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In 2009 almost one in five Canadians claimed Scottish descent: With modern maps peppered with Scottish place names and Canadian telephone directories bulging with Scottish surnames, one could be forgiven for thinking that the figures were the other way about! In addition to every province and territory having its own tartan, there are hundreds (560 in total) for towns, cities, individuals and organisations including one for the world-famous Mounties.

If any of you would like to help us establish a 'Canadian section' in this new web site, we'd be delighted! The aim is to have details of all Scottish events held in Canada and all Scottish associations - from Highland games committees to St Andrew's Societies to Burns Clubs . . . The whole gamut of Scottish life in Canada. As a reminder of the Scots in Canada, Scotland's official online gateway (www.scotland.org) sets the scene:

There have been times when Canada was regarded as almost an extension of Scotland. And it's not hard to see why when you realise just how many Scottish place names and family names are to be found throughout Canada; and how many towns, rivers and mountains have been named in honour of Scottish explorers, traders and adventurers, from Mackenzie Bay and Calgary to Nova Scotia (New Scotland) itself, where the first Highlanders arrived at Pictou on the ship "Hector" in 1773.

An advertisement for the Ship Hector bound for Pictou Harbour in Nova Scotia.

Elsewhere, Upper Canada's first major Scottish settlement was Glengarry, established in 1784 by Highlanders from Inverness-shire. Growing numbers of emigrants sought opportunities in the new lands of Upper Canada. Their sense of pride in the nation they had left, coupled with a strong sense of cultural identity, led to the early settlers establishing firmly rooted Scottish traditions across the future province of Ontario.

The early Scots left an indelible mark on Canada. Among the most celebrated were Glasgow-born John A Macdonald, Canada's first Prime Minister; Alexander Mackenzie, the first man to find a route from the east to the west coast; entrepreneurs like Donald Alexander Smith from Forres, the driving force behind The Canadian Pacific Railway, linking Montreal with Vancouver, the Atlantic with the Pacific; Lanark-born James Douglas, the 'Father of BC', who helped develop a remote trading post on Vancouver Island into the province of British Columbia; and Robert Dunsmuir, an Ayrshire coal miner eventually charged with building the Vancouver Island rail link, making him British Columbia's first millionaire.

Less well known, but no less extraordinary were the Scots cattlemen and drovers who turned cowboys; cattle barons like Murdo MacKenzie and John Clay who had a hand in firms such as the Prairie Land & Cattle Company, based in Edinburgh, and the Matador Land and Cattle Company, based in Dundee.

An early fur trapper.
There were others too, though more famous for recording history than making it. Scots like Dollar-born James Anderson, 'The Bard of Barkerville', and Robert Service, sometimes regarded as Canada's national poet, who together captured the spirit, characters and legends of the Gold Rush.

As well as their impact on the business world, the early day Scots helped shape both the physical and political landscapes of Canada.

For example, the city of Guelph was founded in 1827 by the Scottish novelist John Galt. Tradition tells that Galt, or one of his companions, laid his outstretched hand on a tree stump and predicted that the streets of the new town would radiate from a central point such as his fingers radiated from his palm. The layout of downtown Guelph does indeed resemble such a design.

And, in the world of politics, the first two Canadian Prime Ministers, John A MacDonald and Alexander McKenzie, were both native born Scots and MacDonald was generally recognised as the new nation's principal founder. Indeed, despite their minority status, since the confederation of 1867, eight men and one woman of Scottish ancestry have been elected Prime Minister of Canada.

This ancestral legacy of the early Scottish emigrants on the development of Canada meant that before 1971, Canadians of Scottish descent were listed as a separate category from the British. In the 1960's, they were the third largest ethnic group in the country, after the English and French.

 

 


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