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It's not often you get a chance to create something that didn't exist before and that's just one of the factors that have attracted many dedicated volunteers from all walks of life to serve on the board of the Scottish Studies Foundation since the mid 1980s. That particular something, actually more of a dream at that point, was the establishment of a Chair of Scottish Studies in the history department at Canada's University of Guelph.

All of these volunteers had witnessed the success of others in Canada having similar dreams fulfilled. For theatre lovers it was Ontario's Stratford Festival and the Shaw Festival in Niagara, for nature lovers, the Bruce Trail and the Trans-Canada Trail and in broadcast media, the Banff Television Festival. They knew that these now well-established institutions had been started by a small group of visionaries with the dedication, staying power and gift of persuasion to see their dreams fulfilled. Moreover, even although there were lots of people in Canada involved in Scottish cultural activities in one way or another, the beauty of this particular cause was that it did not compete with any other Scots-Canadian organizations.

Scottish Studies at the University of Guelph tied in with the huge expansion of university campuses in Canada in the 1960s aimed at addressing the needs of the "baby boom" generation and increasing demands for college education from all sectors of the population. The university was created in 1964 through an amalgamation of three already established colleges: the Ontario Veterinary College of 1862, the Ontario Agriculture College of 1874 and the MacDonald Institute of 1903. The creation of the university then led to the creation of Wellington College, encompassing the arts and social sciences, along with the physical and biological sciences.

The city of Guelph's strong Scottish ties date back to 1827 when it was founded as a planned town by distinguished Scottish novelist, John Galt (1779-1839), whom many consider to be the university's great grandfather. It is understood that Galt picked the name to honour Britain's royal family, the Hanoverians, who were descended from the Guelphs, one of the great political factions in medieval Germany and Italy.

The University of Guelph had inherited an already established reputation in agriculture and veterinary science but in 1965 as part of the new Wellington College a history department was launched with W. Stanford Reid from McGill University as its first Chair. Reid was anxious to find a field in which already established Canadian universities were not active and, in view of his fascination with his Scots ancestry, came up with the idea of Scottish Studies. This was aided by a $400,000 donation from the MacDonald Stewart Foundation presented by David MacDonald Stewart of Montreal, whose family were heirs to a fortune made in the tobacco trade.

With these funds, and with the strong support of the university administration for Scottish Studies, Reid and his team set about purchasing rare books and documents in Scotland which ultimately led to Guelph building up the largest collections outside the UK and quite remarkable for such a young university. Not surprisingly, the collection also includes Reid's 1976 book "The Scottish Tradition in Canada" which claimed that the preponderant culture in Canada became British rather than English because of a strong Scots influence and that distinctively Scottish patterns could clearly be discerned in current Canadian education and moral attitudes.

With Scottish Studies now underway, Reid realized the importance of community outreach, and by tapping into the expertise of faculty members, introduced bi-annual workshops on Scottish history and culture open to the public at large. These were, and still are, hugely successful, attracting support from all over southern Ontario and beyond. Indeed, this September will see the return visit of Historiographer Royal of Scotland, Professor T.C. Smout, as keynote speaker at the Annual Fall Colloquium. In addition, Reid also introduced the scholarly journal "Scottish Tradition" which continues to be published today under the title "International Review of Scottish Studies" and in the 1970s was also instrumental in hiring leading medievalist Ranald Nicholson.

In his 60s, with retirement not far away, Reid became concerned that interest in the Scottish tradition at Guelph might dwindle after he left, but fortunately was able to persuade renowned historian Ted Cowan to come over from Scotland and in 1979 Ted replaced Reid as Professor of history and chair of Scottish Studies, exactly 200 years after the birth of Galt. To Reid's delight and relief, Cowan developed and expanded the programme, embraced and enhanced outreach activities, added to the library's Scottish collection and finally secured Guelph's reputation as the major centre for Scottish studies in North America.

But by the 1980s, the glory days of campus expansion has come to an abrupt end and with a neo-conservatism storm brewing, it did not take too much imagination to realize that, if not careful, programmes not deemed to be core could easily fall victim to cuts. It was under these circumstances that community support proved invaluable and with Cowan's encouragement a small team of dedicated individuals banded together to establish the Scottish Studies Foundation as a registered Canadian charity dedicated to the protection of the Scottish tradition in Canada at the academic level.

In the early years, the team's focus under the leadership of businessman Harry Ferguson centred on the establishment of a structure aimed at achieving the major objective, which was to establish a permanent chair of Scottish studies at the University of Guelph and a target in the order of $1 million was thought to be about the right amount to see this established.

Ferguson freely admits that, not having any previous fundraising expertise, the group rather naively thought that it would be a simple matter of identifying individuals and companies with some sort of Scottish connection, showing up on their doorstep, making their case, and walking away with a cheque! It did not take too long to realize that raising the necessary funds was not going to be an easy task based, among other factors, that there were many other deserving charities out there competing for donations.

In 1992, media director Bill Somerville was elected president and together with his team of directors established many of the activities that are still in place today. A newsletter was launched and a membership campaign initiated. To raise the Foundation's profile, a fundraising strategy was devised to complement rather than compete with the many other Scottish groups active across Canada and this meant building fundraising efforts around events and activities that were not being utilized by others. It also meant being continually on the lookout for potential fundraising opportunities.

The first of these enabled the Scottish band Runrig to be brought over for an outdoor fundraising concert at Toronto's Ontario Place. On a beautiful warm August evening the haunting strains of Runrig's music could be heard over the cries of seagulls across Lake Ontario. One of the numbers played that night was "The Cutter" composed by Runrig's Calum and Rory Macdonald and which told the story of Johnny Morrison from the island of South Uist. Johnny was a childhood friend of the Macdonalds, treating the boys to surreptitious rides on his lorry but by the 1960s he had emigrated to Canada. The song was motivated by the touching story of how Johnny faithfully came home every year to cut peats for his mother and it was just as touching to actually see Johnny in the audience that night.

Shortly after, it was decided to commemorate the arrival of Scots pioneer ship "The Hector" which arrived in Nova Scotia in 1773. This was done by chartering Canada's largest sailing ship "The Empire Sandy" to provide a unique opportunity for anyone interested to share the experience of a voyage on a tall ship under full sail in an attempt to recapture the spirit of Canada's pioneers. With lots of tartan in evidence, folk singers, dancers and the sound of the pipes accompanied and entertained guests with songs and music from Scotland and Canada. The event was hugely popular and has been held every year since.

Incidentally, more recent events have included sponsorship of Canada's International Festival of Authors featuring Scots and Canadian authors and a theatrical production of "Mary Stuart," written by German playwright Friedrich Schiller and based on the life of Mary Queen of Scots has also been sponsored. As a counterpoint to ubiquitous Burns events, a musical production based on the Music of Lady Nairne (1766-1845), was also commissioned and an inaugural performance has already taken place as a tribute to Iain and Mary MacMillan and family, long time Foundation supporters.

However, if serious financial support was to be obtained, it became clear that the Foundation's profile had to be raised significantly and with this in mind the concept of a "Scot of the Year Award" was established -- aimed at honouring individuals who had achieved distinction through their contribution to Canadian society or the international community at large. In keeping with the Foundation's mandate to avoid conflict with other established Scottish groups, it was agreed to tie the award ceremony in with the relatively new Tartan Day date of April 6th, slowly gaining in importance having been officially recognized by the Province of Ontario in 1991 after first being conceived at a meeting of the Federation of Scottish Clans in Nova Scotia on March 9, 1986, coincidentally the same year the Foundation received its charter. The event was designed, not only to give people a chance to dress up for one of the most sophisticated events in the Scots-Canadian calendar, but to give business leaders a chance to network and for contacts to be nurtured. In April 1993 the first recipient was Major-General Lewis MacKenzie who had just retired from the Canadian Forces after his successful command of UN ground troops from 31 nations during the Bosnian Civil War.

Everything, it seemed, had got off to a good start but then a bombshell was dropped. Ted Cowan announced that he would be leaving Canada to return to Scotland to head up the history department at Glasgow University. With such a charismatic figure leaving the scene it was not immediately clear how the vacuum would be filled. Fortunately Ron Sunter, Catherine Kerrigan and Elizabeth Ewan, the remaining university faculty members, quickly stepped up to the plate to keep things going with Linda Mahood and Kevin James joining in the following years.

From left: Publisher Douglas Gibson and Professor Robert Crawford
(University of St. Andrews) in Canada for the launch of "The Bard,"
with Professor Graeme Morton, Chair of Scottish Studies
at the University of Guelph

At the Foundation, slowly but surely, donations started to build up. Under the subsequent leadership of Alan McKenzie (elected 1994) and Dr. Edward Stewart (elected 1997), The Scottish Studies Society was established as a parallel fundraising organization freed from the constraints of charitable status and in 2003, with television broadcast executive David Hunter now president, the university was convinced that the Foundation would be able to fulfill a pledge that would allow the Chair of Scottish Studies to be adequately funded. As a result, the university launched the search for a suitable candidate and to everyone's great delight, in the first part of 2004, Dr. Graeme Morton from the University of Edinburgh was appointed professor of history with the official title of "Scottish Studies Foundation Chair of Scottish Studies." Graeme gave his inaugural address at the university's Fall Colloquium in October that year having been joined by his wife Angela and their then eight-year-old twins, Sam and Evie. This establishment of a permanent Chair in Scottish Studies was a first in North America, attracting academics from all over the world, and solidifying Guelph's position as one of the world's foremost centres of Scottish Studies. In the last few years, this has been strengthened even more with the opening of Guelph's Centre for Scottish Studies.

In the meantime, fundraising efforts continued and, with the advent of devolution in Scotland, contacts between the Foundation and the new Scottish government were strengthened with the establishment of Scottish Development International in keeping with its objective of solidifying contacts with the business community in Canada. In 2005 Scotland's then First Minister, Jack McConnell, paid a visit to the Scottish Studies Program at the University of Guelph accompanied by historian Professor Tom Devine and genealogist Cameron Taylor from Orkney. This was to be the first of many high profile contacts raising Canadian awareness of Scotland's new stature in the international community, strengthened all the more in 2006 when Scottish Development International's appointed senior vice-president Michael Corish as its dedicated Canadian representative. Foundation volunteers are now looking forward to working with Raymond McGovern and Helen Webster who head up Scottish Development International's new team in Canada and are grateful for the support given by the British Consul General in Toronto Jonathan Dart and Robin Naysmith, Counsellor for Scottish Affairs in North America, in Washington, DC.

With the growing importance of Tartan Day in North America, the Foundation's early decision to embrace it paid off. Its associated "Scot of the Year Award" has generated much publicity, highlighting the achievements of some of the most high profile and deserving individuals in Canada. Candidates are now usually recommended by past recipients who have come from all over Canada as well as Scotland and include Sun Life Financial's CEO Donald Stewart from the island of Arran and Jean Watson from Nova Scotia, whose tireless efforts in promoting the concept of Tartan Day made it as reality. It has also allowed the Foundation to assist with the Tartan Day activities planned by Scottish Development International and over the last few years, Scottish government ministers Linda Fabiani, Michael Russell, Jim Mather, Kenny MacAskill, Glasgow's Lord Provost Bob Winter and Visit Scotland's chairmen Peter Lederer and Dr. Mike Cantlay have been highly visible on the Canadian scene. Significantly, on October 21, 2010, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, the Honourable James Moore, made the public announcement proclaiming April 6 as Canada's national Tartan Day.

This year the Foundation celebrated Tartan Day 2011 at a gala event at Toronto's prestigious Granite Club with a delegation of business leaders from Scotland attending the event, which featured Glasgow's Lord Provost Bob Winter giving the opening speech and Selkirk Grace. Last year's recipient Richard Wernham presented this year's "Scot of the Year Award" to Scots-Canadian mining engineer, businessman and philanthropist Robert M. Buchan in recognition of his role in supporting philanthropic and educational activities in Canada and Scotland. Born in Aberdeen and brought up in Rosyth, Fife, Mr. Buchan graduated with a B.Sc. (hons) in Mining Engineering from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh in 1969 and in 1971 obtained a Masters in Mineral Economics from Queen's University, in Kingston, Ontario. In 2009 he donated $10 million to Queen's University, the largest single donation to mining education in Canadian history. This was followed one year later when he donated $1.3 million to his Scottish alma mater to fund work on sustainable energy engineering, the largest donation the university has ever received from an individual. He also donated $650,000 to help establish the Whitlock Energy Collaboration Centre at Carnegie College in Fife, believed to be the largest single private individual donation to a Scottish college since the time of Andrew Carnegie. In many ways, Buchan personifies that crucial part of Scotland's heritage when Scots were at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution and education, creativity and sheer hard work were the key Scottish ingredients that are now every bit a part of the Scottish tradition in Canada as Highland Games, clan gatherings and tartan.

Young multi-ethnic Canadians celebrate Scotland at Tartan Day Toronto

However, today in Canada, immigration from Scotland is minimal and the Foundation is well aware that protection of the Scots-Canadian heritage at the academic level cannot be taken for granted. Indeed its motto clearly states that "We have a heritage, you can help protect it!" Consequently, continued success of the Foundation provides tangible evidence of support from within the Scottish community to outsiders. At the same time, as Hunter puts it, "As both immigrants and Scots, we are wary of the temptation of ethnic groups to focus inward on themselves." Hunter sees Canada as a huge multicultural social experiment with the potential to be a role model for the rest of the world and... "By reaching out to the culture, literature and history of all groups who strive to build this nation we can fulfill the promise and dreams of the early Scots pioneers." In this regard, in 2010 the Foundation was instrumental in the launch of a new course in Canada's immigration literature and history at the University of Guelph's branch campus in the city of Toronto, one of the world's most ethically diverse communities.

"Creating this course is such a fantastic achievement by the Scottish Studies Foundation," said Scottish Studies Chair Dr. Graeme Morton. "With its support, we are able to offer a history of Canadian immigration that really speaks to the experiences of Toronto's diverse ethnic mix. The Scots are in there, of course, but so too are the migrants from the Caribbean, Asia, Eastern Europe and just about everywhere else. It places the history of Scottish immigration alongside those that came to Canada in different periods, for different reasons, and makes our understanding of our nation's history all the richer. Located in Toronto, the University of Guelph-Humber is a wonderful resource for the local community, and it's great that Scottish history is getting studied alongside other national and ethnic groups. From Dr. John Walsh, VP of Guelph-Humber, and myself our sincere thanks go to the SSF Board and all its members for such inspiring leadership."

The young and old at the annual Fergus Highland Games
in Ontario where the Foundation has a promotional tent

This year the Foundation celebrates its 25th anniversary with the original $1 million pledge for the Chair now paid in full and with current president David Campbell (elected 2010) at the helm, the Foundation is in the process of discussing its future role now that the main goal has been achieved. One thing is certain-- its success remains testament to the vision and staying power of the many dedicated volunteers who seized the opportunity to secure an academic infrastructure for generations to come