During my recent extended illness I got through the frequent bouts of pain and fatigue by reading lots of books. Always finding literature of any kind to be an effective distraction from the problems of the body while at the same time stimulating the mind with better notions than one has while weary and worn, I picked up some of the second-hand books my wife had bought for me, as well as a few others. As the illness and its lack of appetite wore on, I devoured and digested page after page, volume after volume.
As a Canadian, and as readers of this blog may know, I have a weakness for all things Scottish. Mind you, I’ve never worn a kilt in my life, have never tried to play the bagpipes, or eaten real haggis (only had the store-bought version at Presbyterian Church Robbie Burns dinners). And I have found it a bit ironic that modern-day Canadian Presbyterians would be celebrating that romantic poet at all, considering his very loose, un-Calvinistic views and lifestyle. But this is the twenty-first century after all, the secular, multicultural Canadian world of today, where the serious issues that characterized and divided the Scots during their formative years are for most people, even Presbyterians, incomprehensible and all but forgotten.
So, over the past month I reacquainted myself with the numerous facts of Scottish life and history, being impressed yet again with the extensive impact these particular people have had on the whole world, and especially on Canada. I spent much of my youth and some of my adult life in southwestern Ontario, where the local histories, place names, and family connections are drenched in Scottishness. Moreover, the whole idea of Canada can hardly be understood without the presence of various MacKenzies, MacDonalds, Frasers, MacTavishes, Galbraiths, Camerons, McPhails, Grahams, Campbells, McCallums, MacLeods, Murrays, and so many other similar names.
The place of great importance held by Scottish explorers and missionaries, politicians and statesmen, writers and musicians, manufacturers and traders cannot be easily denied. And, as pointed out in some of the books, much modern science, medicine, engineering, and philosophy originated in the universities of Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh during a period known as the Scottish Enlightenment. So much has flowered from the ancient stock of old Caledonia’s highlands and lowlands.
To write all this, I realize, may not be of much personal interest to many of today’s Canadians, nor is it “politically correct.” We live in a time when the focus is on the newer cultures that have more recently made Canada their home, and we want them to feel welcome and not be discriminated against. Now that is worthy and all to the good if it does not lead us to deny the very facts of who we are as a people, and of how we became Canadians. Being neither Scottish nor Presbyterian myself, I still cannot escape from their considerable influence on the world and on my own nation. I live in Nova Scotia, “New Scotland,” and could not escape the influence if I wanted to. But I don’t want to escape it. I gladly acknowledge the influence with all its many benefits and positives, along with its cultural peculiarities and distinct shortcomings.
I would never want Canada to be “all Scottish” or to put aside the great role of the Native people, the French, and the Irish, to name but a few of the main other sources of our culture. But in order to welcome others to our shores it is not necessary that we turn against and forget our own heritage.
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