Scotland is a rugged land of lochs, dark rivers and mystical Highlands, a country ruled by nature. Hundreds of islands are strewn around its craggy shores – a thousand miles of cliffs, rocks and spectacular beaches, moulded by wind and
weather. The sea shaped and tested the passionate and hardy Scottish soul and determined much of the country’s turbulent history.
From the hills and glens of that rugged land, the Scots went forth throughout the world to leave their everlasting mark. Scotland has produced scientists, explorers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, mathematicians, engineers, economists, inventors, writers, politicians and union leaders. From Canada and the United States to India, from Africa to the idyllic islands of the Caribbean, from Russia to Australia, the Scottish influence was rooted and continues to grow.
Scots have made countless contributions to the founding and the ongoing development of Canada:
• Scottish sailors were with the early Vikings landing in Newfoundland in 1010 AD and with Prince Henry Sinclair who sailed from the Orkney Islands to Atlantic Canada in 1398.
• The Fraser Highlanders fought for Wolfe at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. Numerous Canadian kilted regiments fought for the world’s freedom in the First and Second World Wars. Dr. John
McCrae, from Guelph, wrote the immortal “In Flanders Fields” during the carnage of World War I.
• The Scots dominated Canada’s early fur trade. A census in 1799 indicated that four of every five employees with the Hudson’s Bay Company were Scottish. Sir George Simpson ruled the HBC and three million square miles of what is now Canada and the U.S. from 1821 to 1860.
• The North West Co. partners explored much of the North American continent in search of furs. The partners were nearly all Highland Scots. Names such as
McTavish, MacGillivray and McDonald predominated. Wintering partner Angus Bethune was the son of Rev. John Bethune, the first Presbyterian minister in Glengarry, Upper Canada. A great-grandson of Angus was Dr. Norman Bethune, revered to this day for his medical dedication in China. Sir Alexander MacKenzie was the first European to cross Canada by land in 1793. Simon Fraser descended the river named after him in 1808.
• Sir Donald Smith and Sir George Stephen, along with many other Scots, built the Canadian Pacific Railway across Canada to forge a new nation – “a Dominion from sea to sea.”
• Sir John A. Macdonald was Canada’s first Prime Minister while Alexander Mackenzie was the second. Thirteen of Canada’s Prime Ministers were of Scottish ancestry. Of Canada’s 36 Fathers of Confederation, more than half were of Scottish origin.
• Scots were instrumental in the creation and development of every Canadian province and territory. John Sandfield Macdonald was the first Premier of Ontario. James Douglas was tagged the “Father of British Columbia.”
• Sandford Fleming invented Standard Time. George Brown, a Father of Confederation, founded the Toronto Globe. William Lyon Mackenzie, Toronto’s first mayor, led the rebels in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. He was the grandfather of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.
• Canada’s premier universities: Toronto, McGill, Queen’s,
McMaster, New Brunswick and Dalhousie were founded by Scots.
• Alexander Graham Bell who lived his early days in Brantford, Ontario, and later in
Baddeck, Nova Scotia, invented the telephone. Sir Frederick Banting, whose mother was a Grant, discovered insulin. Famed economist and writer John Kenneth Galbraith, a graduate of what is now the University of
Guelph, has been a major influence in the U.S. and throughout the world for more than half a century. These are but a few examples.
It is important to preserve this heritage; an important part of the history and culture of Canada from its earliest beginnings to today’s ever-changing world
Much needs to be done. The Scottish Studies Foundation seeks to fund the development of the Scottish Studies
programme at the University of Guelph and the eventual establishment of a Chair of Scottish Studies. The Foundation also plans to work with other universities across Canada to create and develop similar programmes for the preservation of Canada’s Scottish heritage.
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