Scotland and Canada

29 Nov 2012
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With immense territories stretching from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west and the Arctic Ocean in the north, the mighty nation of Canada might seem as though it couldn't be more unlike its much smaller transatlantic cousin – Scotland.

And yet the two countries share ties that bind them to a common history and offer the boons of a close-knit future. Below we reveal some of the historic links between the two countries and celebrate our continuing economic and cultural proximity.

Ancient History

Canada is the second largest country by area on the planet, and its history has long been one of immigration, trade, and multiculturalism the perfect counterpoint to Scotland's legendary heritage of emigration, invention and conviviality! Inhabited since pre-history by indigenous aboriginal peoples, the first rumours of Scottish emigration to Canada come from as early as 1010 AD when Vikings may have arrived in modern Newfoundland carrying Scottish slaves. It was not until around the 1500s, however, that better recorded European exploration came, with English and French expeditions, led by John Cabot and Jacques Cartier respectively, arriving on the Atlantic coast. By the early 1600's permanent settlements had been established in Port Royal and Quebec.

The number of Scots who actually moved to and settled in this New World remained relatively low until the founding of Nova Scotia on the South East coast of Canada in 1621. The indomitable Sir William Alexander of Menstrie appealed to King James I (King James VI of Scotland) that a New Scotland was needed to expand national interests alongside New England, New France, and New Spain. The King agreed to sign a grant claiming as 'Nova Scotia' an area larger than Britain and France combined, and creating a new order of Baronets at a cost of 3000 mercks each!

Amazingly, around 100 Baronets of Nova Scotia still exist descendants of those original settlers who have retained their titles some of whom will still proudly claim that Nova Scotia Baronets are superior in rank to any others in Scotland!

The French Connection

Canada's fascinating history was at the forefront of many Canadians' minds in 2008 as the country celebrated the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec, one of the oldest cities in North America. With its theme of 'Meetings and Encounters', the 2008 festivities saw spectacular performances of dance, song, and music, alongside historical performances, contemporary art exhibitions and sporting events. Much of the architecture and street naming of Quebec also reflect the significant influence of Scottish immigration to the city, and this still vibrant connection was also remembered during the fantastic festival.

Amongst the settlers in Quebec were a large group of highland soldiers. A prime example was the Fraser Highlanders, who sailed from Scotland to lay siege and then capture the mighty French Fortress at Louisbourg, Nova Scotia in 1758. The men wintered further south before pursuing the Quebec campaign throughout the summer of 1759. It was the largest regiment on the Plains of Abraham and suffered the heaviest casualties. The bitter Canadian winter of 1759 tried the highland soldiers within the walls of the old fortified city and tradition says that the French Ursuline Nuns came to the Highlanders aid by knitting longer hose to reduce their exposure to the elements the Canadian winter proving a real challenge to traditional highland garb!

Since a number of the soldiers spoke French (many had had Jacobite connections) and were Catholic, they integrated well with the French Canadians in the area. When the Regiment was disbanded in Quebec, many men decided to stay and take up land grants and many married into French Canadian families. During this Quebec sojourn, members of the Regiment also established the first Presbyterian church in Canada, the first Masonic Lodge and introduced one of Canada's most popular sports, curling, having discovered that the severe winter did have some advantages over those at home where frozen rivers and lakes could not always be guaranteed.

Others went on to establish business concerns, particularly in the fur trade, where they or their descendants explored and opened the continent naming such rivers as the MacKenzie and the Fraser. The Regimental website says: "the influence of the original 1,500 men of this Regiment on Canadian and North American history is still evolving. New historical discoveries are still being made which further indicate that this Regiment deserves a special place in our military tradition."

Fathers of Canadian Confederation

One of the most important Scots-Canadian-Quebecois co-operations was that formed by two of Canada's greatest 19th century politicians. The Glasgow-born John A Macdonald and the Quebecois Sir George-tienne Cartier were both lawyers, both had major interests in railways and supported by another Scots-born Canadian, George Brown, are recognised as the main Fathers of the Canadian Confederation, the men who created Canada as we now know it. The link lives on today in the name of the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway from Toronto to Quebec and in the Macdonald-Cartier International Airport in Ottawa.

In more recent times the Scots-Quebecois political links lived on in Pierre Elliott Trudeau, one of Canada's best recognised political figures whose very name records his connections with both ancestries.

Scots and Scotland continue to contribute much to the culturally energetic, economic success story that is modern Canada from Highland Games to regimental pipe bands, to curling, soccer, and rugby. Perhaps this healthy Scottish influence isn't really so surprising. After all, of the 500,000 Highland Scots who left their homes and emigrated overseas, a huge proportion ended up in Canada, where they took pride in their Scottish and Canadian identity.

Today, our relationship goes from strength to strength, and there's never been a better time for Scots and Canadians to go and see for themselves, with the Canadian connection supporting a buoyant tourism industry between the two countries. Direct flights are plentiful and whether Scots go to explore all that Canada has to offer, or Canadians come to celebrate their shared Scottish heritage, all are assured of a warm welcome and an eye-opening stay.

Every year Glasgow hosts the annual Celtic Connections festival where Canadian artists have been firmly entrenched in the programme for many years. With our shared history, joint business endeavours, and mutual love of sport, song, and celebration, it is clear that our two great nations will be enjoying our cultural connections for centuries to come.

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