I’m currently writing a novel set in Nova Scotia which translated means New Scotland. The Canadian province is revered for its rich Scottish culture. Here I’m sharing an early sweep of research that’s helping me establish the underpinnings of my Scottish characters.
As early as the 15th and 16th centuries, Scots adventured to England, Scandinavia, France, Germany and Russia in search of better lives. The first Scottish immigrants arrived in the 1600s to settle Nova Scotia. After the 1746 defeat of the Jacobite army at Culloden, many Jacobites crossed the Atlantic for a new life in the Thirteen Colonies. Following the American Revolution, the majority of the Scots who supported the British king, fled the Thirteen Colonies migrated as Loyalists to Nova Scotia (or New Brunswick and Québec).
Five hundred million years ago, Nova Scotia and Scotland were part of the same landmass, so familiar geography surrounded newly arrived Scots. Three quarters of Cape Breton’s land was unsuitable for farming and so families turned to fishing the ocean to survive. Cape Breton, Sydney, and Glass Bay areas developed coal mining in the late 1700s.
For over 300 years, thousands of immigrating Scots arrived there disillusioned, hungry, and fearful having lost loved ones at sea, or been bullied from their homes and exploited. Many arrived ill and without financial means. A network of Highland societies, named after specific Scottish locations, gave financial aid and practical advice to newly arrived Scots.
The continued immigration of Scottish people into the Maritime provinces has helped to maintain the strength and vibrancy of Scottish culture through common language and a knowledge of Scotland and its traditions. A spur of the moment ceilidh may break out at large gatherings in a celebration of storytelling and music.The lyrics of work songs and traditional music have helped to preserve the past. As late as 1932, eighteen to twenty Cape Breton church services were held in Gaelic. The bonds of kith and kin remain strong.
“My dear, my native soil!
For whom my warmest wish to Heav’n is sent,
Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content!”– Robert Burns, ‘The Poetical Works Of Robert Burns’
(Photo Credit: Library and Archives of Canada, 1911, newly arrived Scottish immigrants)
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