Québec and Scotland in the same sentence
I am sometimes asked why as a Quebecer I should be so interested in Scotland. Honestly, it seems like a natural thing to me. The individual Scots I have met are quite comfortable with me defending my nation’s constitutional aspirations and the interest I show, and often the confusion I exhibit! in Scottish political affairs. A good time is had by all! However, from time to time I am confronted, passionately, by someone irked at something as benign, for me anyway, as putting Québec and Scotland together in the same sentence. It bothers them quite a bit.
Growing up in Ontario, some of my oldest recollections are of sharing the bus every morning with fellow elementary students from “the English language side” of the school. Now mind you, this was a marked improvement from the earlier situation of sharing the bus ride with the kids from the mentally challenged institutions (for a while I kept asking my mom if I was mentally challenged too and she was just not telling me… but no I wasn’t, I was just francophone…aaah Canada).
Since I enjoyed wearing my “Fleur de Lys” t-shirt as much as my “Je suis Québécois” other T-shirt, I attracted a steady steam of attention. Not much, in those days most people hadn’t really heard of Québec. I would get the odd smirk. The most grief I ever experienced was from a boy who said he was a Scot and that he would “show me what real national pride was” and the next day came wearing a “Union-Jack” T-shirt with “British is Best” written on it. He insisted on sitting close by for the whole year. I guess he liked me.
He explained he was a Scot, he was sure about that, but he didn’t have a Scots T-Shirt at the present time but that he was really British and that well… British is best, not much point in explaining more, I should understand and cower.
I guess I learned a valuable lesson there, aside from his confusion about his identity which I would appreciate only much later, mainly that someone like him, a Scot (I figure), could really go out of his way, and enthusiastically “put my face in it” for being and advertising who I was. It was with a lot of wonderment that I found out later in life speaking to more self-confident human beings that I could have a great time exchanging views on independence and nationalism with people of other nationalities, Scots in particular. I remain cautious of course.
Historically, Scots in Quebec go way back.Perhaps not as long ago as the battle of Culloden, but for North America it’s quite a long time ago. Scots have left their mark in Québec though most have moved Westerly. Some marks are good and some marks are bad. Reading “Les Écossais» by Lucille H. Campey this summer was quite informative.
There were few Scots in Québec at the time of New France, so the story really begins in the Conquest of 1760 when Wolfe brought Highlanders to stand in front of the “French and Indian” bullets: ”no great mischief» should they fall, he is quoted to have said. As a sort of historical irony, he was the one who fell, and after being sent back to England in a barrel of whiskey, his second in command, a Scot, Murray, who detested Wolfe and was keen on the French managed the transition between French rule and English quite effectively. Murray’s men, Blackburns and a Ross’ among many others, Gaelic speaking highlanders who had arrived in Quebec at the not-so-ripe age of 13 years of age, (they must have been really great shooters I guess) ended up settling in new territory once their military career ended, spending their soldier’s pension on the land and developing it, buying mills for example, hiring Canadiens, marrying French Catholic women and having numerous descendants.
There are 100 times more Blackburns in Quebec than Jouberts I am aghast to discover! Those pensions, as well as their ability to borrow money had a huge economic impact on the lives of the people of Charlevois. Today Charlevois and even Saguenay owes them a great deal. At a time were investment were close to nil, these careful investors and motivated leaders of the community were highly regarded.
This successful development did not go unnoticed. Developing and improving the French side was not what the English colonial authorities had in mind. Later Scots, especially Highlanders, would be sent to develop farm land in “new territories” west, a back breaking ordeal involving cutting trees, getting rid of the trunks before being able to actually farm the land… before being able to grow food and if all goes well: eat and perhaps pay their debts. They did get prime land however and so had a fighting chance, something perhaps they didn’t have back home.
Nothing was left to chance to Anglicize the new colony. After The Acadians in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were removed plain and simple from their land and sent “anywhere else but here” in “every available sailing craft”, the French-Canadiens because of their much larger numbers couldn
Since immigration in New France had been a problem (not enough of it), and in the Thirteen Colonies (too much of it and chaotic) it was important that the new English Colonial government of Canada do things right. As it was known even then that “Scots and Quebecers get along”: Gaelic speakers were located in mainly English-speaking sectors (in new territories like the Townships and in Upper Canada Ontario today), English speakers had to be located in weakly French-speaking sectors (Québec and Montreal, before the turn of the 20th century, were mainly English speaking) in proportions to promote the decline of both Gaelic and French languages. It was quite a system.
They even took into account “the pull factor”, the propensity of one group of people to later bring member of their family, friends ect.. as well as the speed of assimilation. The colonial administration in this was sometimes frustrated by the merchants who needed laborers and thus would retain workers who should have gone elsewhere according to their Anglicizing purposes.
By the mid nineteenth century, it was quite an enterprise. Capitalism oblige, relocating all these Scots had to be profitable. This sometimes led to abuse. I should say… extraordinary abuse. Scots wanting to come to Canada had to pay their way into boats. They had to buy their land as well as the tools and machinery they were going to need to get things going. In one occasion, one landlord who had just evicted his tenants, loaned them money to settle the very land he had just bought himself, then resold it to his new tenants and was paid back through the selling of the lumber off the land to the lumber enterprise which he owned… good grief! I have been told this was a better situation than in Scotland. It must have been horrendous over there. I cannot imagine.
By the time the Irish get here in the mid 19th century, they have it down to a science, Catholics in Quebec, Protestants in Ontario. There is so much evidence of intervention in immigration trends over here, I can’t imagine it wasn’t managed just as efficiently over there.
Of course there are the spectacular success stories. The Molsons and McGills and Redpaths of this world. Few in number but fantastically rich! Especially by today’s standards. Always close to the colonial administration, they cornered timber and fur hegemonies, introduced“English only” banks (some of the very first mind you!) and developed “English Only universities”. Fabulous!
The Canadiens, ruined by the French before they left, by the English when they arrived and stunted in their development at every turn had to wait until they created their first Caisse Populaire in 1900 (from a first 10 cents deposit to more than 170 billion CAN dollars today… how’s that for business savvy!) The Caisse de Dépot (1965 first investment bank now worth…150 billion…) and so on. So whenever someone tells me Scots and Quebecers get along, I take a pause before deciding how exactly I will react to this.
Still, these fantastic Scottish success stories inspired thousands home in Scotland: Canada was a land of opportunity. Scots get an honest chance here. An honest chance I say! Why would anyone have to travel so far just to obtain what they are unfairly denied at home. But it made sense at the time, I suppose.
Scots were told that in Canada, they were treated equal to the English. They were not told about the Canadiens and the Indians so much. They could only find out once here and then… mixing wasn’t really encouraged. (Remember Hugh Blackburn? He married an Innu Indian.)
Often when mixing of the Canadien and the Scots occurred as the story goes, they did get along. That worried the English. I’m sure the last thing the English wanted was a new revitalized Seven Year French and Indian and Scots! War on their hands…
Had Scots been given a fair deal in Scotland, over control of their own investments, development and political life they would have been just as successful there. That’s my opinion. Some Scots, few, had stupendous opportunities here. Others, many, ripped their hands pulling tree roots and burning brush to plant the next year’s crop on land they didn’t completely own. Every Scot living in Canada certainly has earned the right to call himself Canadian many times over and paid a very high price for it.
And since Quebec never genuinely sang the tune of “British is Best” and as Scots were discouraged from exhibiting anti-British behavior, the story of many Scots in Quebec is largely one of mobility. Most Scots in Canada now either live outside Quebec or are, as the Blackburns and Scotts wholly and proudly Québécois and French speaking. As many Scots left to live in a more English speaking environment (to their perceived benefit), the Canadiens bought those lands as soon as they were slowly made available to them… much later as Canada became more and more democratic the foot on their throat seemed to be released somewhat.
Scots did leave an imprint on Quebecers and their culture. Hockey(McGill University), beer (Molson!), curling(in every big town), traditional songs and music… the plaid woollen lumberjack’s jacket we wear, the bannock bread we bake when we go camping, the Macintosh apples we eat and so much more…but that’s not what makes many Quebecers get along with Scots. When given the chance, it seems, they always have.
Perhaps many Scots realize, as do many Quebecers, that the hope of controlling your own destiny is an idea that benefits us both in our own way. No competition, no pecking order, just a question of not going out of our ways to destroy in the other what is in effect what we seek as well. And ignoring those that get in our way.
Today, Scots in Scotland and Quebecers in Canada live in very different circumstances, have different price-earning ratios, spending power, try to understand the economic effect of devolution while we appreciate our lost “societee distincte”, Is the Barnett formula a better deal than Equalization? It gets confusing… you had independence and you were sold out, we’ve never really tasted it, do you deserve it more because you had it before, do we deserve it less because we came from France 400 years ago? For all that, I plead ignorance. Too complicated for me. Maybe I’m mentally challenged after all. I just know nations deserve to be free. All nations. Simple.
So I propose a toast! To Hugh Blackburn who (except when he was firing on us) invested in his new land, married into his new community, developed his new region and never forgot which side he was on. Slantje Hugh! I owe you one! Yep, I think Scots and Quebecers get along just fine, always have.