Robbie Burns mistreated in Fredericton

Open Letter from Ken McGoogan, author of How the Scots Invented Canada

I was shocked to learn that the City of Fredericton is refusing to fund the restoration of its statue of Robbie Burns. I vividly remember that memorial from my sojourn in that city as writer-in-residence at the University of New Brunswick. I can’t help seeing this decision as a slap in the face to all those Scots who have played such a foundational role in the development of New Brunswick.  Having recently written and published How the Scots Invented Canada, I can tell you that people of Scottish heritage constitute 20 per cent of the province’s population (by the 2006 census, 142,560), and that they have made a formidable contribution.

I think of the Irving industrial empire, which is worth $8 or $9 billion. Founder Kenneth Colvin Irving was born in 1899 in Bouctouche, N.B., into a fourth-generation Canadian family of Scottish descent. I think of McCain Foods, the world’s largest producer of French fries and other frozen foods, which is based in Florenceville, N.B. Built by descendants of Ulster Scots, that company today has more than 20,000 employees at fifty-five production facilities. I think of Sobey’s, the second-largest food chain in Canada, which is connected to Scotland through Pictou, Nova Scotia, but has a notable presence throughout New Brunswick, including Fredericton.

I think of Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, who played such a crucial role in winning the Second World War, and who is so closely connected with Fredericton. Yet another proud son of New Brunswick, David Adams Richards, probably went too far when he described Beaverbrook as “by far the most influential and important Canadian of the twentieth century.” But nobody would dispute, surely, that Beaverbrook – the son of a thundering Presbyterian minister — is a major figure in the history of New Brunswick? And what about the Reverend James Somerville, a Scottish graduate of the University of Aberdeen, who held the first college classes in Fredericton in 1822, and did so much to spur the development of the University of New Brunswick. The list goes on and on.

The Fredericton statue of Robbie Burns, in addition to being of notable artistic merit, symbolizes the contribution of the Scots to the province of New Brunswick. The City has made a grievous mistake in refusing to restore it – a mistake that, if it is not rectified, will give Fredericton a black eye not just across the country, but around the world.

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