads - reels and jigs. The sub-categories of reel to which special names have been given are: rant, Scottish Measure and Strathspey.11 The common-time hornpipe which has been a great favourite in New England and in the Maritimes is a class of tune which was developed from the Scottish Measure in the eighteenth century and was widely used as the vehicle of theatrical character step-dances at that time and subsequently. The Irish hornpipe has a different rhythm and style. Prior to the vogue of the new hornpipes, the name was given to a step-dance measure in 3/2 which was a favourite in England, in the Scottish border country and to some extent in Ireland. The common-time hornpipe, so called, was widely used in Scottish dancing schools for a character dance called Jacky Tar and for Country Dances. It was clearly a relative, a mutation, of the traditional Scottish rant, although many of the stage hornpipes named after dancing masters (Fishar's, Durang's, etc.) are obviously not Scottish in origin at all. The different classes of jigs are not so clearly differentiated and, although they form the bulk of the corpus of Irish dance music, they are hardly less essential to the dance music of England and form a considerable component of that of Scotland.

The jig cannot compete with the rant and hornpipe in the affections of Canadian fiddlers, nor can the Strathspey, still less the slow Strathspey so much enjoyed by Scottish fiddlers. This certainly has something to do with the prevailing dance forms and also the fiddling technique. The self-taught, uncultivated, traditional fiddler uses a very short bowing action, vigorously scraping out the tune with a stroke to each note and producing but very small sound. The more tutored fiddler has acquired the advantages of a more varied bowing technique and larger sound, although in some cases at the sacrifice of what the Scots call "pith and birr." The long bow is most advantageous, if not essential, to the slow Strathspey. As already remarked, the Cape Bretoner's partiality for rants, common-time hornpipes and, to a lesser extent, jigs, is undoubtedly due to the prevailing tradition of step-dancing which has also given rise to the name of "clog" for a particular class of hornpipe tune, the "Scottish Measure.''

A considerable proportion of this body of dance music has been composed by fiddlers - and pipers - within the past two hundred years. It remains a living tradition and nowhere more so than in the regions of Gaelic settlement in Canada, particularly in Cape Breton, Glengarry and the Ottawa River Valley. More than that, each region has developed its own characteristic style of fiddling as well as its favourite versions of old tunes and even favourite tunes of its own. Hence certain characteristics distinguish the typical fiddler from Cape Breton from his counterpart in Glengarry or by the Ottawa River. The same could once be said, and to a lesser extent can still be said, of fiddlers in Scotland itself, and of fiddle and pipe tunes. The printed music collections, improved technique, and the disruption of the old communities have conspired towards greater uniformity in Scotland. Nevertheless, there is a clear difference between the Irish and Scottish styles, and mainland and island styles, of performing the same tunes, and no less a difference in the technique of the instrumentalist.

The Cape Breton fiddlers often seem to form a bridge between the Scottish and Irish styles. There is, too, a difference between the Cape Breton and Nova Scotian styles recognized by the cognoscenti. In addition there are the related musical traditions of Acadia and New England in which fiddling plays an equally prominent role. In all of these regions rants and common-time hornpipes reign supreme. It is fascinating to hear the transmutations of Scottish rants and even of Strathspeys, suitably renamed, by French-Canadian fiddlers, among whom Jean Carignan, a Quebecer, takes pride of place. Another offshoot of the Gaelic tradition in fiddling in Canada is what is called "Country Music," the "hoe-down" square dance idiom, very different from the Scottish tradition of fiddling which is its natural progenitor. This subject has not yet been studied and treated with the scholarship it deserves and the different styles of fiddling are not so easily discussed on paper in any case. The "Scotch," Cape Breton, Nova Scotian, Acadian and "Country" styles of fiddling are identifiable and have their respective devotees.

The most distinctive characteristic of the Scotch style is the absence of the drone effect of frequent doubling with the open string common to the other two styles. Double-stopping, staccato, and what some call the "skirl" - a quick figure or arabesque employing the four working fingers - are also distinctive characteristics of the Scotch style. The Acadian style bends all tunes, even if they be Strathspeys or Scottish Measures, into an impetuous filigree of graceful notes. The accents of the tunes - Scottish tunes though they be - are changed, making them no longer Strathspeys, etc. This style is at its best with rants and hornpipes. Indeed, one is tempted to say that it was uniquely devised for these rhythms. In the hands of such an artist as Jean Carignan the effect is incomparably exciting. In other categories of Scottish dance tune it is not nearly so effective and, in any case, to the Scottish ear its accent is"wrong." The same can be said of the "Country" style which now rather predominates in Canada.

The social dances brought to Cape Breton by its Gaelic-speaking settlers were several variants of what are now called the "four-handed reel" and the "eight-handed reel," or, in Gaelic, the Ruidhleadh Bheag ("small reel") and the Ruidhleadh Mor ("big reel"). These dances comprised eight bars of travel in a circle alternating with eight bars of setting to partners, either in a line or in a square. The setting took the form of hornpipe stepping - trebles and beats, brushing and heel and toe movements - a style of dancing for clad feet, and of which little trace survives in Scotland but which is certainly essential to Irish dancing. Nevertheless there is sufficient evidence in written record and within comparatively recent memory to confirm the Cape Breton round reels as authentic survivors of a favourite dance form of the Hebrides and contiguous parts of the Scottish mainland at the time of the large scale emigrations.13 Stepping was commonly employed for setting in country dances in the rural communities of the Scottish Lowlands and was certainly taught by itinerant dancing masters in Ayrshire and Galloway in the early nineteenth century.14 The term "Country Dance," it must be pointed out, refers to a specific longwise dance form characterized by a system of progression by which each couple has an opportunity of leading through the dance as "dancing couple" in regular sequence. There are "Scottish," "English" and "Irish" Country Dances, differing more in technique than in figures and, of course, in music, although there are large scale mutual borrowings.

Country Dances are performed to all classes of reel, hornpipe and jig and were popular in the rural and formal ballrooms of Canadian and New England towns in the nineteenth century. American ballroom manuals called them "Contra-Dances," a name appropriate to their longwise formation of male and female ranged in opposing lines, in contradistinction of the couples facing each other in square formation, which, incidentally, is the original contra-dance formation. Other than by providing tunes, there was no Scottish influence on these dances. The technique was mainly stepping; but the ballroom manuals of the period leave no doubt that hornpipe stepping was appropriate only to vulgar assemblies.

The so-called "Square Dance" is a rustic form of the Quadrille, which was a more decorous dance and, originally, one demanding much classical dance skill and a large repertoire of steps. The Square Dance has therefore been referred to as a "country dance," but this is not the same as "Country Dance" with capital "C" and "D." The Scottish Country Dance which emerged from the Lowland dance assemblies of the eighteenth century was unknown to the Gaelic immigrants of Canada. If the latter encountered Country Dances in their new home it would be through the social dancing of their neighbours who had derived them from America or England. Nothing replaced their own reels and music in the esteem of the Gaels in both Scotland and Canada.

The Country Dance, as it evolved in Scotland, took on a character influenced by the technique of the Scotch Reel in its Atholl and Strathspey forms. It was a favourite social dance form of many Lowland regions and has been introduced in strength to Canada since the 1940s through the work of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, founded in 1923. There are now numerous groups of devotees of Scottish Country Dancing in Canada, providing and receiving continuous instruction in the art. Many new dances in the idiom have been devised in Canada, even by native-born Canadians, and have found a place in the repertoire, but these can scarcely yet be considered a uniquely Canadian strain of the genre. It is a notable fact that some of the most accomplished exponents of the art, dancers and musicians, are resident in Canada and many are Canadian-born. One of the Canadian bands which provide music for the great Scottish Country Dance occasions is acknowledged to rank with the best in the world.15

The style of this dance, while energetic, is controlled and courtly in the ballroom. It is slowly being accepted in the Gaelic regions of Canada where, except for its music, it has no roots. It puts a premium on a limited range of dancing skill in the style of Highland Dance - a Gaelic source -and, above all, it provides an incomparable opportunity to dance socially to all categories of the traditional dance music played in the Scottish style.

The dramatic or mimetic jigs and reels which were once an essential feature of every ceilidh in the Scottish West Highlands and even of like occasions in the non-Gaelic southwest16 were a vague recollection among some old people in Cape Breton and the Hebrides in recent times.17 The milieu which preserved these very simple performances, with their connotations of ancient ritual, has passed away. This is not to be confused with what is known as Highland dancing.

What we call Highland dancing, today, is really a cultivated art form which has developed from Gaelic culture's traditions of music and dance. It is analogous to the development of ballet - or the associated cultivated dance forms of the sixteenth century French court - from the raw material of the folk. But unlike its European analogue, it belonged to the folk and developed within the folk. Its centre of development was the central Highlands of Scotland and its social expression was in that dance known in the eighteenth century and later as the Highland Reel - for three or four dancers. A peculiarly elegant and sprightly form of its varied and exacting technique was fostered in the Strathspey and contiguous regions of the northeast Highlands, and from its variety of steps developed the enchainments which were later given such names as "Highland Fling."

It is not our purpose here to enter into the details of the nature and historical development of Highland dance. For this, the reader is referred to the relevant works cited in the notes. Suffice to say that the eighteenth century was a "dancing" century in Scotland - and elsewhere - if ever there was one, and that dance served as much for exercise as diversion among even the Highland soldiery of the period.

It is a curious fact that Highland dancing is not indigenous to Cape Breton or to Nova Scotia generally nor to Prince Edward Island. Although one sees much of it in these provinces today, it has there little history prior to the early years of the present century. By contrast it seems to have had a longer run in the Glengarry settlement where living memory and tradition regard hornpipe stepping as an intrusion. If this is true, it could very neatly be explained by the fact that Glengarry was heir to military traditions which included Highland dancing.

One would look to Glengarry also for a tradition of military piping, but historians have not been interested or knowledgeable in this and there is no visibly greater interest in piping in Glengarry than in many other regions of Ontario. The great vogue of female pipe bands in Nova Scotia underlines the relative weakness of the tradition there. It is appropriate at this point to mention that the great strength of pipe bands in Canada lies in Ontario where there are, at time of writing, three of the best bands in the world. These are civilian bands. Civilian pipe bands now greatly excel military pipe bands, and they are constantly pitting themselves against one another in competition at the many Highland games which have long been characteristic of the Canadian scene.

The modern piping and dancing competitions began with the efforts of the Highland Society of London, England, founded around 1780. The Society comprised a large number of Gaels of the military and other professions who were imbued with a nostalgia for the associations of their language and who wished to take action to preserve it and its literature, and, not least, their great inheritance of bagpipe music and dance. Gaelic clubs and Highland societies which sprang up wherever Gaels congregated sought affiliation to the the Highland Society. The first of these, in Canada, was initiated by Bishop Macdonell in Glengarry in 1818. The institutional meeting took place at St. Raphael's on November 10 of that year, on which occasion the charter was presented by Simon McGillivray, one of the vice-presidents of the London parent body, to William

McGillivray, Angus Shaw, John Macdonell (of Gart), Henry Mackenzie and the Rev. Alexander Macdonell, forming the original committee of application. The Society extended its mandate to include the relief of distressed Gaelic immigrants. Grants in aid of the production of scholarly works on the Gaelic language, the collection of Gaelic poetry, and prizes for Gaelic scholars and pipers were established. After some years of usefulness the Society suffered a decline on account of the death or removal of its founders and, after a brief restoration under Macdonell of Gart, the decline continued until the Society came to an end around 1870.18 Meantime, in 1842, another branch of the Highland Society was founded in Hamilton, Ontario, on the instigation of Sir Allan MacNab and Sir Charles Bagot. There was, too, a Celtic Society of Upper Canada at this period. Gaelic clubs and Caledonian societies are still active in most Canadian cities, but now exist primarily to bring Gaelic speakers together for social diversion.

The original Highland Society of London sponsored the first Highland bagpipe competition in 1782 and extended premiums to dancing a few years later. The modern Highland Gathering dates from this period, but did not extend to Canada until the second half of the nineteenth century. All the Gaelic settlements in Canada now conduct important annual Highland games, and numerous others, if less important, are found wherever Scottish sentiment exists. Competition piping and Highland dancing are now extensively developed from coast to coast, with a multitude of native Canadian dancers and teachers reinforced by the continued influx over the years of skilled devotees from Scotland itself. Like all athletic competitions in general, Highland dance competitions were originally for males and thus a male character was placed on competition dance. The first competition dances were the Highland Reel, the Strathspey Twasome and, a little later, the Gille Callum. In more recent times, the Gille Callum has been joined by a Highland Fling and the Seam Triubhas and, since World War I, girls and women have largely dominated the activity.

Highland games, Highland dancing and pipe bands are now so characteristic of the Canadian scene that they are for many as much Canadian as they are Scottish. They are primarily maintained by the Canadian descendants of Scottish immigrants and their attainments are salutary, the standards achieved being comparable to the best anywhere and often better.

Turning, now, to the less obvious manifestations of Gaelic cultural influence in Canada, we are faced with a dearth of scholarship. Poetry we have touched upon; what of the related art of imaginative prose - the novel? Students of Canadian literature have not been at pains to identify Gaelic influence on Canadian writing, yet one suspects that writers imbued with an inheritance of Gaelic manners, taste and expression would be influenced by it, as was Niel Gunn in Scotland, for instance. The mention of Gunn, a native of the county of Caithness, where Gaelic, Scots and Norse elements meet, turns one's eyes to Canada's Farley Mowat whose family came from the same region of Scotland. Is Farley Mowat in this tradition? He is recognizably closer to it than he is to English models; but this subject deserves closer study than anyone has yet been able to give it.

Much the same has to be said of the visual arts. Scottish painting is not well known in Canada, yet the Gaelic (or Celtic) influence on Scottish painting is considerable - love of colour, light and design. People familiar with the work of the "Scottish Colourists" of the earlier part of the present century find parallels in the aspirations and tastes of the Canadian Group of Seven. Are they both manifestations of Gaelic tradition? The Celts are nothing if not artistic. The great Scottish architectural genius, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a Gael in the great Celtic tradition of design, has attracted the interest of Canadians but this is as yet a very peripheral aspect of Gaelic influence in Canada.

While it is in the arts that one naturally seeks Celtic influence with greatest expectation, there is more than a probability that Canada has derived at least one of its national games from the Gaels, namely, ice hockey. The most popular Scottish Gaelic game is shinty, played with sticks or clubs and a wooden ball. In some parts of the Highlands the word shinty was corrupted to "shinnie," and it is an interesting fact that "shin-nie" was played upon ice in Canada before the word "hockey" was used of the game. Ice hockey has been so widely adopted in Canada, however, that apart from the name of its progenitor, the Gaels have not retained identity with it as, for instance, the Scots as a whole have with that other great Canadian winter game, curling.

Curling has been a much loved game in Scotland, at least since Medieval times, and although it was, and is, particularly popular in the central Highlands of that country, it was really a game of the Lowlands as its original technical terms reveal. The earliest established curling club in Canada was created in Montreal in 1807, largely supported by the Scottish officers of the garrisons. Soon thereafter, similar clubs began to form in other towns, as, for example, Quebec (1821), Kingston (1820), Toronto (1836), Fergus (1834), Galt and Guelph (1838), and Halifax (c.1838).19 Soon it followed Scots - Gaels and Lowlanders alike - across the continent, until now it is a game which Canadians have made peculiarly their own, while paying salutary honour to the game's origins, with tartans, blue bonnets, bagpipes and conviviality. The game of frozen winter locks and ponds in the open air has become a game of indoor arenas and artifical ice and its language, wonderfully poetic and expressive in Scots, has comparatively recently been replaced by prosaic English in Canada; this is a loss.

If Highland games and dancing, Gaelic mods, bagpiping, fiddling, ice shinty and, to some extent, curling, cannot testify to the strength of Gaelic cultural influence in Canada, one cannot ignore the many war memorials surmounted by kilted soldiers. Surely these are a visible reminder to every immigrant that to be Scottish is also, in a very deep sense, to be Canadian, and especially if the blood is Highland and dreams are of the Hebrides.


1. Cf. J.F. Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands (Paisley: A. Gardner, 1890-1893), 4 vols.; H. Creighton, Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia (Toronto: Dent, 1932); Maritime Folk Songs (Toronto: Ryerson, 1962)

2. Charles W. Dunn, Highland Settlers: A Portrait of the Scottish Gael in Nova Scotia (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1953), p. 58.

3. Ibid., p. 60.

4. Ibid., p. 63.

5. Donald Macleod, Memoir of Norman Macleod (Toronto: Belford, 1876).

6. Dunn, op. cit.

7. W.A. Ross, History of Zorra and Embro (Embro, 1909).

8. Macleod, p. 26.

9. J.A. Macdonell, Sketches of Glengarry (Montreal: Foster, Brown, 1893), p. 327.

10. J.L. Campbell, ed., Hebridean Folksongs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 16.

11. For a fuller discussion of this see George S. Emmerson, Rantin' Pipe and Tremblin' String: A History of Scottish Dance Music (Montreal: McGill-Queen's, 1964), pp. 267-285.

12. F. Rhodes, "Dancing in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia," in J.F. and T.M. Flett, Traditional Dancing in Scotland (London: Routledge, 1964), pp.267-285.

13. See George S. Emmerson, A Social History of Scottish Dance (Montreal: McGill-Queen's, 1972), and Rhodes, loc. cit.

14. Ibid., p. 157-60.

15. Stan Hamilton's band, essentially comprising Stan Hamilton (piano), Robert Frew and Robert Brown (accordians), all raised in Scotland, supported by drummer and bass.

16. Emmerson, Social History pp. 231-39.

17. Rhodes, loc. cit.

18. MacDonell, pp. 326-7.

19. John A. Stevenson, Curling in Ontario: 1846-1946 (Toronto: Ontario Curling Association, 1950); John Kerr, Curling in Canada and the United States (Toronto: Morton, 1904).

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