In a 1985 ceremony, kilted pipers and drummers of the 48th Highlanders of Canada Regiment assembled in Allan Gardens near Sherbourne Street to re-dedicate a statue to 18th-century Scottish poet Robbie Burns. The Burns memorial (first unveiled in 1902) and an annual banquet featuring the toasting of the haggis celebrate the author of “Auld Lang Syne” and the Scottish tradition in Toronto.
A strong Scottish legacy has shaped Toronto’s cultural, religious, political, and economic history. Toronto’s oldest church, Little Trinity Church on King Street East, was built in 1842 under the patronage of Scotsman John Strachan, the first Anglican bishop of Toronto and founder of King’s College. On the lawns of Queen’s Park sits a bronze bust of the city’s first mayor, Scotsman William Lyon Mackenzie (1795–1861), along with a statue of George Brown (1818–1880), founder of The Globe newspaper. And at Queen and Yonge streets, a plaque at the former Simpsons’ building (now The Bay) is a reminder of the achievements of Robert Simpson, a dry-goods merchant who opened the city’s first highrise department store in 1881.
The Scots have been in Canada since 1621, when the Kingdom of Scotland established one of its earliest colonies—New Scotland (Nova Scotia). The first wave of settlers were groups of men from Orkney who arrived in 1720, recruited by the Hudson’s Bay Company.
In the late 1700s, Scottish merchants—many of them United Empire Loyalists—settled in Quebec, where they dominated commercial life and the fur trade. Scottish settlements emerged in Ontario in the 1820s, including Perth, MacNab Township, and Guelph—founded by Scottish novelist John Galt, who also helped found Galt, Ontario.
Scotsman Sir John A. Macdonald was Canada’s first Prime Minister, and Toronto’s first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie, began the Colonial Advocate newspaper in 1820 and led the Rebellion of 1837 against the city’s oligarchic government. His grandson, William Lyon Mackenzie King, served as prime minister of Canada for 27 years.
From 1871 to 1901, 80,000 Scots entered Canada seeking new economic opportunities, primarily in Ontario. More than 240,000 Scots arrived in Canada just prior to the First World War, followed by 200,000 more between 1919 and 1930 and another 147,000 between 1946 and 1960. More than half a million Scots live in Ontario. The community’s cultural activities are centred around the St. Andrew’s Society, the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, the Caledonia Society, and a large number of clan societies connected with world-wide organizations. The societies hold local ceilidhs (gatherings) and publish newsletters containing historical information. One of the most important organizations is the School of Scottish Studies, established at the University of Guelph in 1966. It is composed of professional academics and laymen and publishes the semi-annual journal, Scottish Traditions, containing articles on Scottish culture, history, and literature.
The sport of curling was brought to Canada by the Scots; the Granite Club, a Toronto sports and social club was established by early Scot settlers. In the 1700s, many Scottish Highlanders helped protect British territory from American sieges. Today, the Highland military dress, Gaelic mottoes, piping and dance performances can be spotted at many of the city’s parades and are featured at the Highland Games held across Ontario in July and August. The annual kirin’ o’ the tartans (blessing) is held every June with a procession from Queen’s Park to St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on Simcoe Street, the oldest Scottish church in the city.
ROBBIE BURNS DAY, January 25, honours Scotland’s beloved poet, born in 1759. Commemorative dinner festivities begin with piping in the haggis. A piper in Scottish dress plays bagpipes followed by a procession around the banquet hall with the haggis, which is then placed on a table in front of the master of ceremonies. During the dinner poems are read and speeches are given in tribute to Burns. Dances and songs follow.
KIRKIN’ O’ THE TARTAN is celebrated in June when Scots take their tartans to St. Andrew’s Church to be blessed by the minister.
THE HIGHLAND GAMES take place across Ontario during the summer months. The events include tug-of-war, Highland dancing, tossing the caber, and sheep-dog trials.
ST. ANDREW’S DAY, November 30, is held in recognition of the patron saint of Scotland and one of the 12 apostles. Scots hold religious services as well as secular festivities.
HOGMANAY, December 31, is a day of conviviality and merriment. Parties are held and festive food is served.
CLAN FRASER SOCIETY OF CANADA, (www.clanfraser.ca, 71 Charles St. E., Suite 1101). Chair: W. Neil Fraser. Clan Fraser Society of Canada is one of the national societies operating worldwide under the authority of The Rt. Hon. The Lady Saltoun, Chief of the Name and Arms of Fraser; and The Rt. Hon. The Lord Lovat, Chief of Clan Fraser of Lovat, a major branch of Clan Fraser. Their goal is to provide accurate information on the origins, history, and accomplishments of Frasers and the surnames associated with Clan Fraser and Clan Fraser of Lovat.
Traditional Scottish garments.
SCOTTISH STUDIES FOUNDATION, (www.scottishstudies.ca, 2482 Yonge St., P.O. Box 45069). The Scottish Studies Foundation is a Canadian charitable organization based in Toronto. Currently the Scottish Studies Programme, under the auspices of the Department of History, supports graduate research into Scottish and Scottish-Canadian history at MA and Ph.D. levels. Director: Dr. Paul Thomson.