How The Scots Invented Canada
By Ken McGoogan
HarperCollins, 415 pages, $29.99
the work of the Scots, Vancouver Island would be a much different place. Take it from Ken McGoogan -- although, judging by the name, he just might have a bias of sorts.
McGoogan's How The Scots Invented Canada looks beyond the Island, of course, because it turns out that Scots have played major roles from sea to sea to sea (really).
But it is still remarkable to note the Island connections in this collection of biographies of notable Canadian Scots.
At the top of the list of would surely be James Douglas, who quite rightly is known as the father of British Columbia. Douglas determined the location of the Hudson's Bay Company fort that grew into the city of Victoria, and guided us through the gold rush that made us back in the 1850s.
There was also John A. Macdonald, a former MP for Victoria
-- granted, we elected him only because he was defeated elsewhere and needed a safe seat, but no matter. He is ours, as the statue outside city hall will attest.
Macdonald gave us the railway across the continent and drove the last spike on the Esquimalt and Nanaimo line. There must have been something about railways and Scots, given that Donald Smith and George Stephen, who were crucial to the development of
the Canadian Pacific line, could also claim ancestry in Scotland.
Island can also lay claim to Nellie McClung, the author and feminist who lived in Saanich and wrote columns for the Victoria Daily Times. And don't forget Tommy Douglas, a child of Scotland who served as the MP for Nanaimo-Cowichan-the Islands for 10 years.
And, if we are going to push the limits, let's not forget inventor Alexander Graham Bell, who never lived here but certainly enjoyed his visits with his friends in Victoria.
McGoogan also includes author Alice Munro, who lived in Victoria for a few years, and artist Bill Reid, who was born in Victoria. He also tosses in the Canadian Scottish regiment, which is based here now.
A book like this can't include every Scot who mattered. There is nothing on the grocery chain known as Thrifty -- a fine word for a Scot, of course -- that was run by a family named Campbell (Scottish again) and sold to a company called Sobeys, and yes, there is Scottish blood in the Sobey family.
is also nothing about coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, merchant Robert Paterson Rithet, or fur trader John Tod. McGoogan was inspired by a book entitled How The Scots Invented the Modern World; maybe there is room for How The Scots Invented Vancouver Island as well.
As McGoogan notes, 20 per cent of all British Columbians have Scottish ancestry, and 15 per cent of Canadians do. The highest percentage, 41 per cent, is in Prince Edward Island, while in Quebec, only three per cent claim Scottish heritage.
Of course, many of us can claim ancestry in more than one country, and our grandchildren will surely be
able to claim even more. Canada is, after all, a vast melting pot, a place where we embrace diversity and celebrate family relationships that cross national or ethnic lines.
That point comes through in McGoogan's work. Bill Reid might have Scots heritage, but he is known as a Haida Gwaii artist. John Diefenbaker had
proud German roots along with his Scottish ancestry. Pierre Elliott Trudeau's name reflected his mixed Scottish and French origins.
James Douglas was typical of mixing of races. He was born in the West Indies, his mother was black, and he married a woman who was half aboriginal. His descendants could claim Scottish ancestry, but that would only tell part of the story.
And that is a key point in McGoogan's book. Yes, Scots were crucial to building Canada, but the definition of a Scot might not be what is used to be. As our ties to our countries of origin become more remote, it will be important to take hold of our roots, and celebrate where our families have been.
other words, you don't have to be a Scot, or a descendant of a Scot, or married to a Scot, to appreciate the message in this book. Ultimately, it's not about Scotland. It's about Canada.
Dave Obee, the editorial page editor of the Times Colonist, has identified roots in Canada, the United States, England, Ireland, Germany and Ukraine -- but sadly, not in Scotland.