Some Interesting Thoughts on Scots and Gregors in Canada

Canadians claim to have more people of direct Scottish decent than any other nation. In 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. True, Scottish explorers, traders and pioneers were the vanguard of entrepreneurs opening up this vast rugged land, but as the forward to Shaw’s book notes, “ was in politics, and in particular the act of Confederation that 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.” (The Honourable Duff Robin P.C., C.C., O.M., L.L.)

Shaw summarizes that 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. It’s no surprise, perhaps, that the Scots controlled the fur trade, Canada’s first large scale commercial enterprise, which set the stage for modern commercial society. Scottish adventurers mapped out the country and laid the foundations for future settlement. Scottish politicians, including Canada’s first two Prime Ministers, eight out of ten fathers of Confederation, and many provincial premiers, 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 achievement 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."(How the Scots Created Canada, Matthew Shaw, Heartland Associates, 1964)

Today, this Scottish influence remains firmly in place and visible in many aspects of daily life here in Canada. Our maps are dotted with familiar names from the home country. Highland Games, Burns celebrations, curling, dancing and piping are common in small towns and cities alike 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 50 bands compete for the North American Pipe Band honours each August. A Canadian band was the first nation to wrest a World championship from Scotland itself. And the list goes on.

A little research reveals that Gregors have figured prominently in this country. John McGregor became one of the first permanent residents in Canada in 1773 when the Hector landed in Nova Scotia, where he and the other colonists from the Scotland established the port of Pictou in late September with no food, no provisions and winter setting in. Did you know that the canoe, long considered to be a unique and quintessential Canadian icon, exploded its worldwide popularity in 1866 after another John Macgregor published a book on canoeing famous waterways in his canoe, The Rob Roy? Often referred to as the father of modern canoeing, his book became an overnight best seller in England, United States and Canada and popularized recreational canoeing.  Or we can consider the contributions of Captain John MacGregor who 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, is it not time that we take steps to bring together Gregors within the ties of this great Commonwealth nation? Do we hear a calling to learn our history and better understand our past? Certainly we have before us an opportunity to look for new ways to take the unique history and pedigree of Clan Gregor forward to new generations with new insights and new approaches.

Perhaps it’s time that we “Children of the Mist” stepped out of the shrouds of Canadian history and bend our backs to the task before us. It’s the Gregor way.

Yours aye,

Wayne MacGregor Parker