In A Land As Green As the Sea, Tom Radford goes in search of his Scottish roots. He starts with his grandparents, frontier journalists Arthur Balmer Watt and Gertrude Hogg, who settled in Alberta in 1905. Travelling further back in time Radford look back on his United Empire Loyalist ancestors, who lost everything in the American Revolution. And even earlier, from across the ocean, he traces distant relatives who were burned off their land in the Highland Clearances.
The connection between Scotland and Canada goes back more than 300 years to the 17th century. Scotland established one of the earliest colonies in Canada when Sir William Alexander was granted a charter for Nova Scotia in 1621. Alexander established small settlements on Cape Breton and on the Bay of Fundy, but they did not flourish and Scottish claims were surrendered to France in 1632. A few Scots immigrated to New France, but the major early movement of Scots to Canada was circa 1720, when a small number of men from Orkney were recruited by the Hudson's Bay Company for service in the West(1). Not much later, soldiers from the Highlands of Scotland came to North America to serve in the regiments of the British army that defeated the French in the Seven Years' War. The lack of opportunity in Scotland is what drove them out. That's why Tom Radford's family came. They were farmers forced from their land by the English invasion of 1746. In the colonies of British North America, the men were conscripted into the armies of England to defend an empire not their own. The Scots were renowned as fighting men: the Black Watch, the Scottish Greys, with their pipers leading them into battle. When the English defeated the French, Scottish soldiers received land grants in the new world. They couldn't go home because their farms in Scotland had been confiscated during the Highland Clearances(2).
Between 1770 and 1815 some 15,000 Highland Scots came to Canada, settling mainly in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Quebec. Most of these immigrants came from the western Highlands and the islands of Scotland. They were almost exclusively Gaelic speaking and many were Roman Catholics. They congregated in agrarian communities in the new land. In the early years of the 19th century, Gaelic was the third most common European language spoken in Canada. A few Highlanders were brought to the Red River Colony by the earl of Selkirk, and other Scots from the fur trade moved with their Indian families to Red River after 1821(3).
After 1815, Scottish immigration increased in numbers but the pattern changed somewhat. Scots from the Lowlands area were encouraged by the British government to join the Highlanders in coming to Canada. Some 170,000 Scots crossed the Atlantic between 1815 and 1870, roughly fourteen percent of the total British migration of this period. By the 1850s most of the newcomers were settling in the Province of Canada rather than the Maritime colonies. According to the 1871 census, 157 of every 1,000 Canadians were of Scottish origin(4).
The immigrants of this period represented a cross-section of the Scottish population. Most were farmers and artisans, although large numbers of business and professional people were included, especially teachers and clergymen. Most of the newcomers were Presbyterians and most spoke English(5). The flow of people from Scotland to Canada continued well into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. From 1871 to 1901, 80,000 Scots entered Canada seeking a better future: 340,00 arrived in the first years of the century before WWI, 200,000 more between 1919 and 1930 and another 147,000 between 1946 and 1960(6).
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