Canadian television recently had a drama based on the events surrounding the creation of Canada from the British North American colonies. Many of the main players in the events in the 1860s which are portrayed were Scots. I was delighted to find that many of the TV actors sported Scottish accents, some good, some not so good. In fact, I was more than delighted, I was stunned. Canadian broadcasters have a dreadful habit of giving every character from the British Isles an English accent. There was a drama about the massacre of Scottish settlers in the early 1800s by mixed blood Metis hunters near the site of present-day Winnipeg. The leader of the hunters was a guy called Cuthbert Grant who may well have been educated in Scotland. The hunters were put up to terrorizing the settlers by Scottish fur traders who didn’t want farmers getting their way. So, there was a lot of Scot-on-Scot violence going on. How many Scots accents were heard? I counted one – and a little research showed that although he had a Highland name he was raised in the United States. Of course, that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have a Scottish accent, I’ve come across old second-generation Ukrainians born in Canada who speak English with a heavy Eastern European accent. I also remember a factual program about the evolution of Canadian English. It included a damning criticism of American influences delivered in a snotty English accent by an actor playing a school teacher. Once again, a little research revealed that the teacher in question was one of the many Scots who propped up the Canadian education system in the mid-1800s.
Of course, it’s hard to know how a specific person spoke in the days before recordings. But there are lots of recordings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle speaking with a surprisingly strong Scottish accent. But Canadian television portrays him speaking with a plummy English accent.
You may wonder why this is important. Well, what if the famous Jewish people of history were all portrayed as Roman Catholics? Or the famous Blacks of American history were portrayed as white guys? And while I’m on the subject of accents, how come a Canadian radio presenter lets himself be egged on into doing his “Scottish” accent on air? I’ve got a feeling that if he’d been asked to do his “Chinese” or “Indian” accent he would have refused.