Guide to Scotland
   Gateway to the British Isles since 1996
A Brief History of Scotland

Presented by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D.

Chapter 17: Scots in Canada

Before 1971, Canadians of Scottish descent were listed as a separate category from British. In the 1960's, they were the third largest ethnic group in the country (after the English and French). Including large numbers of Scotch-Irish from Ulster, they have formed a distinctive cultural group since the 17th century. Not only did the Scots (of all categories, Highland, Lowland and Scotch-Irish) prove particularly influential in the settlement and growth of Canada; they also quickly assumed roles of leadership and influence in Canadian society. In particular, Scots were attracted to the open avenues of participation in the country's political life that were denied them at home. Many a Scot looked forward to a new and better life as he watched the shores of his native land disappear in the mist that closed behind his ship and the piper's sad, haunting melody "We Shall Return No More" (Cha till mi tuille) eventually fading out of hearing.

Perhaps the Canadian province most closely connected with Scotland, the name of which one most readily comes to mind, is Nova Scotia (New Scotland). The land had been discovered by John Cabot in 1497 and claimed for Britain. The vast territory of Acadia was seized by Captain Argyle in the name of James VI of Scotland (James I of England), in 1613. Part of this lovely land became the very first permanent North American settlement north of Florida when Scotsman Sir William Alexander, friend of the king, was granted a charter in 1621. In his book describing the colony, Sir William deplored the ancient proclivity of Scotsmen to expend their energies in foreign wars and encouraged them instead, to send swarms of emigrants "like bees" to New Scotland. Over 300 years later, seven-eighths of its people acknowledge British ancestry, mainly Scottish.

A large group of Ulster-Scots who had first settled in New Hampshire moved to Truro, Nova Scotia, in 1761. Their descendants have provided many of the country's leading justices, statesmen, clergymen, businessmen and scholars. In 1773 the little brig Hector brought 200 Scots to Pictou, starting a whole stream of Highland emigration (their descendants, including the Camerons now number more than 40,000 and are spread throughout North America). Many who came later were loyalists from the U.S. fleeing the aftermath of the Revolution; most early settlers on Cape Breton Island were Highland Scots who found themselves disposessed when their Lairds began enclosing their lands. Nova Scotia's best-known college is Dalhousie University, founded in 1818; and it is the only province to have a Gaelic college. The island has annual Celtic gatherings and the Gaelic Mod to encourage interest in piping, singing, highland dancing and folk arts.

Other Maritime Provinces were also heavily influenced by Scottish settlers. Prince Edward Island was captured from the French by Lord Rollo, a Scottish Peer, in 1758 and parcelled out among a number of landed proprietors, including many Scots. One such Scot was John Macdonald of Glenaladale, who conceived the idea of sending Highlanders out to Nova Scotia on a grand scale after Culloden. The name Macdonald still dominates on the island, which received a large influx of Loyalists during the American Revolution and another Gaelic-speaking group of Highlanders in 18l3 from the estates of Lord Selkirk.

New Brunswick also became the home for many Scots. In 1761, a Highland regiment garrisoned Fort Frederick. The surrounding lands surveyed by Captain Bruce in 1762 attacked many Scotch traders when William Davidson of Caithness arrived to settle two years later. Their numbers were swelled by the arrival of thousands of loyalists of Scottish origin, both during and after the American Revolution.

One of the province's and Canada's most famous regiments was "The King's First American Regiment" founded in 1776 in New England was composed mostly of Highlanders, many of whom fought with their traditional kilts to the sound of the pipes. The regiment distinguished itself when it defeated Washington's forces at the Battle of Brandywine. When it disbanded after the War, most of its members settled in New Brunswick. A continual influx of immigrants from Scotland and Ulster meant that by 1843, there were over 30,000 Scots in New Brunswick.

Chapter 17: Scots in Canada continued