Oatmeal and the Catechism: Scottish Gaelic Settlers in Quebec

Oatmeal and the Catechism: Scottish Gaelic Settlers in Quebec

Oatmeal and the Catechism: Scottish Gaelic Settlers in Quebec

Oatmeal and the Catechism: Scottish Gaelic Settlers in Quebec


Margaret Bennett records the oral history, folklore and folk-life of emigrants from the Outer Hebrides to Quebec in the nineteenth century.


When you’re young, you’re not so curious –
and when you grow old, it’s too late to enquire.

[Ellen Legendre, Stornoway, Quebec, 1976]

In the province of Quebec only two percent of the people claim to be of Scottish Gaelic extraction and out of that number a minute proportion have any ability to speak the language of their forbears. It would not, therefore, be unreasonable to question the value of studying the history and folk culture of a group representing such a small minority of the province’s population. Statistics can be deceptive, however, for, in this instance, they do not deal with the fact that, at the time of their immigration, the group in question was concentrated in one small area of Quebec (Maps 2 and 3). Furthermore, for over a century, the Canadian Linguistic Census ignored their language, counting them as ‘English’, since neither the census forms nor the enumerators were equipped to deal with languages outside the government guidelines. As a result, it is now impossible to give accurate statistics of Gaelic-speaking settlers in the area, but, when faced with the ‘folk-memory’ of elderly inhabitants, the picture changes dramatically from the two percent portrayed by the Census. An article in The Clansman News of 1970, based on local interviews and entitled ‘The Scottish Highlands of Quebec: Gaidhealatachd Chuibeic’, states:

At the time of the first Great War there were approximately two thousand five
hundred Gaels in Marsboro [Marston] alone. We were talking with a man who
was born in Milan, who told us that he did not know that there was any other
language in the world but Gaelic until he was seven years old.

In 1990, Christie MacKenzie (then aged 93), who was born and brought up in the village of Milan, Quebec, told me that she knew from family tradition the exact year the first French family arrived in their village: ‘It was in 1879 when work on the railway began,’ and her husband, John, born in Marsboro in 1892, added that ‘in 1915 there were exactly four French-speaking families in Milan’, and the rest of the population was Gaelic.

The existence of Quebec’s Gaelic population was once relatively well known in Eastern Canada, for, when folklorist John L. Campbell visited Nova . . .

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