There are several communities in Canada that take particular pride in their Scottish heritage. You'll find them from Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, to Red River in Manitoba, to the Alberta city whose name in Gaelic means "clear running water" -- Calgary. But across a nation that is sometimes described as "the Scotland of North America," you'd be hard-pressed to find a community with fiercer pride in its Scottish roots than Eastern Ontario.
The Scots came to Upper Canada after the American Revolution. Many had been driven from their homes in the Mohawk Valley of upstate New York. Many had served under Sir John Johnson in the Kings Royal Regiment of New York, and were given land along the St. Lawrence River, where they could defend their new homes.
Others came directly from the Highlands, evicted from their homes during the Clearances.
Other Scots moved to this community after a career that brought them from Scotland to the wilderness of the North American interior. When the Scots took over the Montreal-based fur trade in the late 18th century, Glengarry and neighbouring Stormont were seen as comfortable places to retire after years of service to the North West Company. Many of the greatest explorers in Canada's history, including Scots like Simon Fraser, are now buried in the heart of the Scottish communities of cemeteries of what is now Eastern Ontario.
After the Napoleonic Wars, many of the British woolen mills that had provided army uniforms shut down. Many Scottish textile workers found new opportunities in Upper Canada and settled among the established Scottish communities. They brought the textile industry with them.
There were many sources for Scottish immigration, but no matter what the reason for their ancestor's arrival, the people of Glengarry County take special pride in their Scottish roots. For 70 years, they have gathered in Maxville for Highland games and the North American Pipe Band Championships.
Over the past years, a strong contingent of has made the hour-plus drive from Glengarry County to participate in Ottawa's Sir John A's Great Canadian Kilt Skate. So many come from Glengarry, in fact, that we've joked about chartering a bus.
But Simon McDonald of the Scottish Society of Ottawa has come up with a better idea: why not host a kilt skate in the heart of Glengarry County itself? After all, the Mill Pond in Alexandria is well suited to winter sports.
This year, the traffic will be flowing the other way down Highway 417. Many of us are looking forward to making the drive to Alexandria on February 3 to help launch the newest member in the growing Canadian family of kilt skate communities. See you there!