Editor’s note: The following article was provided to the Clan Gregor Society Australasia for use on their website and publications.
Scots and Gregors in Canada
The Clan Gregor Society Canada Chapter is alive and well. Established by Council in 2012, our Chapter has realized steady and meaningful growth. Today we have over 70 members and are active and well represented in widespread celebrations of Canada’s Scottish roots. We are fortunate in having literally thousands of ways to engage in our Scottish heritage. The blood is Highland, and it is strong.
Here are a few interesting facts to consider when looking at Canada’s ties to Scotland. Canada has the highest percentage of people of Scottish decent of any nation in the world outside of Scotland itself. In his book, Great Scots! How the Scots Invented Canada, author Matthew Shaw offers that Canada is Scotland’s answer to British rule as it provided an outlet for the ambition and ingenuity of Scottish immigrants, and in the process, the Scots built a great nation.
Scottish explorers, traders and pioneers were the vanguard of entrepreneurs opening up this vast rugged land. “In politics, and in particular the act of Confederation the Scottish genius shone the brightest. Indeed, Canada’s existence as an independent state in North America , a nation apart from the American super power, is a balancing act that owes much to a Scottish sense of the possible, the Scottish style of management and their own long history of living in the lee of a great power.”(1)
The hardship of centuries of oppression, thriving in a harsh climate, the challenges of land ownership, the tenacity of a free thinking, industrious people, and the lessons learned during the systematic dismemberment of the clan system, “… combined to make the Scots in Canada a dynamic and inexorable force….Scottish adventurers mapped out the country and laid the foundations for future settlement. Scottish politicians … steered Canada’s early growth and development and bent the country to their will. Scots dominated commerce, including heavy industry, banking and merchandizing. In fact, three quarters of commercial capital in the nineteenth century was firmly controlled by Scottish magnates.
Scottish teachers and academics established educational institutions, including Canada’s first universities, along Scottish lines and led Canada’s educational revolution. In fields such as the arts, the military, science, the labour movement, and the media, Scottish hegemony and influence are no less impressive. When we actually examine the vast array of Scottish achievements in Canada …How the Scots created Canada... does not seem so outlandish after all.
In a very real sense, the Scots did have a disproportionately large hand in creating our country. Their ubiquity in every field of endeavour, the surprising extent of their power and influence, and their lasting impact on Canadian society and culture are truly one of the great and largely unexplored chapters in the story of Canada.”(2)
Today, Scottish influence remains firmly in place and visible in many aspects of daily life in Canada. Our maps are dotted with familiar names from the home country. Highland Games, Burns celebrations, curling, dancing and piping are common in towns and cities across the nation. At one time most major Highland regiments were represented in Canadian detachments sharing tartans and traditions down to the last detail. The final stop before the World Piping championship in Edinburgh is Maxville Ontario, where over 60 bands compete for the North American Pipe Band honours each August. And the list goes on.
A little research reveals that Gregors have figured prominently in Canadian history. John McGregor became one of the first permanent residents in Canada in 1773 when the Hector landed in Nova Scotia. The cedar canoe, long considered to be a unique and quintessential Canadian icon, exploded its worldwide popularity in 1866 after John Macgregor published a book on canoeing in his canoe, the Rob Roy. His book became an overnight best seller in England, United States and Canada and popularized the recreational canoeing we know today. Captain John MacGregor was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military award in the British Commonwealth, for his extreme bravery in World War I.
Without question, many unsung MacGregors played roles in Canadian history and we need to understand and honour their achievements both modest and bold. With such a rich and proud heritage, our Chapter works to bring together Gregors within the ties of this great Commonwealth nation. We are dedicated to learning our history and better understanding our past. We look for opportunities to take the unique history and heritage of Clan Gregor to new generations with fresh insights and approaches.
We Children of the Mist are stepping out of the shrouds of Canadian history and working today to bring together Gregors of that ilk.
Wayne MacGregor Parker
(1) The Honourable Duff Robin P.C., C.C., O.M., L.L.
(2) How the Scots Created Canada, Matthew Shaw, Heartland Associates, 1964.