Scottish Music in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Scottish Music in Canada

The history of Scottish music in Canada has to be seen against a background of emigration, especially from the Highlands, which effectively started after the failure of the 1745 rebellion, intensified during the Victorian era, and has continued unabated.

The history of Scottish music in Canada has to be seen against a background of emigration, especially from the Highlands, which effectively started after the failure of the 1745 rebellion, intensified during the Victorian era, and has continued unabated. The Scottish contribution to Canadian life and culture thus has been profound, and is by no means limited to Nova Scotia. All the other provinces, particularly Ontario and British Columbia, show the effects of Scottish settlement and enterprise. This phenomenon has received some attention from social and economic historians, but its musical aspects have been neglected. The present article is no more than a preliminary survey; part of its purpose is to refer readers to other entries in EMC, where individual topics are treated in more detail.

Classical Music, Jazz, and Popular Music

(in the Western European and North American Traditions)

Many outstanding Canadian composers, performers, and teachers either emigrated from Scotland and settled in Canada or were born to Scottish or Scottish-emigrant parents or their near descendants. Among those born in Scotland are Dorothy Allan Park, contralto Ruth Barrie, the pipe-major Farquhar Beaton, Keith and Jim Blackley, James Noel Brunton (a director of music at Mount Allison University), Dan A. Cameron, James Paton Clarke, Frank Connell, George Coutts, Thomas J. Crawford, Alexander Cringan the pipe-major Archie Dinan, Bertha Drechsler Adamson, Jeanne Dusseau, the pipe-major James Fraser, the country singer Johnny Forrest, Margaret Gilkison, Stanley Hoban, George Kindness, Frank Laubach, May Lawson, Alexander MacMillan, the composer Neil McKay, Norman McLaren, George S. Mathieson, the music educator Duncan McKenzie, John Moncrieff, Alexander Muir, Charles O'Neill (of Irish parents), the pianist Isobel Rolston, the organist George Ross, Peggie Sampson (of English parents), Molly Sclater, David Dick Slater, Donald Alexander Smith (Lord Strathcona), Reginald Stewart, George William Strathy, the organist, pianist, and teacher Richard Tattersall (1879-1950), W. Davidson Thomson, the pipe-major John Wilson, and W. Knight Wilson.

An extraordinary number of Canadian jazz musicians have been Scots, eg, the trombonist Jim Abercrombie, the clarinetist Ian Arnott, the pianist Ian Bargh, the trumpeter Charlie (Dr McJazz) Gall, Jim Galloway, the trumpeter-guitarist Malcolm Higgins, the clarinetist Al Lawrie, and the bassist and composer Jim McHarg. Pop groups with some members of Scotish descent include Celtic Blue, Bourne and MacKenzie, First Draft, Rawlins Cross and the Barra MacNeils. The last two named groups use bagpipes. The singer-songwriter Murray McLauchlan was born in Scotland.

Musicians of Scottish descent (often mixed with English, French, or Irish) are legion. A few names will give an idea of the pervasiveness of Scots ancestry in Canadian music: W.H. Anderson, Beth Douglas, William Douglas, Maureen Forrester, Glenn Gould, Sir Ernest MacMillan (partially trained in Scotland, and once invited to be Sir Donald Francis Tovey's successor at the University of Edinburgh), Lola MacQuarrie, Lois Marshall (who has recorded several of Marjory Kennedy-Fraser's arrangements of Scottish and Hebridean songs), Mary Morrison, and Quentin Maclean.

Calixa Lavallée's mother, born in Canada, was of Scottish descent. Emma Albani (whose maternal grandmother was of Scottish origin) was 'discovered' as a young girl by a Scottish balladeer named Crawford, who invited her to perform at his concerts and taught her many Scottish songs. Albani, Pauline Donalda, and Sarah Fischer sang frequently in Scotland, in concerts, recitals, and opera, as, later, did Milla Andrew, Clarice Carson, and Joseph Rouleau. Clara Lichtenstein, born in Budapest, took her musical training in Scotland.

Scots who performed in Canada during the 19th century included the singers David Kennedy (b Perth 1825, d Stratford, Ont, 1886, the father of Marjory Kennedy-Fraser), who travelled widely in Canada 1866-86, performing with his singing family, and in fact died in Canada shortly after an appearance in Sarnia, Ont, and John Wilson (b Edinburgh 1800, d Quebec City 1849). Scottish-born Sir Alexander Campbell Mackenzie, principal of the RAM, was conductor for the Cycle of Musical Festivals in 1903. The soprano Mary Garden sang in Montreal in 1912, and the pianist James Friskin played there in 1926 and 1946. Marjory Kennedy-Fraser, accompanied by her sister Margaret Kennedy, sang 20 Sep 1929 at the Royal York Hotel, Toronto, in a recital which was part of a series of six concerts of British and Canadian music organized by the CPR. Harry Lauder toured Canada 1930-1 with Jerry Shea. Sir Hugh Roberton toured Canada with his Glasgow Orpheus Choir and was a favourite adjudicator at Canadian competition festivals. Roberton's nephew David Thomson modelled his Carriden Choir on that of his uncle.

The Montreal Bach Choir sang at the Edinburgh Festival in 1958, the MSO played there under Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos in 1976, Canadian Brass and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir performed there in 1980, and Mary Lou Fallis presented her unique shows there in 1989 and 1990. Canada was represented at the International Festival of Youth Orchestras (Aberdeen, 1977) by the George Brown College Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Atherton, and by Hélène Gagné, who was a guest instructor. The TS included performances in Scotland on its 1991 European tour. In 1979 a series of exchange tours was initiated by the Scottish Philharmonic Trust and the Scottish Canadian Philharmonic Foundation (Toronto), with the aim of strengthening ties between the two countries, particularly in the area of classical music. A visit to Toronto by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra of Edinburgh was the first of the exchanges. As part of the exchange series the Orford String Quartet, the Purcell String Quartet, the Galliard Ensemble, the Guelph University Choir, and the Stratford Ensemble performed in Scotland in 1980. The foundation also undertook a campaign to raise $100,000 toward the restoration of Queen's Concert Hall in Edinburgh.

The White Heather Concerts, conceived in Toronto in the late 1940s by the Scots-born performer Neil Kirk (b Willie Robertson), became annual events in many Canadian and US cities. In them a touring concert party of Scottish and Scottish-Canadian performers presented a variety of musical entertainments and skits. Among the featured performers in certain years was the noted Scottish tenor Kenneth McKellar. The BBC Scottish SO visited Canada in 1988.

Traditional Scottish Music

Vocal Music
This section examines vocal music (songs in English, Scots, and Gaelic and psalms and hymns), instrumental music (solo and ensemble performance on Highland bagpipes and drums, fiddle, and accordion and composition in Scottish idiom for these instruments), and dance. See also Folk Music, Anglo-Canadian.

Because emigration from Scotland has been uninterrupted, it is difficult to know the age of songs found in Canada. According to Calum I.N. MacLeod, the oldest of a variety of song types within the Scottish-Gaelic tradition in Canada is the heroic ballad, its texts from Celtic cycles whose roots lie in pre-Christian Ireland. One of these, Bàrdachd Ghàidhlig á Albainn Nuaidh, was recorded in Nova Scotia in 1952. Like Newfoundland, Nova Scotia has been relatively isolated from outside influences, and thus this and other Gaelic songs collected there represent the earliest Scottish vocal traditions in Canada. MacLeod has found that several types of Gaelic song have survived, among them epics, laments, and work songs. The last, usually strophic and rhythmical, include songs for rowing, churning, milking, weaving, spinning, quern-grinding, and waulking (ie, fulling cloth). The Scotia Singers of Winnipeg (1974-86) was a choir of children formed to sing Scottish Gaelic songs. Gaelic psalms have continued to be sung in Nova Scotia and in a few other places in Canada (such as Toronto), where church services are held in Gaelic. Courses in Scottish studies, including Gaelic, are offered in Nova Scotia at the University of Cape Breton in Sydney, St Mary's University, Halifax, St Francis Xavier University, and at the Gaelic College of Arts and Crafts at St Ann's, Cape Breton. At the University of Ottawa a community funded chair of Celtic studies was established in 1985 to offer language and literature courses and to enrich the cultural community. (For a brief description of the Gaelic Language and Folklore Project, see St Francis Xavier University.) The National Festival of Gaelic Music and Literature, Mòd Ontario, began in Toronto 1977 (see Festivals).

Scottish songs in English and Scots form a distinctive but less distinguishable category of vocal music, since their history is intertwined with that of English folksong, and they are part of the common heritage of English speakers in Canada. One also must include in this class Scottish music-hall songs (such as those of Harry Lauder and Andy Stewart). Many old songs of Scottish origin, however, have been recorded, especially in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Ontario, by the National Museum of Man (Canadian Museum of Civilization) and by individual collectors. The commercial success of the folksong revival, too, has made popular many Scottish songs, both old and new by composers such as Allistair MacGillivray. They are often heard at celebrations of Robbie Burns Night and Scottish Heritage Days acoss the country. John Alan Cameron and other entertainers include Scottish material in their repertoire. Lastly, one must mention the musical influence of the Presbyterian church in Canada, whose hymnary to some extent differs from that of other English-speaking churches (see Hymns and hymn tunes).


See also Discographies for Bands: Highland Pipe Bands; Jean Carignan; Folk Music, Anglo-Canadian : Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.


Fraser, Alexander. 'The Gaelic folk-songs of Canada,' Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, vol 9, 1903

Creighton, Helen, and MacLeod, Calum. Gaelic Songs in Nova Scotia, National Museum of Man Bulletin no. 198 (Ottawa 1964)

'Canada takes top awards,' The Piper and Dancer Bulletin, Sep 1969

MacLeod, Calum I.N. Bàrdachd Ghàidhlig á Albainn Nuaidh: Scottish Gaelic Poetry from Nova Scotia (Glasgow 1970)

Emmerson, George S. Rantin' Pipe and Tremblin' String: A History of Scottish Dance Music (Montreal 1971)

A Social History of Scottish Dance: Ane Celestial Recreation (Montreal 1972)

Macdonald, John H., et al. Highlanders '72 (Toronto 1972)

Scott, Gail. 'Jean Carignan: the fiddler the rest call the best,' Toronto Globe and Mail, 23 Feb 1974

Fergusson, Donald A. ed. Fad Air Falbh As Innse Gall: Beyond the Hebrides: Including the Cape Breton Collection (Halifax 1977)

Kimber, Stephen. 'Highland fling on new sod,' Maclean's, 20 Aug 1979


B.C. Pipers' Newsletter (Vancouver)

The North American Scotsman (St Catharines, Ont, 1969- )

The Piper and Dancer Bulletin (Hamilton, Ont 1945- )

Instrumental Music

Separate articles in EMC are devoted to Bagpipes, great Highland; and to pipe bands (see Bands: 7). This subsection considers briefly Scottish fiddle and accordion music. Scottish fiddle playing had developed a distinctive style of bowing and ornamentation by the 18th century, and there are many compositions in the Scottish style for violin, mainly slow airs, marches, strathspeys, reels, and jigs. Fiddlers often play bagpipe tunes too. Some of the Gaelic airs are of great antiquity, and many of the dance tunes go back to the 18th century. We may be sure that fiddlers accompanied the early Scottish settlers to Nova Scotia and Upper Canada, but precise information is not available.

In 1990 Nova Scotia remained the heartland of Scottish fiddling; such players as Angus Chisholm and Winston 'Scotty' Fitzgerald have been widely known. The Cape Breton Symphony and its leader Bobby Brown appeared for many years on TV (eg, on the 'Tommy Hunter Show') and have toured across Canada. Other centres of Scottish fiddling have been the Ottawa Valley, Glengarry County in Ontario, and the Red River settlement in Manitoba. In Montreal the Scottish Caledonian Society in 1867 sponsored a fiddling competition in which reels, strathspeys, and Scottish airs were heard. Indeed, a hundred years later the most famous living player of Scottish fiddle music was a French-Canadian from Montreal, Jean Carignan, who was influenced directly by the famous Scottish fiddler James Scott Skinner, and several old Scottish pipe and fiddle tunes have survived in Quebec, under French names. Canadian country fiddlers such as Ned Landry (New Brunswick) and Johnny Mooring (Nova Scotia) have played many Scottish dance tunes. In Nova Scotia in 1990 the old Scottish custom of ensemble fiddling continued in practice: at the gatherings of strathspey and reel societies up to 200 fiddlers have played together in quasi-unison. See also Fiddling.

Individual fiddlers have played often with Scottish dance bands, but the usual melody instrument in these ensembles has been a three-row button or piano accordion. One outstanding Canadian band was that of Stan Hamilton (lead accordion, Robert Frew), whose recordings have been admired both by dancers and by connoisseurs of music. This band dissolved in the late 1970s. Another is the Scottish Country Dance Band formed in 1974 by Bobby Brown, a pianist and accordionist and former member of Stan Hamilton's band, who came to Canada in 1957. Scottish Accent plays for dances across Canada, has toured Scotland and has produced many recordings on the Brownrigg productions label. In 1991 Robert Frew had his own band, the Bobby Frew Four, in Toronto. Such groups are in great demand for balls organized by Scottish societies and Scottish country dance groups in Canada and the USA. An annual event of the kind has been the St Andrew's Ball, at Toronto's Royal York Hotel, which in three ballrooms used a Scottish dance band, a regular dance band, and a Highland pipe band (the 48th Highlanders, to play for Highland dancing exclusively). In 1991 the event used only two ballrooms and the two Scottish bands. Pianist Elma Boyne Grech is one of the best known pianists for Scottish country dancing and has played for classes across Canada.


Scottish dance is of two kinds: country and Highland. The revival and worldwide popularity of the former naturally has included Canada, where it has appealed to people of all nationalities and from all walks of life. George Emmerson, long resident in Ontario and a leading authority on the history of Scottish dancing, has noted in Cape Breton and elsewhere interesting local variants of steps and of dances. Across Canada, countless societies, many of them branches of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, are dedicated to it, and have several hundred teachers who have been certified by the Society either in St Andrews, Scotland or by visiting examiners. New dances, some with new tunes, are continually being composed and published by Canadians, including Bob Campbell (Oakville, Ont), John Trew (Kingston, Ont), Peter McBryde (Toronto), John Bowie Dickson (Montreal), and John Duigenan (Ottawa). Such dances often commemorate special occasions or people in Canada. Displays and non-competition festivals of Scottish Country dancing are also held across the country.

Highland dancing, originally a form of ritual dance for men, has become an almost balletic display, danced to the pipes, and by the mid-20th century most of the dancers were women. Highland dancing is seen above all at the Highland Games, and is regulated by ScotDance Canada and its provincial affiliates, with 100 teachers and judges. In the years between 1960 and 1990 Canadians have attained international standards in this exacting art; a climax was reached in 1967, when the first three places in the World Adult Championship (at Gourock, Scotland) went to dancers from Canada: in order, Angus Clay-Mackenzie (Edmonton), Scott Porter (Verdun, Que), and Beth Buchanan (Vancouver). Other winners at the world championships in Cowal, Scotland, have included Sandra Bald Jones, Irene Baird, Dawn Brennan, Peter Archibald, Gaelyn McGregor, and Ann Milne. In 1991 the International Competition for Champions was held in Canada and two Canadians competed. The winner was Ann Milne (Owen Sound, Ont). There are many groups performing Highland Dance, among them the Glengarry Highland Dancers (Ottawa).

In the summer of 1979 the International Gathering of the Clans was held in Nova Scotia, the first Gathering outside Scotland.


Ancient Piobaireachd. William Barrie. SS 9023 (cass)

A Scotsman in Canada. Dick Howe. RMFC Records 8701 (cass)

Gaelic Mouth-Music. Recorded by C.I.N. MacLeod. 1952. 2-Rodeo RO-128, RO-152 (78s)

Gaelic Tradition in Cape Breton. 1976. Topic 12TS-353

Orain Cheap Breatainn: Songs of Cape Breton. Celtic CX-38

Pipe Dreams. Cromdale. World WRC-5956

Fiddle Music

Chez Isidore: Isidore Soucy et son ensemble. RCA Victor CGP-128

Les Danses de nos campagnes: Tommy Duchesne et ses chevaliers. Disques C-473

Cape Breton Scottish Fiddle. 1976. Topic 12TS -354

The Cape Breton Symphony Fiddle. Glencoe GMI-001

The Cape Breton Symphony Fiddle. Brownrigg CSPS-1834

Celtic Music of Cape Breton. Donald MacLellan, Dan Joe MacInnis, David MacIsaac. U College of Cape Breton Press UCCBP-1007

East Coast Ceilidh. Islander Records SVC-04290

Rodeo Records Salute to Sydney, Cape Breton Island. Banff RBS-1051

Welcome to Your Feet Again. Carl MacKenzie. (1977). Rounder 7005

Winston 'Scotty' Fitzgerald. Celtic CX-40

Scottish Dance Bands

Angus MacKinnon and the Scots Canadians: Scottish Dance Music. Scotscan AJM-001

The Canadian West Coast Sound. Schiehallion. 1982. Schiehallon SRC-02C (cass)

On with the Dance, with Ed Brydie's Scottish Dance Band. Col ELS-304

Scottish Dance Time: Stan Hamilton and the Clansmen. Notes by George S. Emmerson. 2 records: Clansmen SP-214, Sparton 216

Scottish Dance Time: Stan Hamilton and His Flying Scotsmen. Notes by George S. Emmerson. Clansmen SMT-70-2

Stan Hamilton and the Flying Scotsmen: Scottish Dance Music. RCA Victor PCS-1041

Stan Hamilton: Scottish Dance Time. Notes by George S. Emmerson. 2-RCA Victor PCS-1136, PCS-1137

The Vancouver Collection of Scottish Music. Schiehallion. 1978. Schiehallon SRC-01 (cass)

Also Doug MacPhee has recorded 5 LPs of Cape Breton Piano, traditional jigs and reels, on Rounder (7003, 7009) and MacPhee Records (DMP-6-27-1-3) and Piping for Highland Dancing, Jim Scott piper (World WRC-776)

Scott's Highland Services (London, Ont) records and imports many Canadian and Scottish artists as well as music books and Scottish accessories