“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.