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Canada is closer than you’d think

27th Jun 2016
Canada is closer than you’d think

For a country as small as Scotland, we have an historical lack of fear about venturing out to vast, faraway lands. The USA, Australia and New Zealand can all lay claim to huge amounts of Scottish resettlement, but Canada holds a particular place in many a Scots family tree. In celebration of Canada Day on 01 July, let’s have a look at some of the connections between Canada and Scotland, and some foreign soil to be found in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle.

It’s no secret that Scottish emigration to Canada has happened over the centuries on a grand scale, but our roots go back much further than you might imagine. When Viking Eric the Red travelled to Canada in 1010 it’s said that he had two Scottish slaves on board his ship. This would make them the first Scots to see the land in which so many of their descendants would settle; a sight they could probably have done without, given their predicament at the time! It’s also said that Henry, Earl of Orkney reached Canadian shores in 1396, but it’s hard to prove. What we do know for sure is that King James VI gave Sir William Alexander permission to establish Nova Scotia (New Scotland) in 1622, and from then on we began to make our ways to the distant shores.

Emigration on a serious scale began after 1745, following the Jacobite uprisings, and continued in great numbers through the 19th and into the 20th century- in Nova Scotia in the first half of the 19th century 59% of UK emigrants were Scots-born.  Many had been forced into emigration by unscrupulous landlords, evicting their tenants from the land to replace them with sheep farming, though many also left voluntarily to avoid harsh economic conditions. Even now, the Scots influence can be felt throughout Canada, through place names, surnames, Highland games and even Gaelic still being spoken in some regions!

But what of the Canadian connection with Edinburgh Castle?

On the esplanade, look out for a small plaque. It’s to commemorate a decision by James VI to create baronets of Nova Scotia to generate extra revenue. However, the baronets didn’t want to make the long and treacherous journey to Canada. To save them the inconvenience, James VI simply declared a small amount of land outside the castle to be Canadian soil, so that the baronets could receive their honours here without ever leaving the country. If you do happen to be a homesick Canadian stranded here in Edinburgh on Canada day, take heart: your homeland, in a way, might be much closer than you thought!

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