2007 - 2021

Québec and Scotland in the same sentence

I am sometimes asked why as a Quebecer I should be so interested in Scotland. Honestly, it seems like a natural thing to me. The individual Scots I have met are quite comfortable with me defending my nation’s constitutional aspirations and the interest I show, and often the confusion I exhibit! in Scottish political affairs. A good time is had by all! However, from time to time I am confronted, passionately, by someone irked at something as benign, for me anyway, as putting Québec and Scotland together in the same sentence. It bothers them quite a bit.

Growing up in Ontario, some of my oldest recollections are of sharing the bus every morning with fellow elementary students from “the English language side” of the school. Now mind you, this was a marked improvement from the earlier situation of sharing the bus ride with the kids from the mentally challenged institutions (for a while I kept asking my mom if I was mentally challenged too and she was just not telling me… but no I wasn’t, I was just francophone…aaah Canada).

Since I enjoyed wearing my “Fleur de Lys” t-shirt as much as my “Je suis Québécois” other T-shirt, I attracted a steady steam of attention. Not much, in those days most people hadn’t really heard of Québec. I would get the odd smirk. The most grief I ever experienced was from a boy who said he was a Scot and that he would “show me what real national pride was” and the next day came wearing a “Union-Jack” T-shirt with “British is Best” written on it. He insisted on sitting close by for the whole year. I guess he liked me.

He explained he was a Scot, he was sure about that, but he didn’t have a Scots T-Shirt at the present time but that he was really British and that well… British is best, not much point in explaining more, I should understand and cower.

I guess I learned a valuable lesson there, aside from his confusion about his identity which I would appreciate only much later, mainly that someone like him, a Scot (I figure), could really go out of his way, and enthusiastically “put my face in it” for being and advertising who I was. It was with a lot of wonderment that I found out later in life speaking to more self-confident human beings that I could have a great time exchanging views on independence and nationalism with people of other nationalities, Scots in particular. I remain cautious of course.

Historically, Scots in Quebec go way back.Perhaps not as long ago as the battle of Culloden, but for North America it’s quite a long time ago. Scots have left their mark in Québec though most have moved Westerly. Some marks are good and some marks are bad. Reading “Les Écossais» by Lucille H. Campey this summer was quite informative.

There were few Scots in Québec at the time of New France, so the story really begins in the Conquest of 1760 when Wolfe brought Highlanders to stand in front of the “French and Indian” bullets: ”no great mischief» should they fall, he is quoted to have said. As a sort of historical irony, he was the one who fell, and after being sent back to England in a barrel of whiskey, his second in command, a Scot, Murray, who detested Wolfe and was keen on the French managed the transition between French rule and English quite effectively. Murray’s men, Blackburns and a Ross’ among many others, Gaelic speaking highlanders who had arrived in Quebec at the not-so-ripe age of 13 years of age, (they must have been really great shooters I guess) ended up settling in new territory once their military career ended, spending their soldier’s pension on the land and developing it, buying mills for example, hiring Canadiens, marrying French Catholic women and having numerous descendants.

There are 100 times more Blackburns in Quebec than Jouberts I am aghast to discover! Those pensions, as well as their ability to borrow money had a huge economic impact on the lives of the people of Charlevois. Today Charlevois and even Saguenay owes them a great deal. At a time were investment were close to nil, these careful investors and motivated leaders of the community were highly regarded.

This successful development did not go unnoticed. Developing and improving the French side was not what the English colonial authorities had in mind. Later Scots, especially Highlanders, would be sent to develop farm land in “new territories” west, a back breaking ordeal involving cutting trees, getting rid of the trunks before being able to actually farm the land… before being able to grow food and if all goes well: eat and perhaps pay their debts. They did get prime land however and so had a fighting chance, something perhaps they didn’t have back home.

Nothing was left to chance to Anglicize the new colony. After The Acadians in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were removed plain and simple from their land and sent “anywhere else but here” in “every available sailing craft”, the French-Canadiens because of their much larger numbers couldn

Since immigration in New France had been a problem (not enough of it), and in the Thirteen Colonies (too much of it and chaotic) it was important that the new English Colonial government of Canada do things right. As it was known even then that “Scots and Quebecers get along”: Gaelic speakers were located in mainly English-speaking sectors (in new territories like the Townships and in Upper Canada Ontario today), English speakers had to be located in weakly French-speaking sectors (Québec and Montreal, before the turn of the 20th century, were mainly English speaking) in proportions to promote the decline of both Gaelic and French languages. It was quite a system.

They even took into account “the pull factor”, the propensity of one group of people to later bring member of their family, friends ect.. as well as the speed of assimilation. The colonial administration in this was sometimes frustrated by the merchants who needed laborers and thus would retain workers who should have gone elsewhere according to their Anglicizing purposes.

By the mid nineteenth century, it was quite an enterprise. Capitalism oblige, relocating all these Scots had to be profitable. This sometimes led to abuse. I should say… extraordinary abuse. Scots wanting to come to Canada had to pay their way into boats. They had to buy their land as well as the tools and machinery they were going to need to get things going. In one occasion, one landlord who had just evicted his tenants, loaned them money to settle the very land he had just bought himself, then resold it to his new tenants and was paid back through the selling of the lumber off the land to the lumber enterprise which he owned… good grief! I have been told this was a better situation than in Scotland. It must have been horrendous over there. I cannot imagine.

By the time the Irish get here in the mid 19th century, they have it down to a science, Catholics in Quebec, Protestants in Ontario. There is so much evidence of intervention in immigration trends over here, I can’t imagine it wasn’t managed just as efficiently over there.

Of course there are the spectacular success stories. The Molsons and McGills and Redpaths of this world. Few in number but fantastically rich! Especially by today’s standards. Always close to the colonial administration, they cornered timber and fur hegemonies, introduced“English only” banks (some of the very first mind you!) and developed “English Only universities”. Fabulous!

The Canadiens, ruined by the French before they left, by the English when they arrived and stunted in their development at every turn had to wait until they created their first Caisse Populaire in 1900 (from a first 10 cents deposit to more than 170 billion CAN dollars today… how’s that for business savvy!) The Caisse de Dépot (1965 first investment bank now worth…150 billion…) and so on. So whenever someone tells me Scots and Quebecers get along, I take a pause before deciding how exactly I will react to this.

Still, these fantastic Scottish success stories inspired thousands home in Scotland: Canada was a land of opportunity. Scots get an honest chance here. An honest chance I say! Why would anyone have to travel so far just to obtain what they are unfairly denied at home. But it made sense at the time, I suppose.

Scots were told that in Canada, they were treated equal to the English. They were not told about the Canadiens and the Indians so much. They could only find out once here and then… mixing wasn’t really encouraged. (Remember Hugh Blackburn? He married an Innu Indian.)

Often when mixing of the Canadien and the Scots occurred as the story goes, they did get along. That worried the English. I’m sure the last thing the English wanted was a new revitalized Seven Year French and Indian and Scots! War on their hands…

Had Scots been given a fair deal in Scotland, over control of their own investments, development and political life they would have been just as successful there. That’s my opinion. Some Scots, few, had stupendous opportunities here. Others, many, ripped their hands pulling tree roots and burning brush to plant the next year’s crop on land they didn’t completely own. Every Scot living in Canada certainly has earned the right to call himself Canadian many times over and paid a very high price for it.

And since Quebec never genuinely sang the tune of “British is Best” and as Scots were discouraged from exhibiting anti-British behavior, the story of many Scots in Quebec is largely one of mobility. Most Scots in Canada now either live outside Quebec or are, as the Blackburns and Scotts wholly and proudly Québécois and French speaking. As many Scots left to live in a more English speaking environment (to their perceived benefit), the Canadiens bought those lands as soon as they were slowly made available to them… much later as Canada became more and more democratic the foot on their throat seemed to be released somewhat.


Scots did leave an imprint on Quebecers and their culture. Hockey(McGill University), beer (Molson!), curling(in every big town), traditional songs and music… the plaid woollen lumberjack’s jacket we wear, the bannock bread we bake when we go camping, the Macintosh apples we eat and so much more…but that’s not what makes many Quebecers get along with Scots. When given the chance, it seems, they always have.


Perhaps many Scots realize, as do many Quebecers, that the hope of controlling your own destiny is an idea that benefits us both in our own way. No competition, no pecking order, just a question of not going out of our ways to destroy in the other what is in effect what we seek as well. And ignoring those that get in our way.

Today, Scots in Scotland and Quebecers in Canada live in very different circumstances, have different price-earning ratios, spending power, try to understand the economic effect of devolution while we appreciate our lost “societee distincte”, Is the Barnett formula a better deal than Equalization? It gets confusing… you had independence and you were sold out, we’ve never really tasted it, do you deserve it more because you had it before, do we deserve it less because we came from France 400 years ago? For all that, I plead ignorance. Too complicated for me. Maybe I’m mentally challenged after all. I just know nations deserve to be free. All nations. Simple.

So I propose a toast! To Hugh Blackburn who (except when he was firing on us) invested in his new land, married into his new community, developed his new region and never forgot which side he was on. Slantje Hugh! I owe you one! Yep, I think Scots and Quebecers get along just fine, always have.




Comments (17)

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  1. Dave Coull says:

    “Maybe I’m mentally challenged after all. I just know nations deserve to be free. All nations. Simple.” – No, it’s not that simple. To take just a few examples (I could give literally dozens of others), for the nation of Flanders, which side of which street in which suburb of Brussels would you draw the boundary? For the nation of Brittany, where will you draw its boundary with France? For the nation of Ungava, where would you draw their boundary with Quebec? We in Scotland, with a long settled and undisputed land border, are fortunate not to have those kind of problems. We should recognise just how fortunate we are in this respect, and not complicate our own process of independence un-necessarily by getting involved with other, far more problematic, cases. I can understand why supporters of independence for Quebec, or Flanders, or a dozen other places, would want to be associated with the process of independence for Scotland. They have something to gain by being associated with our move to independence. But we have nothing to gain, and something to lose, by being associated with more problematic cases. For one thing, if we’re too closely associated with Quebec, we could lose the support of large numbers of sympathisers with independence for Scotland in the rest of Canada; and if we are too closely associated with Breton Nationalists, we could lose the support of our allies the people of France.

  2. jfjoubert says:

    “We (Quebec) have something to gain by being associated with our move to independence”: I think when small nations make gains all the other small nations gain. I believe that to be true. I could be wrong.

    “We could lose the support of large numbers of sympathisers with independence for Scotland in the rest of Canada”: There is a good case for what you are saying. Regardless of the effects of my post (small) it doesn’t compare with the “grouped attack” against people in favor of independence as being associated with: Quebec, Ireland, South-Sudan, Palestine, the Secessionist South of the 1840’s… if the mud sticks… I figure it will be used. I’m not sure you can get away from that though. I may be wrong again.

    “not complicate our own process of independence un-necessarily by getting involved with other”: Of course! No one is talking about getting involved here. I draw the line at publishing information. Letting readers decide the pertinence of it.

    It seems to me though that Unionists do not share this idea though. When David Cameron visits Canada he is thoroughly briefed on the Québec situation and attempt to have the “unionist” perspective in its best possible light. Same thing if Canada PM Harper visits the UK, he will obtain some of the best information available on what’s happening in Scotland.

    If they are readily sharing information paid for by yours and my tax dollars, it makes sense not to hold back any information that might be of concern in a more general perspective especially one which supports a nation’s right to have its own independent government.

    “For the nation of Brittany, where will you draw its boundary with France?” I think you are looking at the wrong end of the problem. Not my place to decide… what would they like? Are they willing to buy their land? Do they want mining rights? Logging rights or just not having to use a passport there?

    For me, it’s for the nation to decide what they want in terms of land. *People* need separate governments… but land (agriculture, living, mining… and all other uses… sea…) has to be shared and negotiated for. And the *land* negotiations can take a long time without it being detrimental to the other economic gains you can obtain from independence. I wonder if everyone in the UK agrees to the full territorial and sea claims of the Scottish government…

    For Ungava (you mean Nunavik)… that was the settlement right there. A mix of independence and interdependence land wise as well as government wise. René Lévesque back in the seventies said the government of Québec recognizes outright the right for first nations to have their own autonomous government. (It’s too bad this is not the case today in Alberta where Tar Sands is more of concern there…)

  3. Dave Coull says:

    No doubt there is some deluded person somewhere who disputes the extent of Scotland (just as no doubt there is some deluded person somewhere who believes he is the Emperor Napoleon) but so far as the land is concerned, that question has been recognised as settled by all parties for many centuries. When England and Scotland were united in 1707, some things were exempt from that Union. One of the things that was exempt from the Union was religion (very important back then, remember, they had official state religion then). The Church of Scotland and the Church of England were recognised as two completely separate (and very different) entities by the terms of the Acts of Union. You will find local churches of the Church of England within a mile or so of the Scottish border. But as soon as you leave England by crossing the border, you will find the local churches are Church of Scotland. Another thing that was recognised as exempt was the Law. Scotland and England had two very different legal systems, and it was accepted that this would continue to be the case. For example, on the English side of the border, a jury means 12 people (therefore it’s possible for a jury to be tied, 6-6) whereas on the Scottish side of the border a jury means 15 people. In England, a criminal case can have just 2 outcomes, guilty or not guilty. In Scotland, a third verdict is possible. These are just two out of literally thousands of differences between the Law in England and the Law in Scotland. Where is the land boundary between England and Scotland? Where it has been for many centuries. Where English Law ends and Scottish Law begins. No sensible person in either country seriously disputes that.

    1. Jf Joubert says:

      Is it that perhaps in my defence of Québec borders I might have been suggested that Scottish borders were not well recognized? Let’s not mince words: For Scottish independence, there is no disputing your borders. I was only defending my own.

  4. Dave Coull says:

    Jean-Francois Joubert wrote “I just know nations deserve to be free. All nations. Simple.”
    I said no, it wasn’t that simple. You can’t avoid getting into arguments about what constitutes a “nation”, and you can’t avoid arguments about the extent of that nation. One particularly difficult example I gave was “for the nation of Flanders, which side of which street in which suburb of Brussels would you draw the boundary?

    JfJoubert avoids this question by saying “not my place to decide” – no, it would be for neighbours in the same street in the suburbs of Brussels to argue about whether they should be in Flanders or Wallonia. But saying “not my place to decide” doesn’t alter the fact that I have disproved your general statement that it is “Simple”.

    No, it’s not always “simple”. In some cases, it can be very complicated indeed. We in Scotland are lucky; we have what is probably the “simplest” case for independence of all. So simple, I confidently predict that all of Scotland will be an independent country before all of Ireland is.
    But precisely because the case for independence for Scotland is straightforward, it is not in our interest to complicate things by linking our straightforward case with far more problematic cases.

    1. Jf Joubert says:

      By saying it is not my place to decide, I mean that I as a Quebecois will not tell someone from Flanders if he belongs to a nation or not. By that I only mean to say that in the natural order of things, it’s the concerned nation to stake a claim and then to negotiate towards the betterment of their political representation. If we as an “enlightened elite” start to decide what constitutes or doesn’t constitute a nation, then we are no better than those I oppose. What makes things simple in the long run, IMO, is that not everybody wants to become a separate nation.

      “because the case for independence for Scotland is straightforward, it is not in our interest to complicate things by linking our straightforward case with far more problematic cases” well I agree with you there. By simple of course I mean the objective is simple. It is a worthy objective nonetheless.

  5. Ray Bell says:

    One of the biggest differences between Scotland and Quebec is that if you remove Quebec, you end up with three countries. There’s no way west Canada and the Maritimes could remain a viable state after Quebec goes, because it stands between them.

    There’s also the issue of Francophones outwith Quebec in Canada (and there are a lot of them), and the way Quebec’s provincial government deals with various minority languages.

    p.s. “Empty barrels make the most noise” – beware of the psychic vampire.

    1. Jf Joubert says:

      “if you remove Quebec, you end up with three countries.”… you mean three territories? All Canadian though… and since Quebec has always been in favour of free movement of people and goods: your argument is similar to the “what will the Union Jack look like without Scotland?” It’ll just look different… closer to reality!

      Francophones outside of Quebec… live in English, in Canada and when asked… do not want their own country… they have one Canada. We have no “control” over them now… nothing will change. Hey, Canada’s a great place, many people want to live there 🙂

    2. Jf Joubert says:

      “the way Quebec’s provincial government deals with various minority languages.”
      Out of the 60 or so Native languages in Canada all but three will be exrinct in the next generation. The three that continue to survive are all in Quebec.
      And by various minority languages then you must mean English? 😉 I’m not doing so bad, thanks for asking. 😉

  6. Dave Coull says:

    Quebec nationalism is mainly a language-based nationalism. The fact there are plenty of French-speakers in Canada outwith Quebec is not an advantage for Quebec Nationalists, rather, it’s a complication. And so, given the language-based nature of Quebec nationalism, is the presence in Quebec of large numbers of English-speakers. Here in Scotland we don’t have Quebec’s problems. The case for independence for Scotland is not language-based, and nobody is trying to force new immigrants to learn Gaelic.

    1. Jf Joubert says:

      Instead of nationalism, I will use the word identification which I prefer, if you don’t mind Dave. I”m not sure what you mean by “language-based identification”. Are you saying Scots don’t identify with Scots, Gaelic and English spoken in Scotland at all? Perhaps you know more about Quebec nationalism than I do 🙂
      Let<s see, Quebec is "Cirque du Soleil" and Rene Levesque, maple sugar, canoing singing French songs with Irish music in it, Bombardier airplaines, Caisse de Depot and Desjardins financial institutions, but of course language is important to us…

      Again, Scotland is in a great position to achieve independence and I will applaud this fervently. You have waited long enough, and economically, even from here it's easy to tell you are not getting your fair share of investments. These are all good reasons to want to reorganize your political structure with the UK and England. Thank you for the comments!

  7. Martine says:

    Un ami écossais m’a référé cet article… Bien qu’il n’était pas d’accord avec tout, c’est très intéressant!!!
    Really interesting article, I’ll suscribe to your posts.
    En tant que québécoise, je trouve important de bien connaître son histoire pour comprendre les enjeux actuels… Good job! 😉

  8. Dave Coull says:

    Jean-Francois Joubert wrote “I just know nations deserve to be free. ALL nations. Simple.” – to which I responded, no, it’s not that simple. Some claims for “national freedom” are simpler than others. J-F now says “By simple of course I mean the objective is simple. It is a worthy objective nonetheless.”

    J-F, your original claim that ALL “nations” deserve to be “free” was an over-simplification, and so is your new claim that in ALL cases the objective is equally “worthy”. I have already mentioned the complicated case of Flanders/Belgium and asked where exactly in the suburbs of Brussels would the “national” boundary be. You say it’s not your place to answer that question – fair enough, but my point still stands: NOBODY , in Brussels or in Flanders or anywhere else, can claim the Flemish case for national freedom is “simple”. To take another contentious case, the nation of Israel was established by Zionists in the Middle East. Europeans from Christian backgrounds collaborated in this because they felt guilty about the horrific European treatment of Jews. But the establishment of a nation of Israel brought conflict with the nation of Palestine who had to be driven off their land in order for the nation of Israel to be established. That conflict of “national freedoms” continues to this day and shows no sign of ever being settled. “Simple”? Not in this world, it ain’t.

  9. The buck stops with the guy who signs the checks.
    You simply can’t attempt a company by fear, since the approach to eliminate fear is always to avoid criticism. And the way to avoid criticism would be to loosen up.

    1. Dave Coull says:

      So, you’re agreeing with Jean-Francois Joubert that, in ALL cases, national freedom is a “Simple” matter? You are agreeing with him that establishing which street, in which suburb of Brussels, should be the boundary of Flanders, would be a “Simple” matter? You are saying that sorting out conflicting Israeli and Palestinian claims to “national freedom” is really very simple? And you’re saying that, using your loosened-up approach, you could achieve this without being criticised by anybody? Wow, the UN could sure use you as a problem –solver.

  10. aranjones says:

    Jean-Francois made an entirely fair comment that ‘all nations deserve to be free – simple’. The ‘simple’ is clearly referring to the concept, not the process – it’s pretty clear that the process is complicated everywhere.

    It’s sad to see someone who thinks Scots should avoid taking a principled stance on other independence campaigns because it might not be in the interests of Scotland. Be careful – once you start compromising principles, you’re on a slippery slope.

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