Celtic Lightning
How the Scots and the Irish
Created a Canadian Nation 
 (Patrick Crean / HarperCollins Canada, autumn 2015). 

With Celtic Lightning, Ken McGoogan plunges into the perpetual debate about Canadian roots and identity: who do we think we are? He argues that Canadians have never investigated the demographic reality that informs this book -- the fact that more than nine million Canadians claim Scottish or Irish heritage. Did the ancestors of more than one quarter of our population arrive without cultural baggage? No history, no values, no vision? Impossible.

McGoogan writes that, to understand who we are and where we are going, Canadians must look to cultural genealogy. He builds on the work of Richard Dawkins, who contends that ideas and values (“memes”) can be transmitted from one generation to another. Scottish and Irish immigrants arrived in Canada with values they had learned from their forebears. And they did so early enough, and in sufficient numbers, to shape an emerging Canadian nation.
McGoogan highlights five of the values they imported as foundational: independence, democracy, pluralism, audacity, and perseverance. He shows that these values are thriving in contemporary Canada, and traces their evolution through the lives of thirty prominent individuals -- heroes, rebels, poets, inventors, explorers, pirate queens -- who played formative roles in the histories of Scotland and Ireland.
 In the 19th century, two charged traditions came together in Canada. That reconnection, Scottish with Irish, sparked Celtic lightning . . . and gave rise to a Canadian nation.

 How the Scots Invented Canada

No matter where you enter the history of Canada -- through exploration, politics, business, education, or literature – you find Scots and their descendants playing a leading role. Yet Canadians of Scottish origin, who today total 4.7 million, have never made up more than sixteen per cent of the country’s population. Baffled by this, Ken McGoogan set out to discover how so few Scots have achieved so much.

He traces how, often in alliance with native peoples, Scottish fur-traders such as Alexander Mackenzie, Simon Fraser, and the “Scotch West-Indian” James Douglas charted coastlines and established boundaries. A second wave of Scots, among them John A. Macdonald, James McGill, and Nellie McClung, unified far-flung colonies, forged a unique system of government, and created the framework of a country.

Then came the visionaries, Scottish Canadians like Tommy Douglas, James Houston, Doris Anderson, and Marshall McLuhan, who have turned Canada into a kaleidoscopic nation that revels in diversity, and the world’s first post-modern state.

McGoogan toasts Robbie Burns and Sir Walter Scott; recalls the first settlers to stumble ashore at Pictou, Nova Scotia; shakes his head over rogues like George Simpson of the Hudson’s Bay Company; and celebrates such hybrids as the Cherokee Scot John Norton and Cuthbert Grant, father of the Métis nation. In How the Scots Invented Canada, Ken McGoogan uncovers the lost history of a nation-building miracle.

And here is the early reviewer response to How the Scots Invented Canada:

McGoogan’s How the Scots Invented Canada is certainly an inspired work and its author is rapidly becoming the rightful successor to populist historian Pierre Berton. – The Toronto Star

How the Scots Invented Canada provides a pleasurable way to get to know many of the most colourful men and women in our history . . . . There’s indeed much fun here, as well as instruction (Scots always like that), and your name doesn’t have to begin with Mc or Mac to savour this book. – The Globe and Mail. . . 

How the Scots Invented Canada should win the award-winning author busloads of new fans. . . . McGoogan takes a [Bill] Bryson-like approach to his topic, jumping in with both feet and spinning out on a journey beyond any at which the staid cover might hint . . . Despite the delicious levity in entirely appropriate places . . . the author has done his research and shares it skillfully. -- January Magazine

This new book on Scots in Canada will appeal to a wide audience who want to learn about the abundance of Scots who helped to invent a new nation. Perhaps best enjoyed over a wee dram of whisky. – The Edmonton Journal. . .

Not all the Scots and Scottish-Canadians McGoogan writes about were nice people. The pious, sanctimonious, ruthless, overbearing, conceited and nasty are represented, as well. But, all in all, there are about five million good reasons to read McGoogan's book. – The Winnipeg Free Press

Part of what makes this book different and even essential, apart from the sheer amount of research that has gone into it, is just how far [the author] moves into modern times, citing more contemporary Scots as an ongoing influence. – Rob McLennan

Updates & Corrections