John Diefenbaker becomes Kildonan’s Kennedy

In the north of Scotland, they’re calling him Kildonan’s Kennedy. They’re referring to John Diefenbaker, Canadian prime minister from 1957 to 1963. And, yes, they do mean John F. Kennedy, the most charismatic of American presidents, and one who was famously attached to his Irish roots. Not only that, but in the Timespan Museum in Helmsdale, a town 68 miles north of Inverness, they have just launched a months-long Diefenbaker’s North project, celebrating the story of Diefenbaker and his Bannerman ancestors.

If you’ve perused How the Scots Invented Canada, you will understand, but bear with me.  Above, you see Our Hero outside Rogart, which is in the same county as

Helmsdale: Sutherland. I am sitting by a cairn built out of stones from the croft of the grandfather of John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister. Trust me, it is not an easy place to reach. But you see the plaque on that cairn? In 1968, Diefenbaker visited Rogart and unveiled it at a well-attended ceremony. He unveiled a second plaque, not far away, to his own Scottish ancestors, the Bannermans. His mother’s people, they were among those who, driven out of Sutherland during the Highland Clearances, left the parish of Kildonan in 1813 and sailed to Canada. They were “Selkirk Settlers” who, after spending one bitter winter on the shores of Hudson Bay, trekked 1,000 miles south to establish Red River Settlement, which gave rise to Winnipeg. Yes, “Dief” was proud of his Scottish roots. Earlier today, while giving a talk in Markham, north of Toronto, I said a few words about that and showed the two images posted here. When I arrived home, I found a letter from Jim McGugan, a second cousin of mine who lives in Letham, Scotland. He enclosed a clipping from the Glasgow Herald of Feb. 19. . . . all about the Helmsdale project that launched last week. Gotta love even a modest synchronicity.

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