B.C. Scots respond to call for stories of bygone years

September 09, 2004, vol. 31, no. 6
By Carol Thorbes

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Letters from British Columbia's Scottish community have been pouring into Harry McGrath about his latest project.

The coordinator of Simon Fraser University's centre for Scottish studies (CSS) is overseeing an oral history project called Scottish Voices From the West - The Story of Scots in Modern British Columbia.

Assisted by CSS co-founder Ron Sutherland, McGrath is soliciting and recording interviews with Scottish immigrants and their descendents.

Once transcribed, the interviews will be available as web documents, CDs and MP3s, providing the public with vivid accounts of B.C.'s rich Scottish heritage.

“The few remaining Scottish societies left in Vancouver have told us they are worried about their history dying with them. Most of the societies' members are now quite elderly,” says McGrath, a Glasgow native.

The meeting records of Scottish societies have given McGrath numerous leads on who was who in B.C.'s Scottish community.

“We're focusing on capturing stories about individual Scottish immigrants and descendants who've played key roles in building B.C.,” emphasizes McGrath.

A column in the Vancouver Sun about the possibility of B.C.'s Scottish history becoming a faded memory prompted Scots to shower McGrath with stories. So far, he and his colleagues have conducted 14 of 200 scheduled interviews.

Among the intriguing yarns transcribed so far are those from Mary Macaree, Ron MacLeod, James MacMillan and Margaret Shelton.

Macaree and her late husband David authored 103 Hikes in Southwestern British Columbia in 1973, a book that remains a hiker's bible.

Mary, a West Vancouver resident, immigrated to B.C. in the 1960s from Luthermuir in Aberdeenshire where her family ran a farm.

The Macarees were also pioneer teachers in Prince George and Fort Fraser.

MacLeod is a former director general of the Pacific and freshwater fisheries and an officer of the Order of Canada.

The second generation Scot hails from Tofino where his parents immigrated from Raasay Island off mainland Scotland in the early 1900s.

MacLeod's parents, forced to move from fertile to barren land on Raasay, empathized with Tofino's First Nations people, who also lost land.

“They saw the Indian reserves as encroaching on the freedom of a people who historically had moved freely,” remembers MacLeod, a White Rock resident.

Now 93, MacMillan, a native of Campbeltown, Scotland, remembers becoming the top piper in B.C. in his younger years.

As a bagpipe teacher, the former pulp and paper mill worker coached Jack Lee, the pipe sergeant of the four-time World Champion SFU Pipe Band.

A letter from East Vancouver's Margaret Shelton says that Scottish history pays too much attention to the accomplishments and tales of Scotland's upper and middle class, and not the working classes.

The daughter of a Glasgow native and WW1 veteran, Shelton recounts why her father was stripped of his war medals.

“If you know your history,” writes Shelton, “you'll know that our troops had to fight in their kilts. [My father] was cold.”

To stay warm, Shelton's father donned a dead enemy soldier's long underwear.

That cost him his medals.

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