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Canadian Kilties

Even before the Royal Regiment of Scotland was created, Canada had more kilted infantry units than Scotland. OK, so the Canadian units were reservists but the fact is that units such as the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada from Vancouver, the Calgary Highlanders and the Black Watch of Canada from Montreal, all point to a proud Scottish military tradition in Canada.
Scots soldiers played a major role in conquering Canada from the French in the 1760s. Only a few years later the Scottish veterans of that campaign and their sons helped repel an American invasion. There was even a regiment called The Royal Highland Emigrants, which included amongst its officers the husband of Highland Jacobite darling Flora Macdonald.
During the First World War, Canada’s kilties captured so much of the glory accorded to the Canadian Corps that after the war several militia units assumed Scottish identities. No fewer than 15 Canadian reserve units have either Highander or Scottish in their names. And even although Canada’s ethnic make-up has changed dramatically in the last 40 to 50 years, Canadian soldiers still don the kilt. I remember meeting some Canadian Seaforths when they were on exercise here in Edmonton. None of the guys I met  was even of European descent but they were all proud to parade in the kilt. And come to think of it, I’ve never been on an overseas Canadian military base that didn’t have at least one piper.
So, I’m looking forward to the September/October issue of History Scotland which celebrates the Scots in Canada. I’m told that not only does it look at the Canadian/Scottish military tradition but also at the Orcadian contribution to opening up Canada’s west to European settlement. There’s also a piece on Canada’s old Gaelic-speaking communities. I remember a Scottish teacher who spent her summers on Cape Breton in Nova Scotia saying she could tell where in the Highlands and Islands folks’ ancestors came from by the type of Gaelic they spoke.


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