How The Scots Invented Canada Hardcover – Oct 5 2010
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Quill & Quire
Since the 1700s, the Scots have had a profound influence worldwide, as American author Arthur Herman emphatically argued in his 2001 book, How the Scots Invented the Modern World. So why do we need another book about Scottish ingenuity focused solely on Canada? Because, writes Ken McGoogan, “except for the homeland, this is the country where Scots and their descendants have accomplished the most.”
Scots have never exceeded more than 16 per cent of Canada’s population, McGoogan points out, yet 13 out of 22 Canadian prime ministers were of Scottish heritage. Low- or high-born, the Scots who came here tended to possess strong leadership skills as well as open, flexible attitudes that helped give rise to Canada’s cultural pluralism.
How the Scots Invented Canada is broken into three themed sections: “Pioneers,” “Builders,” and “Visionaries.” McGoogan calls his approach “deliberately less academic” than Herman’s. Indeed, this is an amiable volume that serves as both an engaging read and a handy reference.
McGoogan doesn’t aim for the obscure: most of the names here – Fraser, MacDonald, McGill, Eaton, Bell, Douglas, Trudeau – will be familiar to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Canadian history. With 14 profiles, women seem slightly better represented than in standard textbooks, Nellie McClung, Agnes McPhail, Alice Munro, and Margaret Laurence being among the most prominent figures mentioned.
Despite his surname, McGoogan notes that his own ancestry is a typically Canadian hybrid of nationalities. In other words, his intention is not merely to bask in his ancestors’ bright glow. In fact, if the Scottish connection were never mentioned, McGoogan’s book would read very much like a standard Canadian history textbook, which perhaps affirms his thesis.
McGoogan argues that Scottish success was not simply a fluke of genetics. It was the direct result of the widespread literacy and culture of open debate produced by the Scottish Enlightenment. It’s an uncomplicated recipe for success that policy-makers interested in an equally bold future for Canada would do well to take heed of.
About the Author
KEN MCGOOGAN is the best-selling author of a dozen books, among them 50 Canadians Who Changed the World, How the Scots Invented Canada, Fatal Passage and Lady Franklin’s Revenge. He has won the Pierre Berton Award for History, the University of British Columbia Medal for Canadian Biography, the Canadian Authors’ Association History Award, the Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize and an American Christopher Award for “a work of artistic excellence that affirms the highest values of the human spirit.” Before turning mainly to books, Ken worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, and in faraway places as different as Edinburgh, Sydney, Stromness, and Hobart. www.kenmcgoogan.com