Grudge Against Canada for Not Prizing Gaelic

“Harbors Grudge Against Canada For Not Prizing Gaelic Culture It Stole” is actually the full title of this newspaper article from The Winnipeg Evening Tribune (1936 December 1). It was no doubt meant to shock the reader that the author, like generations of Gaelic refugees before him, was not grateful for the generosity of the country that gave him a home and many material comforts and freedoms. Who could possibly feel resentment in such conditions?

As I have explored in depth in many Gaelic texts from Canada in the book Seanchaidh na Coille / Memory-Keeper of the Forest, most people of Gaelic heritage – whether born in Scotland or Canada – were cowed by the overwhelming force of the British Empire and resigned to accommodate themselves within its strictures. Yet, if you look carefully enough, you can also recover expressions of discontent and even critique of its abuse of that power. This seems to be one of these interesting cases of a Gael daring to express his dissatisfaction with the treatment of his people and their culture. It also seems to reflect a Canadian inferiority complex in general. The article in full reads:

In an address to members of the Kiwanis club at luncheon in the Royal Alexandra hotel today, Rev. W. Gordon Maclean, of First Presbyterian church, declared that he had always harbored a grudge against Canada.

“It has always rankled with me,” he remarked, “that Canada should have sucked the life blood of rural Scotland, and more particularly the Highlands, taking away the Gaelic culture and not ensuring its survival in Canada.”

All that is romantic in Canadian history, he asserted, is associated with Scotland or France. Canadians should take their eyes off New York and London and contemplate their own history to inspire a notable Canadian culture.

Some might argue that little has changed since then.

Post-script [2016 January 17]: The claim that Canada “took away Gaelic culture” might seem far-fetched until you consider that during the 19th and early 20th centuries there was a considerable number of British élite who owned estates in the Scottish Highlands who also had business interests in Canada and that they profited personally and directly by exploiting their connections between the two locations, which generally involved moving Highlanders out of their native lands and into colonial settlements.

The Cathcart-Gordons, who owned lands in the Highlands and were also on the board of land companies connected to the Canadian Pacific Railway, were one of the most obvious examples of these exploitative connections (see Seanchaidh na Coille, 128, 170-75). Gaels were taken away from their homes with varying degrees of coercion – often with false promises of prosperity and security – to extremely poorly resourced places and difficult conditions but that were to the benefit of those who ran settlement schemes and colonial enterprises. There was, on top of this, the exploitation of Gaels as soldiers in British regiments in Canada and other parts of the empire.

Another Winnipeg Gael made very similar complaints about the treatment of his people in 1938 (see Seanchaidh na Coille, 250-56). What was particularly gutsy about Maclean’s protestations above was that they were delivered within days and in the very same room as a visit by Baron Tweedsmuir, the Governor General of Canada.

8 thoughts on “Grudge Against Canada for Not Prizing Gaelic

  1. I remember in the 1960s, there was more Gallic spoken and taught in Nova Scotia than in the Scottish Highlands. Fortunately, that has now changed and more and more native Scots have the Gallic now and it is taught in schools. Surely Canada has been more supportive of the Gallic culture of its Scots population than Australia?

    • The claim that there is and/or was more Gaelic in Nova Scotia than in Scottish is a popular misconception. While there were many substantial Gaelic communities in various parts of Nova Scotia, particularly (but not exclusively) in the east, there has never been more speakers of Gaelic there than in Scotland itself. For details on this, see Jonathan Dembling, “Gaelic in Canada: new evidence from an old census,” Cànan & Cultar/Language and Culture: Rannsachadh na Gàidhlig 3 (2006). See https://independent.academia.edu/JonathanDembling

      The same could be said for the teaching of Gaelic in the two locations. While neither had much to boast about in terms of support for Gaelic in the 1960s, it seems to have been particularly poor in Nova Scotia, which is why four young Gaelic-speaking teachers from Scotland were recruited in the 1970s to refresh efforts in Nova Scotia. Still, things have surged much more effectively in Scotland than in Nova Scotia in the intervening years, although I wish the best to those who are doing their best to keep things going there.

  2. being a nova scotian, who is at the tail end of the gaelic culture well i have some opinions. (by tail end i mean i was spoken to in galeic as a child but spoke back in english and had no one to speak gaelic with after i was about six or seven,AND they beat it out of me in school)

    yeah anglo canadians used to oepnly call the gaels, heathens and barbarians. even the left wingers in halifax fought hard and successfully to destroy any cape brteton, and north nova scotia political reform. as a teen i went to see the nova scotia legislature, as it was in my mind the temple of joe howe and the fight for free speech, and i was kicked out as a caper bum.(i am from guysborough county but they didn’t distinguish). when i went to university i was told by my political science professor that i should quite as i had no hope of passing university courses, with my nova scotia unfinished high school. i switched to the history department, and graduated with honours.(but never learned to type–as may be obvious).

    at folk music circles in western canada when i sang a few verses in gaelic i was told solmenly and righteously. that we sing canadian music here.(i am a pretty good celtic musician)

    gaels were working class in my youth. we had choices to farm, join the army or go into the coal mines, and were considered stupid. angos often fail to realize that amongst oppressed people, the stupidmostly died out, unlike among the oppressor peoples where they rise to the top. as i used to say”pierre trudeau and louis robichaud promoted us to white folks”. student loans and government social programs of the sixties were distributed equally to every one, even french and gaels. and presto, a whole generation of professionals!!

    so yeah anglo canadian often openly discriminate against gaels, especially nova scotia gaels. we are considered violent and dangerous, and stupid. and yes i resent it. in ontario among pagans(even halifax in alba nuadh–which i wish they would try to pronounce correctly (( al-a-pa nu-a you fuckers)) i would sit in the back and be expected to shut up. ) people doing wicca were the official celts. i have nothing against wicca, and in fact the non celtic wiccans were my best friends among toronto pagans. however the official celts, were doing an english wicca, with a few gaelic terms thrown in, and inviting me to fuck right off. at their pagan music events, i was head and shoulders the best musician, but there’ id be sitting at the back with a harp mandolin and cittern, and never got to play(well actually once they offered me a spot for ten minutes after midnight when almost everyone had gone).

    anglo culture is racist and class bigoted and few have any self awareness. moreover they resent any non anglos who have education and creative talent. they think if they destroy the talented and educated then they get to be the boss. “hey there;s a bard sitting in that chair, if i drive away that bard, its bees knees and begeez, i am the bard, and i can have the bard;s chair. it’s called imperialism kiddies. they have murdered their way across the globe and don’t see anything wrong with might as right.

    • “even the left wingers in halifax fought hard and successfully to destroy any cape brteton, and north nova scotia political reform.”

      brit left. imperialists but think it can be done in a nicer way.

      • yes. they condemned the cape breton grass roots ndp surge, really for not being drawing room polite. not the right sort. they expelled paul macewan, a sitting member of the legislature for an un published paper he had written, but not finished, suggesting the ndp should accept donations from small businesses. some one actually stole the paper from macewan’s desk and circulated it!!

  3. in addition, i had anglo friends who were privledged. most of them went slumming in the sixties and seventies. they were friends untill i got better educated and was getting better gigs and more musical acceptance then they got angry. while they were smoking dope, i worked in mining and drilling out west and made a piss pot full of money, and thinking i was stupid(they all told me i was) i spent my piss pot full of money getting a b.a. and m.a. and a law degree!! (and several scholarships without which i wouldn’t have finished without debts) it was an outrage to the rich kids!!

    when i hung around pagan or folk groups i was often treated like the village idiot, untill they found out i was better educated and more talented than any of their crowd, then they got really pissed.

    i’ll say this for americans, they will give you a chance. you show up and play good music and show good education, and try to contribute ,they give you a chance to participate like everyone else. anglo canadians will never ever ever give you a chance. you’re always and forever white trash.

      • sorry to dissapoint!!

        it’s my belief that the “nice” and “tolerant”canadians are actually the french ,gaels and ukrainians, and a few other minorites. they came and struggled and understand hardship.(when i worked in industrial jobs out west.it was french and ukranians who helped me survive the dangers, the anglos would give me deadly jobs with no instruction and thought it was funny, the minorities understood hardhship). so the anglo canadians are polite, but NOT NICE, they ride on the niceness of others.

        as i stated in cultural, pagan and folk groups the anglos will get you if you don’t bow down to their class status. they will let you be a mascot but i grew up with scotts gaels, i never learned to brown nose. honestly i wish i had, but the truth pops out of my mouth before i stop and realize i just made enemies. anglo culture is a fundamentally bullying culture, it’s worst in england, bad in anglo-canada, still there( if you are white) in america but not as bad.

        when i look back i almost can’t believe some of things that happened to me looking for work in ontario and western canada.

        as one example, i and a group of friends took and old jalopy to tillsonburg ontario to pick tobacco, when we were teenagers. we heard there was big money to be made.(kinda funny eh?)we siphoned gass ans shoplifted food to get there. we worked twice as hard as locals, much like the quebecois we worked with.(all these jobs are mexicans now).because we worked hard we did do ok, and we lived in tents. the local teens used to swarm us when we went into town calling us dirty castholics(most of us were protestants but they didn’t give a shit–we were from guysborough and colchester counties so not cape bretoners). so they’d spit on us, and called us names.(they actually spit on us) i was so disoriented i didn’t get angry for a decade. then a bunch came out one night with chains and knives to run us off. (bad idea, 20 ontario boys against ten nova scotians, the poor bastards didn’t know they were seriously out numbered). so i wasn’t a fighter but my friends were and they beat the piss out of them. so we got in out jalopy and took off, and sure enough the cops came and arrested the few who stayed. ten years later i met a couple who got arrested. all that time i felt guilty. i thought we had taken their jobs and i felt really bad that we had taken their livelyhood, but we needed the money. but when i met the guys who went to jail, the ontario teens were the sons of doctors, lawyers and aldermen!! they were rich kids!! they didn’t want our jobs.

        it hit me like a brick to the head. they were just assholes! i couldn’t believe it for a long time. they had money and advantages and they spent their time trying to screw the poorest people in town. (when ever we had any money we dreamed of great guitars, and had great parties playing music and getting seriosly drunk) and we were considered violent!! i really couldn’t believe it. i still can’t fully believe it untill i look at steven harper, he’s just an asshole!! they are just assholes!!

        who thinks they get an advantage screwing others.??

        i am trying to write a novel about these things, but i am stalled on it.

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