Scots can be a clannish lot, taking care of our own affairs and letting others tend to theirs. But when we do get together to share ideas and compare challenges, the results can be invigorating. The Scottish North American Leadership Conference (SNALC) has been held in Chicago, Detroit, New York and Edinburgh. On August 10-11, 2017, in honour of Canada's 150th birthday, the 16th annual was held in Canada for the first time at the University of Guelph.
The opening banquet got off to a rousing start with the ceremonial piping in the the haggis.
And the fair chieftain of the pudding race was duly addressed.
Much to the enjoyment of the audience.
The keynote speaker at the opening dinner was Chris Maskell, Head of Scottish Affairs Canada for the Scottish Government. He spoke passionately about a modern Scotland that is taking its place at the forefront of the knowledge based economy. Five Scottish universities are ranked among the top 200 worldwide, for example, and Scotland remains a global leader in innovation.
Chris told the audience that the Scottish Government is prepared to support projects and events that help to promote and highlight this new, modern, forward-looking Scotland. They are especially interested in finding ways to reach out to a younger generation. As an example of the exciting programs that they support, he specifically highlighted the Scottish Society of Ottawa's leadership in organizing Sir John A's Great Canadian Kilt Skate. It began as a modest house party but has quickly grown to a national event that, last year, was hosted in seven cities across Canada. Chris was there in Toronto and Ottawa. (And yes, that's Terry Myles in the bonnet. He was in Guelph representing the Clan MacNeil at SNALC.)
Both before and after the dinner, Chris and his colleague Richard Knight from Visit Scotland were on hand to mix and mingle with the 50-or-so delegates who had come from across North America: Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia, and a sizable delegation from Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, and Saskatchewan.
The President of the Clans and Scottish Societies of Canada, Karen MacLeod MacCrimmon attended with her husband Paul MacCrimmon. The MacLeods were out in force at this event!
The founding partners of SNALC were the Chicago Scots and The American-Scottish Foundation. This year's conference was suggested and organized by Christine Woodcock and her team who included Ruth Jones of Clan Donnachaid, Maggie McEwan of the Scottish Studies Foundation, and Jo Ann Tuskin, Karen McCrimmon and Kim Henwood of the Clans and Scottish Societies of Canada (CASSOC). Christine operates Genealogy Tours of Scotland. Here she is at the registration desk with Kim Henwood, welcoming the Scottish Society of Ottawa's Sue MacGregor. (I was at SNALC on behalf of the Scottish Society of Ottawa as well.) Readers of this blog may recall, that Kim organized the Toronto kilt skate last January on behalf of Sons of Scotland.
The following morning, the delegates gathered in a university classroom. Gus Noble of the Chicago Scots began with a light-hearted and wry observation about some of the challenges facing Scottish societies, and how it was useful for organizations to gather to share experiences and best practices. Chicago had hosted the Scottish North American Leadership Conference the previous year.
Gus spoke of the need to arouse interest in Scotland among a new generation. He was followed as a speaker by a Youth Ambassador, Rianna Crawford.
Her speech is available on Youtube:
She was followed by Richard Knight, who provided excellent examples of how Visit Scotland is targeting a younger generation in its ad placements, including "Scotland O'Clock."
The website has a wealth of videos to highlight Scottish tourism.
Since 2009, when it launched the "Homecoming" campaign, Visit Scotland has highlighted key themes over the years. Last year we held Sir John A's Great Canadian Kilt Skate under the theme of "History, Heritage and Archaeology." For 2018, we will work with the Scottish Government as part of the "Year of Young People."
The morning program continued with a presentation by Katie McCullough, who is a PhD graduate of the University of Guelph's Scottish Studies program, and is currently Director of Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University. She spoke of her research comparing the diaspora experiences of the Scots and the Mohawk warriors. They two groups fought alongside each other in the American Revolution and as refugees were settled after the war in Glengarry County. The Canadian perspective on the Scottish diaspora was of great interest to the American guests who had not heard about the enormous impact that Scots had on the history of Canada. Here's Katie along with Kim Henwood and Theresa MacGoldrick listening a one of the other presentations.
Brian McQueenie next gave a thought-provoking and honest assessment of the challenges faced by Scottish organizations such as Sons of Scotland in reaching out to the younger generation. This was followed by a panel discussion where Gus Noble was joined by Bob Giles of the Detroit Scots and Maggie McEwan of the Scottish Studies Foundation. Among the takeaways of the panel discussion: "The world is divided into three kinds of people: Scots; those who wish they were Scots; and those who have no ambition whatsoever."
The lunch break provided a welcome opportunity to get to know one another. John McInnes came up to Guelph from Texas; Clark Scott from Virginia; and Charlie Sherwood from Colorado.
After lunch, we changed venues for some of the afternoon presentations. It gave me an opportunity to put the "hockey stick saltire" to good use.
En route, we came upon a walkway that was named after the Honourable Bill Winegard, who was President and Vice-Chancellor of the university before he ran for public office. He served in Prime Minister Mulroney's Cabinet as science minister from 1989-1993 -- one of my favourite political figures of the period.
At the McKinnon Building, we were given a presentation by Professor James Fraser on the programs offered by the Centre for Scottish Studies, which is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary at the University of Guelph.
Kathryn Harvey gave an overview of the Scottish Studies Collection at the university, and Elizabeth Ewan spoke about the role of Medieval charters. Preston McFarland and Peter McFarlin then drew this all together in demonstrating how the charters helped them learn more about Clan MacFarlane.
Our group then returned to Rozanski Hall for the final presentation of the afternoon. Christine Woodcock, who had done such a fine job of organizing the conference, spoke about the passion that so many people feel for researching their genealogical roots in Scotland. John Cherry of the St. Andrew's Society of Detroit gave an intriguing analysis of the different approaches taken to Scottish heritage in the northeast and in the southeast of the United States, where Scottish heritage is sometimes associated with a legacy of slave ownership. This gives very different connotations to the notion of Scottish pride in different parts of the country.
Zack's message of how to successfully reach out to a younger generation was especially well received. Give young people a place in your organization, he said: let them be visible. Create a youth advisory body but don't use it to ghettoize the voice of young people. He suggests to set up tables at youth fairs and universities and promise young people, "We'll put you to work. You'll do something interesting and valuable." Show that Scottish culture is more than Highland games. Include music and dance and, as his own story suggests, include the Gaelic language by building a language community. "I'm a Russian-speaker and a German-speaker," he said, "but I speak way more Gaelic in Toronto. That's because we've built a community."
The dinner in the evening gave us another chance to make new contacts.
Sue and I could not stay for the youth presentations and the wrap-up discussions Friday night. Nor could we stay for the lighting of the flame for the Scottish Festival and Highland Games that were taking place over the coming weekend in nearby Fergus. But we did drive home with a wealth of information and new friends and contacts within the Scottish community across North America.
One of the things that impressed deeply was the way in which Scottish societies across the continent are facing the same challenges of reaching out to their communities -- both the Scottish and non-Scottish. We face the same challenges of engaging a younger demographic. And we can take heart from the leadership and best practices that have been demonstrated elsewhere.
Here are some of the organizations that were represented at SNAL 2017. We hope to stay in touch.
Clan Logan Society (Quebec)
Clan MacKenzie Society Canada
Clan MacLeod Society of Central Ontario
Clan MacLeod Canada