Scots get credit for Canada

How the Scots Invented Canada

How the Scots Invented Canada, Ken McGoogan, 2010, Harper Collins, 415 pages, $29.99

Writer and historian Ken McGoogan paraphrased the title of his most recent book from Arthur Herman’s classic How the Scots Invented the Modern World, published in 2001. McGoogan said that his book, How the Scots Invented Canada, expands on “the relatively few pages” Herman devoted to the Scots in Canada. “I hope to round out the Canadian story,” McGoogan said.

How the Scots Invented Canada is an amazing collection of stories about the hundreds of people who either came directly from Scotland, or who have a trace of Scottish heritage in their background, and who have contributed to the founding and building of this great country; everyone from the explorer Alexander MacKenzie, to the contemporary writer Alistair MacLeod.

Interestingly enough not all the people worthy of inclusion in this collection begin their surnames with the traditional ‘Mac’ or ‘Mc’. Did you know, for instance, that Pierre Elliott Trudeau boasted Scottish ancestors on his mother’s side? Or that John Diefenbaker’s mother was descended from Selkirk settlers who came to Canada in the early 1800s? (There’s a great picture of the former Prime Minister wearing a kilt.) Retail giant Timothy Eaton was an Ulster Scot (from Northern Ireland), “his ancestors having crossed the North Channel during the plantations of the early 1600s.”

But perhaps the most famous Scot-in-Canada is this country’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. Characterized by Pierre Berton as a gin-swilling rascal, Macdonald nonetheless, along with other Scots of his generation – William Lyon MacKenzie, James Bruce (Lord Elgin), John Strachan, Donald Alexander Smith, and George Brown – “hammered disparate dreams and aspirations into a shared vision of a British North America reaching from coast to coast.”
Other notable Canadians of Scottish background appearing in How the Scots Invented Canada include Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, Sir Sanford Fleming, “father of standard time,” Nellie McClung who secured the right to vote for women in Canada, Frederick Banting who discovered insulin for the treatment of diabetes, Lucy Maud Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables fame, Dr. Norman Bethune who who became a hero to the Chinese, Tommy Douglas, the founder of Medicare (and declared by the CBC as the Greatest Canadian of All Time), and Marshall McLuhan, of “the global village” and “the medium is the message” fame, and one of the initiators of the idea of Canadian multiculturalism.

Ken and Sheena McGoogan themselves have a special connection to Scotland – and Robbie Burns. Sheena’s grandfather, William Fraser from Lochgilphead, Argyll, was the architect who designed the Robbie Burns National Memorial in Mauchline, Ayrshire. It was built in 1896. Fraser immigrated to Toronto in 1907, and was the architect of the Household Sciences building on the southeast corner of Bloor and Avenue Road, originally a part of the University of Toronto. This connection means that we can consider both Ken and Sheena McGoogan as two more of the many Scots who have invented – and continue to invent – Canada.


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