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Issue 77 - A Scot in Canada

Scotland Magazine Issue 77
October 2014

 

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A Scot in Canada

Shona McMillan goes in search of the Scottish diaspora

On the field was an array of tartan, colours vibrant in the Canadian sun. I had enjoyed a fantastic day at the British Columbia Highland Games in Coquitlam but now the massed pipe bands were drawing events to a close. As ever, so many world class pipers had taken part and the music had been sensational. Thousands had gathered, so many proud Canadian-Scots and the audience was enthralled.

My time in British Columbia had already seen plenty of running about. With my camera and fiddle I had travelled the west coast from White Rock, at the US border, up to Prince Rupert by Alaska. Then, on to Vancouver Island, I had visited every port to meet those who fished for wild salmon. Indeed, it was through fishing that my love affair with Canada began.

From a fishing family myself, I had created “People and Songs of the Sea”, an award winning multimedia project with a CD and exhibitions visited by 12,000 people in Scotland. From my local fishing community (Edinburgh to Eyemouth), I had gone on to look at the Irish and English connections with Scotland’s fishing industry.

Following this, I had wanted to learn more about the Scots who had gone out to work in British Columbia. That interest resulted in my meeting with fisherman Lewis Bublé (father of the singer Michael Bublé who also worked as a fisherman before finding success in singing). Lewis had introduced me to his fishing industry contacts, and what a surprise when one of the first of these people turned out to be related to a friend of mine!

Yet, that has been my experience from the beginning. Scotland may be dwarfed by Canada’s great landmass but Scots have contributed so much to this country that they are greatly integrated into its past, present and future. In fishing too, these connections were strong and I was fortunate that my trip coincided with a book launch which would introduce me to more “people of the sea.”.

The launch was for Brandee Bublé’s first children’s book O’Shae the Octopus. A rhythmic and captivating tale, it successfully conveys the importance of accepting what makes you different and standing up for it. As a child herself, Brandee, (with sister Crystal, brother Michael and mum Amber) spent many happy summers on her father Lewis’ boat.

Those were carefree days where creativity was encouraged and imagination ran free. Ironic too therefore, that it was, ‘by being different,’ that her brother Michael’s singing career was at first held back, as the industry struggled to pigeon hole him and market his music.

Today, by working hard and having the confidence to stay true to what he loves, Michael has engaged with people from all walks of life. As he writes in the book’s introduction “O’Shae and I have a lot in common. With the love and support of our friends and family, we both learned that our differences don’t make us strange, they make us special.”

The support of others? In my time abroad, these long trips have only been made possible through my own family and friends. In Scotland’s Year of Homecoming 2014, I was keen to continue my People of the Sea project but also to look at the Scots Diaspora.

I am firmly of the opinion that everyone has a story to tell and in Canada, as always, I was interested to meet people from all cultures and backgrounds. But specifically, I sought out people from Scotland who were prepared to share with me their stories.

The Scots diaspora are the third largest ethnic group in Canada and, in all the Scottish-Canadians I met, Scotland was still very much the place in their heart they called home.

When the Highland Clearances and economic change first caused Scots to flood abroad, so many left that there was a dance called “America” and parties like ‘farewell wakes’ were held so loved ones could say their last goodbyes which would last a lifetime. Today, air travel and internet communications help close the distances which divide.

But what is it like to have a passion for Scottish culture yet celebrate from afar? Invited into people’s homes and families, a network emerged enabling me to meet musicians, writers, lecturers, Gaelic choirs, fiddle orchestras, Scottish country dancers and so much more.

A Gael immersed in the Scottish cultural scene in Vancouver; a headmistress from Mull now a caretaker with her fishermen husband on a deserted island in Desolation Sound; others from the Highlands (relations of footballer Dennis Law) running a Scottish music school on the sunshine coast. And Vancouver Police Pipeband, founded 100 years ago by Scots.

The British Columbia Highland Games was reaching its finale and the pipes struck up
Scotland The Brave. Suddenly there was a wall of sound and emotion.

I had not expected to what degree this powerful music would touch me. Never before had I felt more moved by this song of my home. But which home? So many people I had met in Canada as strangers, when we came to part it had been as friends, and now I carried their friendship in my heart.