When The Ground Fails: An Economic Revolution
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This third volume (86 pages) of From Croft to Clearing, the journal of the James McCowan Memorial Social History Society, was published as a contribution to the Bi-Centennial celebrations of Scarborough, Canada, in recognition of the city's Scottish Heritage.

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When the Ground Fails is a valuable story of economic change in rural Scotland two centuries ago. Hammered out by the tools of new technology and the emerging spirit of entrepreneurism, an unrelenting transformation-machine forced decision-makers to re-evaluate their methods of dealing with the needs and wants of people of all classes. The next chapter in the fascinating story of the Scottish people is one of societal reaction to radical economic change, including labour organization, an array of social institutions -- and emigration to Canada. The writer, Bruce McCowan, has made an intellectual contribution to Scarborough's Scottish heritage.

In the Canada of today -- much much more so than in the Scotland of the eighteenth century -- the concept of justice is a method of preventing social harm. Fairness is a form of promoting general happiness. Humankind had struggled through times immemorial for equity, justice, happiness, and economic existence. Pursued people have moved from city to city, from one country to another, bringing change and making changes.

The Scarborough of this half-century is much different from the Scarborough of the last century. Movement of people -- immigration -- has a profound effect on the social and economic fabric of society. To some, it is the benign influence that has brought them the highest standard of living. But to others, it is a vicious ripoff of existing resources. In Scarborough, with a population of a half million residents, approximately 130,000 have their mother tongue other than English, the highest being Chinese followed by Italian and Greek. Over half of the population have their ethnic origins other than British. Is this change of diversity good or bad? This depends on our individual subjective references and assumptions of risks. So we see the political process invoked to address the issue. Politicians will always attempt to balance the concept: should the government attitude be to care for the well-being of future generations or just the current population?

The fact of the matter is that the most pressing issue of the modern world is not immigration but, rather, how to manage an uncontrolled exponential rate of technological change. Our main task is to address the impact of technology on the material things upon which our lives are based. Changing social status and values that drastically affect the distribution of income cannot be addressed by denying basic truth and equity. We must turn to the fundamentals of truth, equity, justice, individual rights and the institution of the family. We must tell this to our political leaders. May God give us wisdom and much compassion so that we may be kinder to those who sit on the other side of the desk.

I lived nearly eighteen years in Britain and I experienced demographic and technological changes there. I have experienced the generosity and friendship of Scotland. I can vividly imagine Scotland's green pastures and grazing sheep. To understand the people of Scotland, you have to search their soul through nature and the abundance of its kindness. When the Ground Fails is an important study of that evolving relationship between Scots and the land.

Bhagat Taggar, P.Eng., Liberal Provincial Candidate for Scarborough East, Former Borough & County Councillor in England &, Vice-Chair of a Race Relations Committee in 1970's


Comments and Reviews

I am pleased to acknowledge the time and effort that D.B. McCowan and the James McCowan Memorial Social History Society have put into this manuscript. This is an apt description of a society under considerable stress and change, not unlike some of the circumstances we find ourselves in today. Having immigrated to this country in the late 60's, I can attest to the difficulties faced, choices made and spirit required to forge new direction. I congratulate the author on his thoughtful work.

Hon. Marilyn Mushinski, M.P.P., Scarborough Ellesmere


Two centuries ago, the Scots in Canada traded in their shares of an agricultural Scotland for a piece of the foundation of the new Canada. In so doing, they have made an indelible mark in the development of our new nation, contributing culture, values and ethics which established an original grid for our Canadian mosaic. I am a proud descendant of these early Canadians.

Derek Lee, M.P., Scarborough-Rouge River


This year, 1996, while celebrating Scarborough's Bi-Centennial, When the Ground Fails gives us a look at the values of some of Scarborough's first settlers. The examination of changes in Scottish society at the time enlightens the understanding of our city's roots. Indeed, excellent material for understanding some of the history of Scarboroughs first settlers.

Tammy Browes Bugden, President, Scarborough-Rouge River, Federal PC Assoc.


Bruce McCowan's latest article on Scotland's agricultural history stems from his interest in what made Scots so capable of travelling the world in search of opportunity and establishing themselves as explorers, businessmen, and nation builders. It's an immigrants' tale that explains the Scottish experience of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and draws parallels with the experience of new Canadians of the late twentieth century. The essay is full of important details of local history but carries a message of empathy anyone living in Canada in 1996 can appreciate.

Dave Fuller, Editor-in-Chief, Scarborough Mirror


When the Ground Fails chronicles the resilience of the Scottish working class as they move from the land to the towns and cities and later evolve to take leading roles in Scottish business and culture. Mr. McCowan has given us a valuable insight into the history of those Scots who later made Scarborough their home.

Bruce Elliott, President, Scarborough Southwest PC Association

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Sample Excerpts
Scarborough's BiCentennial What it takes to build a city
Meagre Diet in the Isolated Fermtoun ca 1700
Regional Trade and a Varied Diet Inn "kept by a farmer of great dealings"
Economics and the Environment Culloden represents a Watershed
Entrepreneurism Scots in Trinidad
The Fermtoun Cooperative Economy Subsistence to 1700
The Landed Estates and Bonnet Lairds Owner-Occupier Farmers
The Estate Hierarchy Dependence on the Land
Flail An early farming implement
A Generation of Immigrants Early 19th century values
Housing Butt and Ben
An Information Revolution Literacy
Interdependence Of the stakeholders in the land
A Tenant's Library James McCowan
Pollution and Environmental Damage Lessons learned by immigrants
Potato Pits "earth is...   heaped on the straw"
Roads "or rather sheep track"
Protectionism 17th century
Robert Burns Rise and Fall of a Tenant Farmer
Glossary of Terms Rural Scottish to early 19th century