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Scottish Diaspora Tapestry


What is a Canadian?

The (apparently simple) question, "What is a Canadian?", (paradoxically) has never been more perplexing. Recent efforts to achieve some consensus respecting Constitutional change have failed -- partly because we neither quite know who we are nor who our neighbours are.

Some will be tempted to answer the question "What is a Canadian?" thus: "A Canadian is one who has lived in Canada for x years". Such an answer is wholly inadequate. Granted, we might thus have a "rigourous definition of a Canadian" but we are no closer to an understanding of the needs, values, ideals, and aspirations of a Canadian. For it is our needs, wants and values that really determine what and who we are -- and what our government should be doing with our taxes. Our evolving needs and values are fundamental to the development of our Law. Similarly, an understanding of our needs and wants is of paramount importance in the study of Economics. Further, our relationships with others -- their values and needs vis a vis our values and needs -- are the bases of the studies of both Law and Sociology. All of the Social Sciences -- including history -- must be considered at length if we hope to understand the Canadian identity.

Clearly then, we must evaluate the needs, wants and values of Canadians before we can hope to answer the question, "What is a Canadian?". Further, our existence today is a blend of our past experiences, our ability to reason in the present and our vision for the future. Thus, our Canadian culture cannot be understood unless we consider the past experiences of earlier Canadians. The needs, wants and values of these earlier Canadians are most fundamental elements of their existence -- and, hence, of our existence.

While the nineteenth century farmer in Scarborough looks much like the blacksmith in Cobourg (after all, they were both only "pioneers"!), they each performed a unique function in Canadian society. Now, if the farmer were Scottish and the blacksmith German, they would have each contributed ideals, attitudes and values that were unique to their native land and beneficial to their adopted Canada. We can better understand the whole (and plan for the future) if we fully comprehend the parts. We must study the Scot, the German, the Italian, the blacksmith, the factory worker, the Torontonian and the person living in Uxbridge if we ever hope to answer the question, "What is a Canadian?".

So it is vitally important that we ask the question "what values did the Scots bring to Canada and how did these values evolve?" Such values include freedom, individuality, security, material wealth, protection of the environment, equality -- and the need for stress relief from the work world. The evolution of these values is profoundly linked with the evolution of needs, wants and relationships through several centuries of life in rural Scotland. Political, economic, and technological forces provoked change in Scottish social structure and values. The capacity of the Scots to adapt to change is illustrated by the evolution of their values with respect to stress relief -- or "Fairs and Frolics".

The emigrant Scots quickly adapted to a new physical, social and economic environment in Canada. They formed new relationships, both with the land and with others who were likewise adapting to the responsibilities of nation-building. The evolution of the Canadian identity is, in part, the evolution of our relationship with each other -- both at work and at play.

Our concept of "community" is rapidly changing. The lowland "fermtoun" and the early Upper Canadian Scottish "settlement" were "communities" where neighbours and relatives worked and played together in relative isolation from the outside world. "Community" then was really some sense of physical place where the residents had the "place" in common. But today, rapidly developing transportation and communications technologies allow us to very efficiently interact socially and economically with the entire world. To a large degree today, a "community" can be considered to be a group of people who have values, interests, experiences, goals or visions in common -- even though they may be physically separated by many miles.

The evolving values of today's Scottish Canadian community are thus of vital concern to the social and economic planners of Canada.

Fairs and Frolics is the McCowan Society contribution to the "Toronto 200, 1793-1993" celebration, specifically in recognition of the ordinary Scottish Canadians of Metro Toronto. "Fairs and Frolics" are particularly significant this year because, for the first time, the Metro Toronto Area Heritage Groups, including the McCowan Society, have been invited to exhibit at the 1993 Canadian National Exhibition.

In general terms, Fairs and Frolics traces the evolution of Scots' amusements. It is impossible to study "amusements" in isolation -- a vast array of social, economic, political and psychological forces come into play. However, two themes seem to predominate within the scope of amusements for the early nineteenth century rural Scot -- the community working together and boisterousness, usually accompanied by drinking. The profound connection between economic activity and entertainment had its roots in rural isolation and in the cooperative nature of farming. A third theme more strongly emerges as the Scot enthusiastically embraced the new market economy -- competition. Throughout this period, and well into the nineteenth century in Canada, the Church attempted to influence and regulate behaviour.

"Boisterousness" eventually largely gave way to more cultured and enlightened pastimes and excessive drinking fell out of favour. As full partners in the socio-economic planning process at the beginning of the twentieth century, ordinary Scots took their responsibilities to the community very seriously -- all the while retaining a keen sense of sport and recreation.

We are very pleased to make this humble contribution to the literature of the ordinary Scottish Canadian.

The reader is encouraged to consult the glossary at the end of Fairs and Frolics.

From the Introduction to Fairs and Frolics: Scottish Communities at Work and Play (D.B. McCowan)

The Scarboro Heights Record V10 #7