Memory-Keeper of the Forest

A tale about a Highland drover scared by his first sight of fireflies in Glengarry …

An exhortation to Gaelic-speaking immigrants in Vancouver to protect their language …

A story about a Highland missionary stranded on an island in Loch Winnipeg with local natives …

A curse on the perpetrator of the Glencalvie Clearances, uniquely preserved in Nova Scotia …

A song praising Hebridean settlers in Clandonald, Alberta …

The defamation of Bolshevik sympathizers in Ottawa …

These are but a few of the memories preserved in the new volume Seanchaidh na Coille / Memory-Keeper of the Forest, the first anthology of prose and poetry composed by Highland immigrants and their descendants in their native language – Scottish Gaelic – about their experiences and perspectives in a new world.


Seanchaidh contains over 90 distinct texts drawn from archives, antique newspapers and rare books, restoring the voices of Canadian Gaels from Cape Breton to British Columbia, from the late 18th century to the 1920s. Starting with these primary sources and working from the ground up has enabled new conclusions to be reached that differ from those of previous histories of Highland immigrants in Canada which have relied solely on English sources or a small number of translated Gaelic texts.

The foreword to the volume has been written by Diana Gabaldon. As a master storyteller, she is well aware of the power and importance of stories, not least in the North American diaspora. Like other fiction writers, her ability to recreate the past with nuance and credibility in her Outlander series leans upon the efforts of scholars to uncover and interpret historical remains. She writes:

To track such divergences, to identify the ancient commonalities and to preserve the more recent past for the benefit of present and future, is the blessed job of a scholar and a lover. Someone so in love with a language and a culture that the largest themes are easily apparent and the smallest details treasured. Luckily for us and for the history of the Gaelic tongue and diaspora into the New World, Michael Newton is just such a one.

Those who have a passion for finding out what Scottish Gaels did, hoped to achieve and aspired to bequeath to us in North America – whether they have been inspired by Outlander, their own ancestry, or just the inherent beauty of the Gaelic language and its song-poetry – can explore the vast remains of Gaelic literature in Canada and listen directly to the voice of Gaels about their own culture and history. Seanchaidh na Coille is an excellent starting point on that journey of rediscovery and a potent seed for rerooting the forest of memory.

See Cape Breton University Press webpage for book.


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