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The Scottish Tradition in Canada

The statement that the Scots have had a longer and more constant connection with Canada than any other European ethnic group, may come as a surprise to many people, but this would seem to be the truth. It is reported that among Thorfinn Karlsevni's crew in 1010 were two Scots whom he sent to explore Vineland (presumably Newfoundland or Nova Scotia) when he reached its shores. Coming down to more modern times, one of the first cartographers to draw a map of the mouth of the St. Lawrence River was Jean Rotz who published his atlas in 1542. Although a native of Dieppe, he was the son of David Ross, a Scot, who like many others had migrated to France. It is also likely that some of the crews of Cartier's ships were Scots for many Scottish seamen lived in the Brittany and Norman ports. It is reasonable, therefore, to hold that Scottish interest in Canada antedates that of the French, Portuguese and English, and has been more consistent and constant than that of the Scandinavians. To show what this interest has meant to Canada is the purpose of this book.

Scottish influence, however, did not really become strong until the eighteenth century, first with the establishment of Nova Scotia and then after the Cession of New France in 1763, with the advent of the Scottish administrator and merchant to the newly acquited territory. Yet because of their early arrival in the country and the subsequent constant immigration, Scots have spread in all directions across the land. The result is that more than most ethnic groups, the history of Canada is to a certain extent the history of the Scots in Canada. They have not remained in one area, as have the large majority of the French Canadians, nor have they tended to settle in concentrated groups either in towns and cities or in the countryside as have many other racial units. Instead they appear in every location and in every possible aspect of Canadian life.

While this is a matter of pride among Scots, it has not made the task of the historian who would record the Scottish contribution to Canadian development and identity easy. He has no particular geographical area nor typical organization to which he can point as the Scots' primary vehicle of expression, for they have been involved in practically all social activities from the Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches to the Royal Bank of Canada and the Canadian Labour Congress. Some historians in attempting to describe the part played by the Scots in Canadian history have tended to talk in terms of individuals, classifying them in various professions or types of work. This, however, has usually resulted in a list of names of important people without much relationship to the whole pattern of Canadian development. In the present work we have sought to present another approach which may give a better picture of the Scottish contribution to Canada's growth and maturing as a nation.

The plan has been to present a series of chapters on various topics which bring out the Scottish place in Canadian history, rather than a list of names or a description of organizations. For this work some thirteen different authors have been persuaded to write. While the majority are professional or amateur historians; sociologists, literary critics and others are included in the roll. This means that although the approaches of the different chapters are by no means always uniform, the amount of unanimity in point of view and conclusion is obvious. All who have written, however, have had one major complaint: they have not had enough space to develop their themes as thoroughly as they wished. They have discovered that Scots have been even more active than they had originally anticipated when they commenced the research on their assignments.

The chapters have all been written independently of each other, and the editor has refrained from attempting to force any uniformity on them, as he believes that an author should be allowed to say what he has to say as long as his work is relevant to the subject and easily understood by those who read. The result is diversity within unity. It will be noticed, however, that in a number of cases the chapters are really preliminary studies of the topic under discussion. Little research has been done in some fields, such as the Scottish part in the development of Canadian labour movements, with the consequence that wide generalizations still await the intensive study upon which such conclusions can be based. It is interesting to note that as a result of having written a chapter for this book a number of the authors are now proceeding to produce monographs on the same subject.

Although the chapters have all been written independently by each author, they form a definite pattern. The editor has commenced the work by presenting a short history of Scotland in order to explain the background from which the Scots have come, highlighting those aspects of Scotland's story which seem to have influenced the migrant to Canada. Then follows a chapter on the Scots in New France and Acadia, succeeded by various chapters seeking to show Scottish influence in different aspects of Canadian life and development since 1763. It will be noticed, however, that most of the authors have concentrated on the years prior to 1900. The period since the beginning of the present century has seen such a change in Canada's story that it has become even more difficult to keep the Scots in focus as they have inter-married with and adapted to the new ethnic groups entering the country. Nevertheless, according to the latest census figures (1971) Scots or Canadians of Scottish origin still form the third largest ethnic group in Canada, making up 10.43% of the population. For this reason the editor in the final chapter has sought to point out that Scots and Scottish Canadians over the past seventy years have still played an important part in almost every aspect of Canadian life.

One criticism which may be made is that in some cases the different essays overlap each other as they both refer at times to the same sources and to the same material. This is of course true, but really unavoidable owing to the fact that they all deal with the same major topic: the Scot in Canada. At the same time, however, it must also be recognized that each essay approaches the topic from a different angle, so even if there is repetition of material occasionally, the use made of it is different.

Another criticism may perhaps be that there is no chapter devoted to the Scots in the professions such as medicine and law. Again this is true, but there are definite reasons for the omission. Already in the works of William Wilfrid Campbell, George Bryce, W.J. Rattray and others so much space has been devoted to this topic, that those who may be interested should turn to their works. Furthermore, as one goes over the roll of Scottish doctors, lawyers and judges in Canada he is simply inundated by the numbers involved in these professions to the extent that it is difficult to single out individuals for special mention. But probably most important of all, it is often impossible to separate the work and achievements of Scots from others in the same profession since these professions leave little room for manifesting any "Scottish tradition." Where doctors, lawyers, scientists and the like have played an important part in some other sphere of activity they have been mentioned, but it is very difficult to speak of a Scottish tradition in the treatment of the sick or in the development of English Common Law.

The editor would express his thanks to the various authors who have written chapters and who took his criticisms and urgings with such good grace. He would also like to say that he is appreciative of the support given to this work by the Department of the Secretary of State and particularly to Miss Jennifer MacQueen, a Canadian of Scottish origin, the original director of the ethnic history project, to her successors and to the two editors of the series, Prof. Jean Burnet of York University and Dr. Howard Palmer, University of Lethbridge.

One parting word is perhaps in order. The editor hopes that the following chapters do not sound too much as though the Scots are boasting. The authors have all sought to maintain an objective approach in order to tell the plain truth. They have had the same attitude as the Aberdonian servant girl in London, who when her mistress reproached her for not telling her that she came from Aberdeen, replied: "When I left hame, me mither's last words were, 'Lassie dinna blaw.'''

W. Stanford Reid
Guelph, 1976

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