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The City of Guelph, Ontario, Canada
School of Scottish Studies
All Things Scottish

The University of Guelph explores Scottish culture through an academic program and a library collection that are second to none

Story by Mary Dickieson
University of Guelph
Department of Communications & Public Affairs

Some of the oldest materials in the University of Guelph library archives are seven Scottish charters dating from 1491 to 1547. Legal documents (one bears the royal seal of King James V), they confirm the transfer of land and titles of nobility from one generation of a family to the next. The weathered ornate script on linen parchment is difficult to read, but the charters reveal much about Scotland's complex system of land ownership and privilege, which carried on for centuries. Paradoxically, the same social system that kept the Scottish nobility rooted to the soil created a highly mobile lower class and eventually contributed to the large numbers of Scots who immigrated to the New World in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

The first Scots in Canadian territory landed with the Vikings (c. 1000 AD), but the first real settlers probably came in the early 1600s as indentured servants. Since then, Canada has received more Scottish immigrants than any other country in the world. They've been a remarkably successful people who have made countless contributions to Canadian government, education, culture and enterprise.

In fact, the contribution of Scots throughout North America has been well documented and is recognized as an important area of study at a number of major universities. But none earlier than the University of Guelph, which has offered a graduate program in Scottish studies since 1965.

When Stanford Reid came from Montreal to head U of G's first history department, he surely recognized the strong Scottish heritage in this part of rural Ontario, and he knew the City of Guelph was founded by a Scotsman's axe. Those who worked with Reid say he was committed to the establishment of an academic program devoted to Scottish studies and saw it as an important area in which the new University of Guelph could make a unique and significant contribution.

Dedicated to the study of Scottish history and culture, the Scottish studies program was one of Guelph's first graduate programs in the liberal arts and is still one of the most popular. The program has 75 alumni and a dozen students currently enrolled in master's and PhD programs.

"Faculty from across Canada, the United States and Europe send their students to Guelph for graduate work because of the quality of our academic program and our library collection of Scottish material," says Prof. Jamie Snell, chair of the Department of History.

From the rare charters governing Scotland's rugged landscape to the numerous letters and diaries written by Scottish families who immigrated to Canadian territory, Guelph's Scottish Collection is one of the finest in the world. Snell says it is the best Scottish collection in North America and one of the University's biggest drawing cards for historians. The library attracts international scholars researching Scotland's history, literature and culture, as well as the descendants of Scottish immigrants looking for genealogical materials to help trace their ancestry.

Like two sides of a shilling, U of G's academic program and library collection in Scottish studies have grown in value together. The Scottish studies program created a reason for Guelph to build a library collection, while relying on it for the resources that would attract faculty and students to help the academic program grow.

Building a National Treasure

Tim Sauer tells wonderful stories about his experiences in helping to build U of G's library collection in Scottish studies. In the company of Ted Cowan, a previous chair of Scottish Studies and the Department of History, Sauer made some of the early pilgrimages to Edinburgh to browse through local bookstores. Their finds included a box of one-act plays - 200 in all - that they bought for 40 cents apiece.

As head of library collections, Sauer later negotiated with a Scottish book dealer to purchase 1,600 novels. Almost 1,200 were books U of G didn't have, including a nearly complete collection of novels by 19th-century author Annie Swan. Although not in the league of other Scottish literary greats, Swan enjoyed a huge following and wrote a book a year for 60 years. She has recently been rediscovered by scholars delving into women's literature, Sauer says.

The Guelph library maintains a standing order with Scottish book dealers to continue to build its collection of local histories. Each year, hundreds of visitors head for the library's third-floor history section to browse through books on genealogy, clan histories, travel, politics and economics. In this location are extensive holdings of Scottish historical and antiquarian society publications, including one of the few complete sets from the Scottish History Society, which was founded in 1886 and is still flourishing.

There is also a rare set of works by Sir William Fraser, an amateur historian who recorded the stories of numerous Scottish families, which includes portraits, family seals and legal documents. Maps, travel guidebooks, government documents and Scottish newspapers are other valuable resources. The library has the longest run in existence (from 1774 to 1814) of the Edinburgh Advertiser, once Scotland's most influential newspapers.

Cowan built on the Scottish library collection and the graduate program established by his predecessor, Stanford Reid. While Reid's interest was primarily history and religion, his successors in the Department of History and other faculty in the College of Arts have sought funding to increase holdings in literature, culture and other areas. "This is a library collection focused on Scottish studies in the broadest sense," says Sauer.

During the 1970s, the library benefitted from a series of grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council as part of a federal program to help Canadian libraries build collections of national importance. Over a 10-year period, the U of G Library received more than $1 million (most of it matched by the University) to acquire material for the Scottish Collection.

Through the years, there have also been significant additions to the collection through private donations of material and purchases funded by private foundations. One of the first was a 1975 gift from the Macdonald Stewart Foundation that purchased an original collection of Jacobite works, including rare books with flattering tales of Bonnie Prince Charlie and English newspaper clippings from 1745 to 1747 that present anti-Jacobite views in the flamboyant journalistic style of the times.

A recent acquisition funded by the Toronto-based Scottish Studies Foundation is a seven-page pamphlet produced in the late 1600s by the Royal Bank of Scotland. One of only two known copies, the promotional pamphlet was an economic prelude to the 1707 Treaty of Union between Scotland and England and describes the new Royal Bank's lending strategies designed to encourage manufacturing and economic development in a nearly bankrupt Scotland.

The Scottish Collection draws scholars from around the world and people from Canada and the United States who are interested in tracing their Scottish ancestry. "In the literature section, we have tons of stuff - books and poetry - written by someone's aunt or grandfather," says Sauer. "It seems everyone in Scotland thought they were gifted poets. Every now and then, a family member will discover one of these gems in the library and will be disappointed when we tell them the material is not for sale."

Many scholars who use the University of Guelph library's rare book and archival collections say the Ewen-Grahame manuscript collection is the most important in historical value. It contains more than 12,000 items that document the history of one family from 1732 to 1892. John Ewen was a merchant in Aberdeen who corresponded with people from all walks of life on a plethora of topics from art to politics and business to lunatic asylums. Legal documents, letters, diaries and business and personal papers provide an unusual look at everyday life over a span of 160 years.

In terms of Scottish-Canadian history, the scrapbooks of 1830s rebel William Lyon Mackenzie stand out, along with the extensive holdings of material from other emigrant families.

Some 15,000 Scots came to Canada before Confederation. Among the most prized possessions they brought from Scotland were books, as evidenced by the large Lizars family library that forms the basis of Guelph's Pioneer Collection. Daniel Lizars was one of three sons of an upper-middle-class Edinburgh family who settled in Goderich, Ont. in 1833. His books were well used by family and pioneer neighbours, and he continued to expand the collection with additions of Canadian works.

Sauer tells us that one of the daughters of Daniel Lizars married the son of John Galt, the novelist and adventurer who founded Guelph in 1827. A prolific writer, Galt published close to 100 books and is credited with writing the first political novel, as well as a historical novel on how to settle in Canada.

A literary critic and Galt historian, Sauer says the novelist was often hounded by creditors, so he produced many mediocre works just to make money. Galt used pseudonyms and published what he thought were his best novels without any author's credit. Sauer has compiled a descriptive bibliography of John Galt materials and published it on the Internet at

He has also placed some of Galt's first novels on the Web site. These first-edition books are physically located in Guelph, but scholars and students anywhere in the world are able to read them page-by-page on a computer screen from digital images that are stored at both U of G and the University of Glasgow.

The Internet provides a new way of sharing the library's resources just as it is expanding outreach activities of the Scottish studies program through distance education courses. The broader exposure will enhance Guelph's reputation as a repository of Scottish materials, says Sauer. "After all, we didn't build this collection just for undergraduate and graduate students at Guelph. We built it as a national collection. And it's a wonderful Scottish studies collection one of the finest in the world and undoubtedly the best in North America."

Studying the Scots

By 1832, the settlers of Upper Canada were fed up with the British government's indifference to their hardships, so they sent a scrappy Scotsman to London to air their grievances. Armed with a list of economic woes dating back to the War of 1812, William Lyon Mackenzie filled British newspapers, parlours and political watering holes with stories from the colonies for nearly two yeas and filled his own scrapbooks with newspaper clippings, letters and notes to document his efforts.

Among those British subjects who took exception to Mackenzie's view of life in Upper Canada was John Galt, another Scot and a popular novelist who had travelled much of the territory on behalf of a British development company known as the Canada Company. In 1827, Galt felled a large maple tree to found the town of Guelph, but by 1832, he had been recalled to the United Kingdom and was trying to publish another book to stay ahead of his creditors.

The paths of colourful Scots crossed often in the early years of Canada's history and are still weaving themselves through the country's development. Half of the Fathers of Confederation, 13 prime ministers since Sir John A. Macdonald and more than two million Canadians today trace their ancestry to Scotland.

There is in North America a tremendous public interest in all things Scottish - because of Scotland's romantic history, because of the renaissance of Celtic music and art, because of the tremendous impact Scottish traditions, literature and culture have had on the development of Canadian and U.S. society, and, for many of us, because of great stories about pioneers and rebels like Galt and Mackenzie. These are the things students devour and analyze in U of G's Scottish studies program.

Originally established by the Department of History, the graduate program now offers interdisciplinary graduate degrees with the disciplines of English, music, philosophy, art history, land resource science and geography, and draws additional support from graduate faculty at the Scottish universities of Glasgow, Strathclyde, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and St. Andrews, as well as University College Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. Guelph faculty also maintain collaborative links with the National Archives and National Library of Scotland, the School of Scottish Studies and the National Museums of Scotland.

Student exchange programs with three universities in Scotland provide Guelph students with a worldly perspective, and community involvement at the local level adds meaning to their research initiatives.

Scottish studies graduate students are encouraged to share their knowledge by participating in heritage events and by speaking at genealogical and historical societies. They are primary contributors to the annual Scottish studies journal Scottish Tradition and share the podium with international scholars at an annual colloquium where academics meet Scotophiles.

Community outreach begins with the faculty who teach Scottish studies courses. History professor Elizabeth Ewan has been known to give as many as four public talks a month. The topic could be anything Scottish, but her research on women in medieval Scotland particularly the role of women as brewers has been popular with local service clubs and Scottish societies across the country. She was the first woman ever invited to speak to the Burns Society in Vancouver and looks forward to participating in clan events and highland games.

"This is the kind of interaction that makes Guelph's Scottish studies program unique," says 2002 PhD graduate Scott Moir. He once delivered a public lecture that ended in a discussion with the audience about the practice of birching in Scotland's schools. "Some people shared their personal experiences, and we had a lively debate about corporal punishment," he says. "You rarely get that kind of discussion at an academic conference."

Moir's research involved Scottish criminal law and included the application of law in cases of witchcraft. He says Scotland had huge witch hunts, out of proportion to the country's population, that were fuelled by a combination of religion, cultural beliefs in supernatural forces and a judiciary willing to prosecute on the basis of those beliefs. His lectures on witchcraft filled the seats in an undergraduate course he taught last year and earned him numerous invitations to address off-campus groups.

Moir also managed U of G's Scottish studies office, which was established in 1999 to provide a direct link with the community and is funded by the Scottish Studies Foundation. That Toronto-based group actively promotes the recognition of Canada's Scottish heritage and does it primarily by supporting the Scottish studies program at Guelph. Moir says the enthusiasm shown by foundation members is duplicated by the people who call the Scottish studies office. During a typical week, he provided a speaker for a clan association meeting, arranged for U of G participation at the Fergus Highland Games, answered questions from a CBC reporter, helped third-generation Scots find genealogical material in the library collection, and gave several mini lessons on why Scotland wanted to reopen its parliament.

"There's a lot of interest in Scottish topics because so many people in Canada have a personal connection to Scotland," says Ewan. Her parents were both Scottish, and she is a former Highland dancer, but she says it was a university exchange program at St. Andrews University that turned her interest into a career in Scottish history and archeology. She left an academic position at the University of Victoria in British Columbia to come to Guelph because U of G "is the best place to do Scottish history work in North America."

Ewan's scholarly work was recognized in 2002 when she received a prestigious award from the Royal Historical Society at University College London for an article she wrote on defamation and gender in late medieval Scotland. It appeared in a publication called Medieval Scotland that was edited by Andrew MacDonald, a professor at University College of Cape Breton who happens to be a 1993 PhD graduate of Guelph's Scottish studies program.

Not all Scotophiles are Scottish, however. It wasn't family background that drew history professor Linda Mahood to Scottish studies, but an interest in women's history and social history. When she had an opportunity to do graduate work at Glasgow University, she used the time to study the Scottish system of social welfare, charities and women's shelters. Now looking at the juvenile reform movement, Mahood says Scotland led the way in Britain and also influenced the development of Canadian juvenile facilities.

All Canadians feel the impact of social, political and economic structures that are based on British models, says Mahood. "It's quite remarkable that the strategies suggested to deal with the 21st-century problems of prostitution and street kids are similar to those attempted by the Victorians." And as happens too often today, she says, Victorian remedies improved the lot of some people, ruined the lives of others and ultimately failed to solve the underlying social problems.

Another area of particular interest for the history contingent in Scottish studies is the migration of Scots throughout the world and particularly to Canada. From 1783 to 1803, some 12,000 Scots sailed to Canada, most to Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Upper Canada, where there were already small centres of Highland culture and spoken Gaelic.

Scottish immigrants to Canada followed the same settlement pattern for the next century, eventually leapfrogging west and north across the entire country. Scottish migration is a research interest of one of the department's newest faculty appointment, Kevin James, who completed doctoral studies at Edinburgh University. His dedicated focus on Scottish immigration has enriched the program at Guelph and benefitted the growing public interest in Scottish-Canadian heritage.

That interest plays out at U of G through increased enrolments in undergraduate and distance education courses related to Scottish studies. The Scottish studies program currently offers five distance courses, four of them Web-based. Some 500 people took advantage of these courses last year, and enrolments are increasing, primarily from students at other North American universities.

"This is one of our most important activities," says Ewan, who has begun discussions with Mearns about developing a distance course in Gaelic and hopes to launch a certificate program in Scottish studies to recognize people who complete five distance courses.

The Internet also enables Scottish scholars to collaborate more effectively, no matter where they are in the world. Ewan maintains an online Scottish Women's History Bibliography linked to the U of G Web site It's a list of primary and secondary resources that cover the subject from medieval times to the 20th century. Because it's on the Internet, it can be quickly updated as scholars from around the world contribute information, and it's available for use everyone everywhere who has an interest in Scottish women's history.

Scottish studies faculty are also enthusiastic about posting some of Guelph's library resources on the Web. The library catalogue is available through the U of G Web site, along with selected material from the library's archival collections and the Scottish Collection.

The Internet also provides a useful way of collaborating with other libraries and institutions, says Ewan. Simon Fraser University, for example, has excellent resources on Scottish immigration that could benefit students at Guelph or at McGill Dalhousie and other institutions across the country, she says. Eventually, she envisions U of G becoming the Web centre of North America in Scottish studies programming and library resources.

Perhaps the most exciting initiative in Scottish studies, however, is the proposal to establish a Scottish studies academic chair. It would be the first in North America, says Snell, and the scholar hired in this position would focus primarily outreach activities, travelling widely to attend Scottish events, to lecture and to strengthen initiatives in all areas of Canada where there is a significant population with Scottish ancestry.

The academic chair is being supported by interested individuals and the Toronto-based Scottish Studies Foundation. For more information, visit the University of Guelph campaign Web site at

From the University of Guelph Scottish Library Collection

Photography by Dean Palmer/the Scenario

Guelph Scottish Library Collection

The rich colours and textures of parchment, leather and cloth bindings draw the photographer's eye to the rare book section of the University Library's Scottish Collection, but the largest part of the collection by far is housed in the library stacks, where its holdings are easily accessible to library users. These are just ordinary books that provide extraordinary insight into Scottish and

Scottish-Canadian history, literature and culture. Still accumulating, Guelph's Scottish Collection not being built just for students and scholars, but for all Canadians who value the country's Scottish heritage.

Guelph Scottish Library Collection

A hand-coloured illustration in the 1832 Atlas of Scotland by engraver William Lizars sets the tone for the Lizars Pioneer Collection, which includes several hundred books brought to Canada by William's son Daniel in 1833. An upper-middle-class Edinburgh family, the Lizars owned a printing and publishing business. Historians speculate that Daniel came to Canada when mechanization in printing reduced opportunities at home. Books were among the most valuable possessions brought to Canada by Scottish immigrants. The Lizars library covered a variety of topics and was well used by the family and neighbours in the settlement town of Goderich.

Guelph Scottish Library Collection

The personal scrapbooks of William Lyon Mackenzie document his 1832 expedition to London on behalf of the British subjects in Upper Canada. The rebellious Scot was later elected the first mayor of Toronto, tried unsuccessfully to establish a provincial reform party, and led a group of armed insurgents in a bid to overthrow the government. He fled to the United States in defeat and lived in exile for more than a decade, but spent his later years back in Toronto. Unfortunately, Mackenzie died 13 years before the birth of his grandson - and future Canadian prime minister - William Lyon Mackenzie King.

Guelph Scottish Library Collection

U of G library holdings in Scottish literature introduce readers to Scotland's "best" and "worst" poets, Robert Burns and William McGonagall, as well as popular 19th-century novelist Annie Swan, who wrote a book a year for 60 years. The Guelph collection also boasts Canada's best selection of John Galt titles, more than 500 Scottish chapbooks and a book of engravings used to illustrate the novels of Sir Walter Scott. Library shelves contain the works of Scotland's major authors, and tons of poetry written by someone's aunt or grandfather that, truthfully, has more historical than literary value.

Readers might also be interested in the new digital scrapbook of L.M. Montgomery which was a project of the University library. You can see it at

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