Scotlands History\|Scots and Canada

Scots Canadians today

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In 1910 an incredible 62,000 Scots emigrated to Canada. Tens of thousands of Scots men, women and children boarded ships to make the journey to Canada in the first half of the 20th century.

At the end of the 19th century the Klondike Gold Rush hit Canada. More than 100,000 prospectors set out to hunt for gold. Tens of thousands sailed up the Yukon River to the Klondike gold fields.

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Come by the Hills - Loreena McKennit

Alexander 'Big Alex' McDonald became known as 'the King of the Klondike'. Alex MacDonald was the Gaelic-speaking son of Highland immigrants. He was born in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. MacDonald made an immense fortune by buying up claims and hiring miners to dig for gold.

The gold rush brought wealth to Canada, leading to the growth of cities like Vancouver. Immigrants flooded into Canada.

Twenty-first century Canada is a multicultural country. It is home to Scots Canadians and Irish Canadians, French Canadians, Chinese Canadians and German Canadians. Canada is home to around a million Native Canadians: Inuits, Métis, aboriginal peoples of the First Nations including Mohawks and Seneca peoples.

Scots Canadians across Canada are fiercely proud of their roots and culture.

Scottish cultural influence

Nova Scotian musicians and Cape Breton step dancers regularly tour the globe, performing at festivals and collaborating with their Scots counterparts. Gaelic is still spoken in Nova Scotia, hundreds of years after the first Scots settlement was founded.

Every year, towns all over Canada hold annual Highland Games, with Highland dancing, piping, drumming and Celtic music, plus parades and food fairs. Scottish heritage is celebrated at ceilidhs, storytelling and music events.

Antigonish Highland Games are the oldest continuous highland games in Canada. They were first held in 1863. There are highland dancers, pipes and drums, concerts under the stars, ceilidhs, Gaelic storytelling and more. The heavy events, like hammer throwing, see the best Canadian and American Highland Games athletes in competition.

The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo is the largest annual indoor show in the world. Each July, in Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, over 2,000 world-class Canadian and international military, police and civilian performers entertain massive crowds. There are pipes and drums, dancers, acrobats, choirs, military and civilian bands, historic re-enactments, military displays, and more.

Canada even boasts its own lake monster! 'Ogopogo', a close cousin of Scotland’s famous Loch Ness Monster, is spotted in the lake by the town of Kelowna in British Columbia.

Canadian Scottish pipe bands are among some of the best in the world. The pipe band from Simon Fraser University (named for a Scottish explorer) has twice won the World Bagpipe Championships. 

Gung Haggis Fat Choy festival

What do Burns Night and the Chinese New Year have in common?

At first glance, not much, but if you ask Todd Wong, founder of 'Gung Haggis Fat Choy', there is more than meets the eye:

'In Canada they talk about the two solitudes of English and French and of course the First Nations, but in British Columbia I believe our pioneering culture has really been the Scots who came from the east across the Atlantic and the Chinese who came across the Pacific... I think every good Canadian should learn about Canada’s Chinese and Scottish heritage.'

A man dressed in a kilt and dragon head costume for gung haggis fat choy celebration. Licensed by Roland Tanglao.

Wong, or 'Toddish McWong' as he is known in the Scots community, created a new holiday combining the Chinese New Year with Burns Night.

Each year, in late January or early February, Vancouver’s Chinatown hosts the annual Gung Haggis Fat Choy festival where deep-fried haggis won ton and haggis dim sum is served alongside single malt whisky. Dragon cart racing at Simon Fraser University is also part of the festival.

The first Gung Haggis Fat Choy celebration was held in 1998 in a friend’s living room, where 16 people gathered to eat Haggis, listen to the bagpipes, read poetry and sing songs. Today the annual celebration hosts a huge party for hundreds at 'Floata', North America’s largest Chinese Restaurant. Live performers, bagpipes, and modern and traditional cuisine from both Chinese and Scottish culture are all part of the evening’s festivities. There is even a Gung Haggis dragon dance and a rap version of Robert Burns's 'Address to a Haggis'.

'We feel that if Robbie Burns was alive today, certainly street poetry, or rap, would be very much within the vernacular. Some people are doing slam poetry nowadays. I think Robbie would be right in there.'

Todd Wong (aka 'Toddish McWong') of Vancouver, B.C.

21st century Scots Canadians celebrate their Scots origins and share their traditions with people from around the world. Scots culture is not a museum piece; it is a living thing that grows and thrives as it is touched by other cultures and other traditions.

In 2006, in the Canadian Census, 4.7 million Canadians reported that they were of Scottish origin. Today, there are almost as many Scots Canadians as there are people in the whole of Scotland.

Photograph credits

The images used above are licensed under Creative Commons on Flickr by the following photographers: Feffef, meironke, Musée McCord Museum, tyfn and Wigwam Jones.