Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Into the Northwest Passage

Readers of Fatal Passage may recall that a dozen years ago, with Cameron Treleaven and Louie Kamookak, I erected a plaque honouring Doctor John Rae at the spot where he discovered the final link in the Northwest Passage. This August, I'll be sailing Into the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada. We are hoping that, for the first time, we will be able to visit that plaque. This will involve finding a landing spot near Point de la Guiche, but I vividly remember that locale and we have our fingers crossed. For details re: this voyage, which has a superb itinerary, click on the headline above. Maybe see you in August!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Online writing through the New York Times

Anyone looking for an online writing course might want to check out The New York Times Knowledge Network, which is offering The Art of Fact: An Introduction to Writing Nonfiction: January 23 - March 30, 2012
Instructor: Ken McGoogan

The hallmarks of Creative, Literary or Narrative Nonfiction are truth and personal presence. The genre includes subjective and objective streams, and encompasses memoir, autobiography, biography, history, adventure, travel, and true crime. The writer of nonfiction employs memory, imagination, analysis, and research, and adapts literary techniques from fiction, journalism, and the essay. This craft-oriented course aims to enhance your ability to tell true stories. We will explore point of view, scene-making, flashbacks, fast-forwards, fat moments, personal presence, and the rolling now. The instructor will introduce a concept or technique and provide examples and illustrations. Participants will apply that idea in an exercise, and share exercises and assignments through the Discussion Board.

Related Institutions: University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies

Find out more by clicking on our headline.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Scotland's First Minister proves a discerning reader


Rumour has it that Alex Salmond, an aficionado of the poetry of Robbie Burns, knows a good book when he sees one. As Scotland's First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party, he has provided this appreciation of Our Hero's latest book:

"In 'How the Scots Invented Canada', Ken McGoogan has delivered a celebration of the inextricable and treasured ties between our two great nations. His insightful and intelligent portrayal of our shared heritage surely draws its inspiration from the many Scots who have led the way in shaping Canada, from early settlers who carved Nova Scotia from harsh northern lands to Glasgow born Sir John A Macdonald, Canada's first Prime Minister, who united Canada with his national vision and the construction of the world's longest railway.

"In the intimate portrayals of Scots-Canadians past we see the enduring strengths and qualities which have helped make our countries great today. In our world-class education systems, thriving creative industries and cutting edge technology we see Scots on both sides of the Atlantic as diverse, radical and passionate as the first explorers who set foot on Canada's shores hundreds of years ago."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Our Hero reviews the winner of the Weston Prize

And the winner of the inaugural Writers' Trust Hilary Weston Prize for nonfiction, which is worth $10K more than the Giller, is . . . Charles Foran! The winning book: Mordecai:The Life & Times. Our Hero reviewed the tome in the National Post in October 2010.


Yes, this is it, the definitive biography of Mordecai Richler, one of the greatest role-model writers this country has produced. It reads more like a literary work than a scholarly one, as if flowing naturally from an immersion so deep that no note-taking was required. Yet the book is so detailed, so exhaustive, so astute and authoritative, that one can’t imagine there is anything more to add.

Biographer Charles Foran is a beautiful writer: a stylist. By 1948, he tells us, when Richler was a 17-year-old student at Sir George Williams University, already he was a “heat-seeking teenage journalist.” Within three years, Richler would be in France, working on a first novel called The Rotten People — “a screed cross-eyed with self-absorption and judgmental to the point of being hateful.” A few years later, Foran tells us, Richler would be yearning to resume work on St. Urbain’s Horseman, “a book he had been writing for too long in his head and not long enough in his study.”

So the language sweeps us along. But let’s be clear: This 727-page door-stopper is written for readers who have completed Richler 101. Those who haven’t, and who might welcome a potted biography at this point, should refer to excellent biographies by Michael Posner and Reinhold Kramer.

Mordecai: The Life & Times is a tough-minded book, worthy of its subject. It’s a warts-and-all portrait of the artist as street-fighter: ruthless, committed and lethal when cornered or simply rubbed the wrong way. Of course, the Saidye Bronfman anecdote is here. At the Montreal premiere of the movie version of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, she speaks from on high: “Well, Mordecai, you’ve come a long way for a St. Urbain’s street boy.” Our hero responds: “And you’ve come a long way for a bootlegger’s wife.”

Afterwards, in Foran’s telling, Mordecai’s wife, the long-suffering Florence — a Nora-Joyce figure but with brains and critical acumen — admonishes her husband for speaking to an elderly person in such a manner. One imagines him taking another sip of whisky.

Read the rest by clicking on the title above . . .

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Voyage around Scotland means sailing through history

By Ken McGoogan
Special to the Globe and Mail


So this was Calum Mor's House, the oldest dwelling on the Scottish island of Hirta. According to legend, young Calum had built it in a single day to prove his worth: He had been passed over for the annual fowling expedition to Borera, a smaller island in the group that makes up St. Kilda.

This happened a thousand years ago, and I found my imagination racing. That's what comes of writing historical narratives, as I've been doing for the past dozen years.

I could see it all. The September expedition to Borera, six kilometres away, was the one great adventure of the year. The strongest men would risk their lives paddling through rough seas to harvest hefty birds that had to be killed at night while they slept on slippery ledges. Often, the men would stay a few days on Borera, sheltering in the stone cleits or storage houses they had previously erected. In my mind's eye, I could see the aggrieved Calum Mor building furiously with these heavy stones, bent on showing those who had voted against him that they had been wrong, wrong, wrong.

Later, on reflection, I began to doubt that anyone working alone could erect such a structure in a week, never mind a day. But the details I could tease out later. The racing of the imagination – that is what I seek when I travel, that inspirational revving. I'm a history junkie. In places where history happened, I get excited. And I was finding this voyage through the Scottish Isles almost (but not quite) too stimulating.

This circumnavigation of Scotland was mounted by Adventure Canada. Our home for the 11-day voyage, the 335-foot-long Clipper Odyssey, was rightly billed as a “small luxury ship.” We're talking well-stocked bars and lounges, white-linen tablecloths in the dining rooms, fully equipped presentation rooms, and cabins with portholes or windows.

The vessel carried a full complement of 110 passengers, among them a number of lecturers: authors Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson, musician Ian Tamblyn, publisher Douglas Gibson, ornithologist Brent Stephenson, myself and another author-historian, Ted Cowan. Starting from Oban on the west coast, we sailed north to Orkney and Shetland, and then south to disembark at Edinburgh. Once a day, sometimes twice, we would pile into 12-person Zodiacs – inflatable craft with outboard motors – and zoom ashore to explore a different island.

(click on headline/ link to continue)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Time travel . . . around Scotland and through Canada's History

"Last June, during a voyage around Scotland," the piece begins, "a history-buff friend told me about attending a talk by an academic historian who had written a book featuring a section on the 1758 siege of the Fortress of Louisbourg. My friend noted, with some dismay, that the professional seemed to take pride in the fact that he had never visited the fortress, though he could have gotten there by undertaking a two-day drive." I go on -- for yes, those are indeed my words -- I go on to describe my reaction, and to evoke a fantastic Adventure Canada voyage around Scotland. This column appears in the latest issue of Canada's History, complete with a photo of Our Hero at Lach Finlaggan on the island of Islay. Wasn't that a trip! For good measure, that same issue has a review of How the Scots Invented Canada.

Monday, August 29, 2011

John Rae gains recognition in London


John Rae has a gained a plaque in London, England.
Friends of the Scottish-Orcadian explorer, who lived in that city from 1869 to 1893, recently mounted an historical plaque on the wall of his long-time home in Addison Gardens. I visited that site while researching Fatal Passage, and I remember feeling outraged that Rae -- arguably the greatest Arctic explorer of them all -- was not commemmorated there.
Obviously, Margaret Street of Edinburgh felt the same way. She launched a campaign to rectify this historical affront. And on June 23, the round blue plaque was publicly unveiled by survival expert and TV presenter Ray Mears. It reads: “John Rae (1813-1893) Arctic explorer lived and died here.”
Situated in the heart of London, the plaque complements the marble memorial in St. Magnus Cathedral in Orkney and the inscribed metal plaque that overlooks Rae Strait in the Canadian Arctic -- the one that, along with Louie Kamookak and Cameron Treleaven, I erected in 1999. It marks the spot where Rae, working for the Hudson’s Bay Company, located the final link in the only Northwest Passage navigable in that period.
The London unveiling, organized by English Heritage, attracted about fifty well-wishers, among them Orcadians James Irvine and David Aggett. Irvine reports that after the brief ceremony “the current residents kindly invited all present to drinks, enabling us to appreciate why Rae would have much enjoyed the delightful large but secluded communal garden to the rear of the property.”

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Robbie Burns returns to New Brunswick

Great news out of New Brunswick. The Scots in those parts are set to unveil a gloriously refurbished Robbie Burns Statue on September 10. Guests will include J.K. and Jean Irving and the lieutenant-governor of the province. There will be a reception and a dinner. There will be singing and sundry pipe bands. Would you believe that I was invited to participate in the festivities? The heart-breaker is that I will be elsewhere. Dagnabit, I spent a year in Fred as writer-in-rez at UNB! True, I will be in the Northwest Passage, which mitigates the pain. Still, I would have loved to attend. Party on, Fred!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Coetzee meets Auster in Kingston, Ontario . . .

J.M. Coetzee meets Paul Auster at the Kingston WritersFest. Wowsers! When a two-time Booker Prize winner originally from South Africa chats on stage with an eminent American fabulist, well, you know have a capital-E Event. Make that an all-caps occasion: an EVENT. This "international marquee" extravaganza kicks off the Kingston festival on September 24. And that, as they say, is just the beginning. The line-up for this four-day festival includes Noah Richler, Linwood Barclay, Andrew Pyper, Frances Itani, Diane Schoemperlen, Romeo Dallaire, Kenneth J. Harvey, Merilyn Simonds, Trevor Ferguson, Sarah MacLachlan, Richard Gwyn, Vincent Lam, Dave Bidini, Robert J. Sawyer . . . and, oh look, yours truly. I'll lead a panel discussion called Great Scots! and teach a master class in Writing the Past. Click the headline above and check it out.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mount McGoogan Conquered!!!




The deed is done, the mission accomplished. Mount McGoogan is conquered. The date: June 15, 2011. Those who have read How the Scots Invented Canada will know that my last expedition was thwarted by my Canadian deference to a sign warning that unauthorized persons should proceed no farther. Yes, I attempted a different route and got turned back by a rushing river. This time out, understanding that my surname conferred the requisite authorization, I climbed over the gate and, with Sheena, followed a dirt road as it zig-zagged upwards to the top of Cruach Mhic Gougain (higher, at 246 metres, than Montreal's Mount Royal). The big surprise? The standing stone we found near the top. It marks the spot, I believe, where a lookout would light a beacon fire to relay news of any imminent invasion. We had neglected to bring champagne. The celebration would have to wait. Now, we unfurled a flag and marked the occasion by signing two copies of How the Scots.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Birthday poem sparks controversy at Writers' Union AGM

Controversy erupted Saturday at the annual general meeting of The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) when members were urged to seek the attention of book clubs and reading groups with a bad poem. The motion that sparked a spirited debate was the second of two involving Canada’s Public Lending Right Program (PLR), which reimburses authors for the presence of their books in libraries.
The first PLR motion, decidedly serious in tone, noted that digitization is revolutionizing the world of books, and urged the federal government “to demonstrate its commitment to Canadian culture by providing funds to enable the PLR Program to include eBooks.” The PLR Commission, which is co-sponsoring a study of eBooks and libraries, was a main focus of the four-day gathering.
The second motion, noting that the PLR Program is celebrating its 25th anniversary, called on TWUC  to urge book clubs and reading groups to open each meeting with a solemn reading of the following poem:

Happy Birthday, PLR!
We borrow books and, yes, you are
The way we show appreciation
To the authors of our Nation.


The nay-sayers argued that the poem is so awful that TWUC could not endorse it. But David Waltner-Toews – who presented the motion while disavowing authorship of the poem – argued that the badness of the poem was necessary: “If it was a serious poem,” he said, “there would be no joke. These people have no sense of humour!”
The nay-sayers carried the day by four votes – the narrowest margin of the afternoon. One GG-award-winning novelist hollered for a recount, and a nonfiction prize-winner muttered darkly about revisiting the matter next year. The author of the poem has yet to admit he wrote it. But he does believe strongly that book clubs and reading groups should solemnly intone the poem when they gather, even without official endorsement.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Tribe Invites You to Party at the Toronto Public Library

It did not officially launch the annual general meeting of The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC). But last night’s Toronto event, a literary cabaret mounted by the Creative Nonfiction Collective, drew a star-studded, standing-room-only crowd to Harbord House. This preliminary event left no doubt whatsoever:  The Tribe is gathering in force at the Centre of the Universe.
Some 150 writers from across Canada, all with at least one published book to their credit, will participate in TWUC events over the next four days.  Tonight, May 26, is the official launch – an open-to-the-public celebration of the 25th anniversary of Canada’s Public Lending Right Program. That happens in the splendid Appel Salon at the Toronto Public Library, Yonge and Bloor, starting at 7 p.m. Admission is free, and you can reserve tickets here: http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/programs-and-classes/appel-salon/
Did I mention that last night's cabaret was standing-room-only? Performers included Maggie Siggins, Merilyn Simonds, Wayne Grady, Marni Jackson, Don Gillmor, Rosemary Sullivan, Anthony Westoll, and Yours Truly. But the real story, and the hint of things to come, was the audience. It included Toronto writers Susan Crean, Erna Paris, Leon Rooke, Christopher Moore, James Adams, Ted Barris, and Brian Fawcett, as well as Albertans Brian Brennan and Myrna Kostash, and from British Columbia, Rhona MacAdam, Michael Elcock and Andreas Schroeder. OK, I’ve missed people -- for example, Trevor Ferguson (Montreal) and Susan Olding (Kingston). But you get the idea. Maybe see you tonight, when Schroeder tells The Untold Story of Canada’s PLR Program? Oh, yes, a cash-bar reception will follow.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Tribe gathers to celebrate PLR

That's how Margaret Laurence would have described it -- as a gathering of The Tribe.
Scores of Canadian authors are heading to Toronto from across the country for the annual general meeting and conference of the Writers’ Union of Canada.
The May 26 kick-off event, which is open to the public, celebrates the 25th anniversary of Canada’s Public Lending Right Program. The prolific Andreas Schroeder, one of the founding fathers, will fly in from British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast to deliver a keynote address: The Untold Story of Canada’s PLR.
Speakers will include Anna Porter, whose book The Ghosts of Europe recently won the 2011 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize.
At the reception afterwards, those in attendance will rub shoulders with dozens of authors, among them Susan Swan, Margaret Atwood, Katherine Govier, Merilyn Simonds, Wayne Grady, Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, Graeme Gibson, Lee Gowan, Greg Hollingshead, Brian Brennan, Judy Fong Bates, Alan Cumyn, and yours truly.
This free event happens in the Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library, Yonge and Bloor, starting at 7 p.m. Be there, as they say, or be square.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Expedition to Mount McGoogan

A couple of years back, Our Hero led a two-person expedition in an attempt to  climb Mount McGoogan (Cruach Mhic Gougain) in Kintyre, Scotland. On that occasion, he failed -- a story he tells in the epilogue to How the Scots Invented Canada. Late next month, after voyaging around Scotland with Adventure Canada, Ken will return to Kintyre to try again. This time, he will lead a four-person expedition in an effort to conquer the 246-metre cruach. "Last time out, I took a crucial wrong turn," he says, looking back. "We got halted by an impassible burn. This time, different route, four people . . . I think we can reach the summit."

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Wicked Need No Rest . . .

OK, here we go. On May 4, Our Hero addresses the Canadian Celtic Arts Association in downtown Toronto. It's a public event co-sponsored by Celtic Studies, St. Michael's College, University of Toronto, and Ken will talk about his book How the Scots Invented Canada. Details: please click here.

On May 25, Ken will read from that same book at a "non-fiction cabaret" called Stranger Than Fiction. That's with several other high-profile writers: Wayne Grady & Merilyn Simons, Don Gillmor, Marni Jackson, Rosemary Sullivan, Andrew Westoll. That's at Harbord House Gastro Pub, 150 Harbord St., Toronto, 8:30 p.m. Details: please click here.

Then, on May 27, three days before he flies to Glasgow to sail around Scotland with Adventure Canada, Ken will don his hat as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission to moderate a panel (PLR: 25 More Years Please) at the annual general meeting of The Writers' Union of Canada. That's open to the public, 9:30 a.m. at the Courtyard Marriot, 475 Yonge Street. Details: please click here.

As for the voyage, well it's sold out. www.adventurecanada.com

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

From Barrie to Harbord House . . .

Turns out that, before he talks to the Canadian Celtic Arts Association in Toronto (see below), Our Hero will head out to Barrie for the L3 Writers' Conference, where he will perform with Romeo Dallaire, George Elliott Clarke, and Nino Ricci. That's April 14, an evening event at Barrie North Collegiate (click on the headline above). During the day, Ken will entertain 60-80 high school students with a talk he's calling Nothing is More Fun / Than Canadian History. After the Celtic Association event, and immediately before the annual general meeting of The Writers' Union of Canada, Our Boy will perform at a Creative Nonfiction Cabaret along with Merilyn Simonds, Wayne Grady, Marni Jackson, Don Gillmor, Rosemary Sullivan and Andrew Westoll. That event, hosted by Maggie Siggins, happens at Harbord House Pub on May 25. Short readings, that environment . . . can't miss.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Our Hero visits Canadian Celtic Arts Association

It's being billed as a talk, but of course it will be a full-blown presentation complete with slides. The invitation comes from the Canadian Celtic Arts Association and Celtic Studies at University of Toronto. The venue is the Alumni Hall, St. Michael's College, U of T, 121 St. Joseph Street (just south of Museum Station). Modesty prevents Our Hero from quoting the poster prepared by event organizers, but if you simply MUST see it, click on the headline above. . . . See you there?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Meanwhile, across the pond in Scotland . . .



Kenny MacAskill (left), minister of justice in the Scottish government, and Graeme Murdoch, an Edinburgh-based force of nature who is driving Tartan Day celebrations here in Canada, strike a winning pose with a favourite book. MacAskill has written or co-authored at least three books, and has had much to say about the need for Scots at home to engage with the Diaspora around the world. Tartan Day happens April 6, and for days either side of that date, Maple-Leaf-tartan types will have no trouble finding things to do.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Maple Leaf tartan made official . . .


Why is this man grinning? Perhaps because he senses that the Maple Leaf Tartan, which he is sporting, is about to be made official. Also, Margaret has just given him a bag containing a box containing a bottle. A bag in the blessed official tartan, to match his vest and tie. Would you believe 16-year-old Lagavulin?  Hats off to Liberal Senator Elizabeth Hubley for leading the charge on the tartan. And, again, to the Royal Scottish Country Dancing Society . . . for knowing how to show a guy a good time!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Major shout-out to Manitoba history buffs and Scottish Country Dancers

Whew! Talk about a crazy couple of weeks. How the Scots is like a tail grown far too fond of swinging around an old dog. Of course, I love it. But I want to do a double shout-out. Huge thanks, first to Harry Duckworth and friends at the Manitoba Historical Society. They flew me to Winnipeg to address the 46th annual John A. Macdonald Dinner at the Fort Garry Hotel, and gave me an incredibly warm welcome, starting with a pre-event dinner at Cafe Carlo. The Macdonald extravaganza unfolded two Saturdays ago, and drove the Scots to the top of the Winnipeg bestseller list. Then, this past Saturday, the Royal Scottish Country Dancing Society of Toronto had me and Sheena reeling around at the Royal York Hotel. Not only that, but they went far, far beyond the call of duty -- I'm thinking Louis Racic, Margaret Reiger, Barbara Taylor AND their spouses -- in getting us up to speed for the 48th annual Tartan Ball (more or less up to speed, I mean, for at least three dances). No mean feat! And to cap it all off with a bottle of Lagavulin? Well, what can I say: HUGE THANKS!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Northern Exposure

Our hero turns up Saturday (Feb. 19) in the Globe and Mail reviewing The Magnetic North by Sara Wheeler. . . .

"Toward the end of this book, Sara Wheeler describes a recent visit to the medieval Solovki monastery in Siberia, located on an island in the White Sea near the Arctic Circle. Solovki “had functioned as a dumping ground for undesirables for centuries,” she writes, while evoking both a grim today of true-believer tour guides and a horrendous yesterday of massacres, rapes, tortures and mutilations. . . ."
To read the rest, click here.

Friday, February 4, 2011

In Praise of the Maple Leaf Tartan

The inclusiveness of it. That's what I like about the Maple Leaf tartan.  That's what makes it special. The waistcoat I wear when I sally forth in formal dress? The matching tie? They are in the Maple Leaf tartan. So now a Liberal senator is proposing a bill to establish that tartan as the official national tartan. The tartan was registered in 2008. To make it official requires only a government proclamation. And surely this is overdue? Any Canadian who wishes to embrace the Scottish pluralism of Canada -- the multi-ethnic and multi-racial dimension of the country, as introduced early by such figures as Major John Norton, the Cherokee Scot, and James Douglas, the "Scottish West Indian" -- can join the parade in the Maple Leaf tartan.  While we're at it (checking the above link), let's also establish April 6 as Tartan Day in Canada. Stand fast, Craigellachie!

Monday, January 24, 2011

The ineffable Shelagh Rogers . . .

Shelagh Heather Sutherland Rogers has her way with Our Hero.
If you feel a yen to visit Scotland, press the Scots tab above and follow the link to win a free trip around the Scottish Isles with Adventure Canada . . .

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Six minutes with Our Hero

This interview popped up out of CBC Calgary.
Those who crave a longer conversation (hi, Mom!) should tune in Monday to The Next Chapter, the Shelagh Rogers show on CBC Radio One (1 pm). Shelagh is arguably the best on-air interviewer in the country, and we covered a lot of ground.
For the rest, Our Hero has four day-time talks/lectures lined up in the Toronto area, three University of Toronto lectures at various campuses (Markham, Oakville, St. George), and one talk at the Toronto Reference Library (Feb. 8).
On January 30, we have dram-dispensing at the Adventure Canada polar bear dip. And evenings?
Feb. 10 is Booklovers Ball.
Feb. 12 is Manitoba Historical Society in Winnipeg,
Feb. 17 is St. Andrews Society of Toronto.
Feb. 19 is guest of honour at the Scottish Tartan Ball.


Meanwhile, in the Saint John Telegraph, the Scots have battled to the number two spot, behind only
William and Kate. Fight on, Craighellachie!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Robbie Burns saved!

All's well that ends well.
Click here to read a Fredericton Gleaner article about the salvation of Robbie Burns.
In part, it says . . ..

Mayor Brad Woodside on Monday night announced that J.K. and Jean Irving will underwrite the cost of the statue's restoration. The total cost will be between $106,559 and $120,000. There's a design contingency of $13,444 in the bid. The city is only contributing $39,000 to the rebuilding of the statue's base, out of a 2010 budget capital budget reserve carry over.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Robbie Burns inspires righteous double-whammy

The Fredericton Daily Gleaner is all over this story. . . and quite rightly.

City making 'grievous mistake' with statue
Daily Gleaner
Ken McGoogan of Toronto said he's shocked the city is refusing to fund the restoration of the statue's base along the banks of the St. John River near the ...
Funding refusal is a slap in the face
Daily Gleaner
By KEN McGOOGAN I was shocked to learn that the City of Fredericton is refusing to fund the restoration of its statue of Robbie Burns. ...
   

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Robbie Burns mistreated in Fredericton

Open Letter from Ken McGoogan, author of How the Scots Invented Canada

I was shocked to learn that the City of Fredericton is refusing to fund the restoration of its statue of Robbie Burns. I vividly remember that memorial from my sojourn in that city as writer-in-residence at the University of New Brunswick. I can’t help seeing this decision as a slap in the face to all those Scots who have played such a foundational role in the development of New Brunswick.  Having recently written and published How the Scots Invented Canada, I can tell you that people of Scottish heritage constitute 20 per cent of the province’s population (by the 2006 census, 142,560), and that they have made a formidable contribution.

I think of the Irving industrial empire, which is worth $8 or $9 billion. Founder Kenneth Colvin Irving was born in 1899 in Bouctouche, N.B., into a fourth-generation Canadian family of Scottish descent. I think of McCain Foods, the world’s largest producer of French fries and other frozen foods, which is based in Florenceville, N.B. Built by descendants of Ulster Scots, that company today has more than 20,000 employees at fifty-five production facilities. I think of Sobey’s, the second-largest food chain in Canada, which is connected to Scotland through Pictou, Nova Scotia, but has a notable presence throughout New Brunswick, including Fredericton.

I think of Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, who played such a crucial role in winning the Second World War, and who is so closely connected with Fredericton. Yet another proud son of New Brunswick, David Adams Richards, probably went too far when he described Beaverbrook as “by far the most influential and important Canadian of the twentieth century.” But nobody would dispute, surely, that Beaverbrook – the son of a thundering Presbyterian minister -- is a major figure in the history of New Brunswick? And what about the Reverend James Somerville, a Scottish graduate of the University of Aberdeen, who held the first college classes in Fredericton in 1822, and did so much to spur the development of the University of New Brunswick. The list goes on and on.

The Fredericton statue of Robbie Burns, in addition to being of notable artistic merit, symbolizes the contribution of the Scots to the province of New Brunswick. The City has made a grievous mistake in refusing to restore it – a mistake that, if it is not rectified, will give Fredericton a black eye not just across the country, but around the world.

Monday, January 3, 2011

How the Scots hit the New Year running . . .

Monday, Jan. 24: With Robbie Burns Day looming, Our Hero chats about Scots with Sheila Rogers on The Next Chapter, CBC One, 1 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 8: Toronto Reference Library. 1-3 p.m
Saturday, Feb. 12: Winnipeg, Manitoba Historical Society. Featured speaker, 46th annual Sir John A. Macdonald dinner.
Thursday, Feb. 17. Markham. U of T Lecture Series. 1 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 17. Toronto, St. Andrews Society. 8 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 19. Toronto, Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. Tartan Ball, guest of honour.
Wednesday, Feb. 23. Oakville. U of T Lecture Series. 1 p.m.
Friday, March 4. Toronto. U of T Lecture Series, 1 p.m.