Canada, Modern

Vancouver’s Gaelic Eden

There were significant settlements of Scottish Gaels in the region around Vancouver, British Columbia, from the mid-19th century into the later 20th century. The strength of the Gaelic language in diasporic settings is a common theme in travel writings, reflecting both an inferiority complex about the weakness of the Gaelic infrastructure in Scotland and a form of wish-fulfillment that it find some paradise where it can be magically kept alive without the struggles for survival and validation that Highlanders faced in their native land. While there are still native Gaelic speakers, and learners, around the area, the state of the language has declined greatly since its peak in the early 20th century.

The following notes are from the annual dinner of the Gaelic Society of Inverness on 22 April 1938 (as reported on pages 274-5 of the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness vol. 38).

Sir Alfred N. Macaulay, Golspie, acknowledged the toast, and said that when he visited Canada and British Columbia some years ago he had spoken more Gaelic in the Vancouver Club in one week than he would do at home in a year. At Vancouver he had met the Chief Justice of British Columbia, Mr. Morrison, a man one would have thought had just come over from the Island of Lewis, so pure was his Gaelic. But he had never been in the Island of Lewis, as his grandfather had emigrated to Nova Scotia a hundred years ago. The family had gone to British Columbia afterwards, but had always maintained the Gaelic tongue — (applause). In Canada, Nova Scotia and British Columbia Gaelic would live — (applause).

If you’re interested in Gaelic cultural and literary activity around Vancouver, see the texts in my recent volume Seanchaidh na Coille // Memory-Keeper of the Forest: Anthology of Scottish Gaelic Literature of Canada, pp. 26, 353, 381, 426-7, 429, 456-62.  I’ve also discussed Scottish Gaels in Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest in this previous blog post.


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