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High Commissioner hails How the Scots Invented Canada

Scotland’s gifts to Canada

January 25, 2012
 Robbie Burns statue, Victoria Park in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia. The statue was erected by the North British Society of Halifax in 1919. Sculpture by G.A. Lawson.
Robbie Burns statue, Victoria Park in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia. The statue was erected by the North British Society of Halifax in 1919. Sculpture by G.A. Lawson.

By Andrew Pocock
January the 25th is Burns Night, an anniversary globally celebrated. It’s right and proper, therefore, to reflect for a moment on the Scottish contribution to Canada.
I was given a book the other day, modestly titled: How the Scots Invented Canada, by Ken McGoogan.
It points, not without evidence, to the seminal contribution made by Scots to Canada’s exploration, politics, economy, education and literature. It claims that almost 5 million Canadians, a goodly quantum, identify themselves as Scottish. That’s as large as the entire population of Scotland!
Early arrivals included explorers Alexander Mackenzie, Simon Fraser and James Douglas, pushing West and North, giving their names to mighty rivers and trees.
On the east coast, Scots landed at Pictou, and named a new Province: Nova Scotia.
Encouraged by Lord Selkirk and John Galt, thousands of Scots moved to the Maritimes and Upper Canada, in search of wide-open spaces, new lives and opportunities, and as much distance as possible from the Sassenachs.
In their wake came the nation-builders like Donald Smith, George Brown and perhaps the greatest of them all, Glasgow-born John A Macdonald, in whose Ottawa house British High Commissioners have lived for 80 years.
And Scots continued, in modern times, to contribute to Canada’s present and future.
They include the media guru and philosopher Marshall McLuhan, who introduced us to the concept of the global village;
The impassioned writer and naturalist Farley Mowat;
Alice Munro, winner of both the Booker Prize and the Governor-General’s Award;
And those Ken McGoogan calls “hybrid Scots”: including Bill Reid, the Haida-Scottish carver of monumental sculptures; John Diefenbaker, with a German name from his father, but a Scottish Canadian mother, whose destination was “one Canada”; and another Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, also the son of a Scottish Canadian mother. . . .
Let’s raise a dram, for auld lang syne.
Ken McGoogan
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Wade Davis tackles Mount Everest

Our Hero turns up today in the Globe and Mail, lauding the latest book from Wade Davis:

. . . Into the Silence is a complex, subversive work, a postcolonial refashioning of an imperialist adventure. Davis, a Canadian anthropologist and explorer, is rightly celebrated for introducing indigenous perspectives into the mainstream. Here, he continues that work while telling a terrific adventure story and affirming as sublime the hubristic madness of assaulting the highest mountain in the world “because it’s there.”

The familiar mountaineering story, man against nature, is here vividly rendered: the difficult treks to Base Camp, the struggles to locate a feasible route, the debilitating effects of altitude sickness, the cold, the fog, the wind-whipping snow, the frostbite, the avalanches, the slips and the tumbles, and the life-and-death choices that confront climbers at altitudes above 23,000 feet.

Davis paints an engaging portrait of Englishman George Mallory, the greatest mountaineer of the age, who emerges as brave and athletic but profoundly flawed. Probably we did not need to learn so much about his early adventures in homoeroticism. But the most meaningful revisionism here is broader and more political, in that Davis responds to the attitudes outlined in the first paragraph of this review. Specifically, he sets the record straight about two remarkable “colonials” – one Canadian and one Australian – who, in the countless retellings of the initial assaults on Everest, have received nothing like the recognition they deserve. . . . [To continue reading, click on the headline.]
Ken McGoogan
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Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.