Well, hello Vancouver! Wonderful to surface where I did my MFA. . .

Author Q&A: Ken McGoogan credits influence of Scotland, Ireland for what makes Canada

Author Q&A: Ken McGoogan credits influence of Scotland, Ireland for
what makes Canada

Vancouver Sun September 25, 2015

In his
new book Celtic Lightning, Ken McGoogan looks at the influence of Scottish and
Irish immigrants on the new Canadian nation. McGoogan has written a dozen
books, including 50 Canadians Who Changed the World and How the Scots Invented

Q Why did you write Celtic Lightning?

I wrote this book to rectify an omission. I have always been intrigued
by that perpetual Canadian question: Who do we think we are? Some have
suggested that surviving against the wilderness created our national
character. Others have argued that the French-English divide is our
defining characteristic. We have heard that we are a Metis nation, and
even that the idea of a national narrative is obsolete. What is missing
from this discussion? The influence of cultural genealogy. We have
failed to track our formative history across the Atlantic. More
specifically, we have neglected the influence of the Scots and the
Irish, who arrived early enough and in sufficient numbers to shape our
Canadian nation.

Q In making your case, you tell the stories of numerous individuals. What led you to this storytelling approach?

Back in the day, when I was taking my MFA in creative writing at UBC,
and writing a novel as my thesis, I believed that fiction and
non-fiction were radically different genres. In the 1990s, when I began
publishing books, I kept the two separate, producing one non-fiction
book and three novels. Meanwhile, I earned my daily bread as a literary
journalist. With Fatal Passage (2001), I applied the craft I had learned
from reviewing and writing fiction to a non-fiction narrative. Bingo!
The book won a number of awards and inspired a docudrama. It registered
in the real world, and continues to sell especially well in Canada and
the U.K. Through my next five books, I built on what I had learned from
writing that book. Today, I find myself specializing in narrative

While writing How the Scots Invented Canada (2010),
and investigating my own ancestry (Scottish, Irish, French), I realized
that an ocean is an artificial barrier. Thanks to digital technology, we
readily cross any body of water and go back five generations, seven
generations, nine. We trace our personal stories to people who lived
centuries ago. Why don’t we do the same with our collective history?
Instead of accepting the limitations of geography and sociology, why not
follow the example of genealogy?

I found support for this in the
work of Richard Dawkins. He argues that memes, or ideas and values, are
transmitted from one person to another through time and across space.
More than nine million Canadians claim Scottish or Irish heritage. In
British Columbia, the numbers are typical: more than 20 per cent claim
Scottish ancestry, and 15 per cent Irish. Did the ancestors of more than
one-quarter of our population arrive without cultural baggage? No
shared attitudes and beliefs, no common vision? Impossible. They gleaned
their values from their leaders and heroes. And they brought them
across the Atlantic to Canada.

Q What are the values that have shaped this country?

In Celtic Lightning, I identify five foundational values: independence,
democracy, pluralism, audacity and perseverance. I show how they
flourish in this country, and trace their evolution in Scotland and
Ireland through separate parades of heroes and heroines: Robert the
Bruce and Theobald Wolfe Tone, Daniel O’Connell and Robert Burns, Walter
Scott and Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift and James Boswell, Flora
MacDonald and Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen. I argue that these
figures rightly belong to Canadian history, and that the two parades
come together in Canada.

Q How do these foundational values make Canada different from, say, the United States?

Canada is more similar to the United States than to any other country,
and that is partly because Irish and Scottish immigrants played a
crucial role in shaping both. Other demographic factors account for many
of the differences. English puritans had a much greater presence in the
early U.S., and in that country today, we see far more Christian
fundamentalism. The largest linguistic minority in the U.S. is Hispanic
(17 per cent); in Canada, it is French Canadian (22 per cent). More
differences. Also, slavery never took hold in Canada the way it did in
the U.S.

But I am ranging outside the book. In Celtic Lightning,
we encounter James Douglas, a.k.a. the Father of British Columbia, who
embodied a distinctly Canadian ideal of pluralism: half-Scottish,
half-West Indian, he married an aboriginal woman and battled American
expansionism. And we meet that Irish-born visionary Thomas D’Arcy McGee,
one of the most underrated Canadians of all time. After living in the
U.S., he realized that Canada tolerated religious difference in a way
that the larger country never would. He denounced the American doctrine
of manifest destiny, and envisaged a separate Canadian province governed
by aboriginal people. If McGee had lived, the story of Louis Riel would
have played out differently. But he was assassinated by Fenians — Irish
Republican Americans incapable of appreciating his greatness.


Original source article: Author Q&A: Ken McGoogan credits influence of Scotland, Ireland for what makes Canada

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