New book revels in firsts: talk, series, review

Mine was the first presentation in a first-ever series of author readings that launched today at the Neilson Park Creative Centre in Etobicoke. I called my talk When the Highlanders Came to Canada: Dragging History into the 21st Century. From Type Books, manager Beck Andoff turned up with maybe 30 copies of Flight of the Highlanders . . . and sold all but three of them. Alison Lam organized and launched the series . . . and after I spoke lined up to buy five copies of the book. That’s what I call leading by example.

Meanwhile, the first review of the book turned up in The Scotsman on October 3. You can access the original by clicking here. Written by Dean Jobb, whose latest book is The Murderous Doctor Cream, the review notes  that Scots
played a key role in the creation of Canada, but “
it took more than a couple of visionary politicians
to build a new nation. Scottish farmers and their families – driven from their
lands by the hundreds of thousands and “packed off to the colonies like so many
bales of manufactured goods,” as one contemporary noted – did the heavy
lifting. These “persecuted” and “dispossessed emigrants,” author Ken McGoogan
reminds us, battled “hardship, hunger and adamant rejection in a New World
wilderness” as they “went to work laying the foundations of a modern nation”.

The review continues:

“In Flight of the Highlanders, the bestselling Canadian
author argues that the Highland Scots – victims of the Clearances and the
oppression that followed the Battle of Culloden – were “Canada’s first
refugees.” And that makes their story a timely reminder of the contribution
refugees and other newcomers have made, and continue to make, to their new
homelands. Today, almost five million Canadians claim Scottish heritage. . . .

McGoogan, who has chronicled Arctic exploration and
Canada’s Scottish heritage in previous books, draws on extensive travels and
research in Scotland to trace the origins of these refugees and the injustices
that drove them overseas. While this will be familiar territory for Scottish
readers, he soon moves to the North American phase of the story. Large-scale
resettlement began in 1773, when the Hector – a tiny “coffin ship” crammed with
almost 200 people – survived a hurricane and landed at Pictou, Nova Scotia.
Waves of “brave-hearted Highlanders” followed, among them some unfortunates who
settled in the United States, remained “loyal” during the American Revolution
and were then driven northward in a second exodus.

Canadians of English, Irish and French descent, whose
ancestors also helped to build their country, may bristle at the focus on
Scottish immigrants. And the subtitle is a little jarring, as Canadians own up
to an ugly legacy of mistreatment and assimilation of indigenous peoples; the
arrival of the Scots and other European settlers, as the author acknowledges,
was the unmaking of their Canada.

But in a time of rising intolerance toward minorities
and immigrants, Flight of the Highlanders is a much-needed reality check.
McGoogan’s chronicle of how impoverished but tenacious Scots built new lives in
Canada – and transformed their new country – is a reminder that all of us,
regardless of origin or race, want the same things: a better life and a
brighter future.

(Photos by Sheena Fraser McGoogan.)

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