|A' Ghàidhlig Chanadach|
|Region||Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia; Prince Edward Island|
|Latin (Scottish Gaelic orthography)|
Distribution throughout the Maritimes c. 1850
Canadian Gaelic or Cape Breton Gaelic (Scottish Gaelic: Gàidhlig Chanada, A' Ghàidhlig Chanadach or Gàidhlig Cheap Bhreatainn), known in Canadian English as often simply Gaelic, is a collective term for the dialects of Scottish Gaelic spoken in Atlantic Canada.
Speakers of Canadian Gaelic have their origins in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Scottish Gaels were settled in Nova Scotia, commencing in 1773 with the arrival of the Ship Hector and continuing until the 1850s. Gaelic has been spoken since then in Nova Scotia on Cape Breton Island and on the northeastern mainland of the province. Scottish Gaelic is a member of the Goidelic branch of the Celtic languages and the Canadian dialectics have their origins in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The parent language developed out of Middle Irish and is closely related to modern Irish. The Canadian branch is a close cousin of the Irish language in Newfoundland. At its peak in the mid-19th century, Scottish Gaelic, considered together with Newfoundland Irish, was the third most spoken language in Canada after English and French.
While there have been many different regional dialects of Scottish Gaelic that have been spoken in other communities across Canada, particularly Ontario, Atlantic Canada is the only area in North America where Gaelic continues to be spoken as a community language, especially in Cape Breton. Even here the situation of the language is precarious. In Atlantic Canada today, there are approximately 2,000 speakers, mainly in Nova Scotia. In terms of the total number of speakers in the 2011 census, there were 7,195 total speakers of "Gaelic languages" in Canada, with 1,365 in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island where the responses mainly refer to Scottish Gaelic. The 2016 census also reported that 240 residents of Nova Scotia and 15 on Prince Edward Island considered Scottish Gaelic to be their "mother tongue".
The Gaelic cultural identity community is a part of Nova Scotia's diverse peoples and communities. Thousands of Nova Scotians attend Gaelic-related activities and events annually including: language workshops and immersions, milling frolics, square dances, fiddle and piping sessions, concerts and festivals. Up until about the turn of the 20th century, Gaelic was widely spoken on eastern Prince Edward Island (PEI). In the 2011 Canadian Census, 10 individuals in PEI cited that their mother tongue was a Gaelic language, with over 90 claiming to speak a Gaelic language.
Gaels, and their language and culture, have influenced the heritage of Glengarry County and other regions in present-day Ontario, where many Highland Scots settled commencing in the 18th century, and to a much lesser extent the provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador (especially the Codroy Valley), Manitoba and Alberta. Gaelic-speaking poets in communities across Canada have produced a large and significant branch of Scottish Gaelic literature comparable to that of Scotland itself.
In 1621, King James VI of Scotland allowed privateer William Alexander to establish the first Scottish colony overseas. The group of Highlanders - all of whom were Gaelic-speaking - were settled at what is presently known as Port Royal, on the western shore of Nova Scotia.
Almost a half-century later, in 1670, the Hudson's Bay Company was given exclusive trading rights to all North American lands draining into Hudson Bay - about 3.9 million km² (1.5 million sq mi - an area larger than India). Many of the traders who came in the later 18th and 19th centuries were Gaelic speakers from the Scottish Highlands who brought their language to the interior.
Those who intermarried with the local First Nations people passed on their language, with the effect that by the mid-18th century there existed a sizeable population of Métis traders with Scottish and aboriginal ancestry, and command of spoken Gaelic.
Cape Breton remained the property of France until 1758 (although mainland Nova Scotia had belonged to Britain since 1713) when Fortress Louisbourg fell to the British, followed by the rest of New France in the ensuing Battle at the Plaines d'Abraham. As a result of the conflict Highland regiments who fought for the British secured a reputation for tenacity and combat prowess. In turn the countryside itself secured a reputation among the Highlanders for its size, beauty, and wealth of natural resources.
They would remember Canada when in 1762 the earliest of the Fuadach nan Gàidheal (Scottish Highland Clearances) forced many Gaelic families off their ancestral lands. The first ship loaded with Hebridean colonists arrived on "St.-John's Island" (Prince Edward Island) in 1770, with later ships following in 1772, and 1774. In September 1773 a ship named The Hector landed in Pictou, Nova Scotia, with 189 settlers who departed from Loch Broom. In 1784 the last barrier to Scottish settlement - a law restricting land-ownership on Cape Breton Island - was repealed, and soon both PEI and Nova Scotia were predominantly Gaelic-speaking. It is estimated more than 50,000 Gaelic settlers immigrated to Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island between 1815 and 1870. Many of them left behind poetry and other works of Scottish Gaelic literature.
The poet Mìcheal Mór MacDhòmhnaill emigrated from South Uist to Cape Breton around 1775 and a poem describing his first winter there survives. Anna NicGillìosa emigrated from Morar to Glengarry County, Ontario in 1786 and a Gaelic poem in praise of her new home also survives. Calum Bàn MacMhannain left behind a poem describing his 1803 voyage from the Isle of Skye to Prince Edward Island and his impressions of his new home. Ailean a' Ridse MacDhòmhnaill emigrated from Lochaber to Nova Scotia in 1816 and composed several Gaelic poems in the New World. The most prolific emigre poet was Iain MacIlleathain of Tiree, the former chief bard to the Laird of Coll, who emigrated with his family to Nova Scotia in 1819. In Nova Scotia, he is known colloquially today as, "The Bard MacLean".
With the end of the American War of Independence, immigrants newly arrived from Scotland were joined in Canada by Loyalist refugees fleeing persecution and the seizure of their land claims by American Patriots. These settlers arrived on a mass scale at the arable lands of British North America, with large numbers settling in Glengarry County in present-day Ontario, and in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.
Unlike in the Gaelic-speaking settlements along the Cape Fear River in North Carolina, there was no Gaelic printing press in Canada. For this reason, in 1819, Rev. Seumas MacGriogar, the first Gaelic-speaking Presbyterian minister appointed to Nova Scotia, had to publish his collection of Christian poetry in Glasgow. 
Printing presses soon followed, though, and the first Gaelic-language books printed in Canada, all of which were Presbyterian religious books, were published at Pictou, Nova Scotia and Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in 1832. The first Gaelic language books published in Toronto and Montreal, which were also Presbyterian religious books, appeared between 1835 and 1836. The first Catholic religious books published in the Gaelic-language were printed at Pictou in 1836.
In 1812, Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk obtained 300,000 square kilometres (120,000 sq mi) to build a colony at the forks of the Red River, in what would become Manitoba. With the help of his employee and friend, Archibald McDonald, Selkirk sent over 70 Scottish settlers, many of whom spoke only Gaelic, and had them establish a small farming colony there. The settlement soon attracted local First Nations groups, resulting in an unprecedented interaction of Scottish (Lowland, Highland, and Orcadian), English, Cree, French, Ojibwe, Saulteaux, and Métis traditions all in close contact.
In the 1840s, Toronto Anglican priest John Black was sent to preach to the settlement, but "his lack of the Gaelic was at first a grievous disappointment" to parishioners. With continuing immigration the population of Scots colonists grew to more than 300, but by the 1860s the French-Métis outnumbered the Scots, and tensions between the two groups would prove a major factor in the ensuing Red River Rebellion.
The continuing association between the Selkirk colonists and surrounding First Nations groups evolved into a unique contact language. Used primarily by the Anglo- and Scots-Métis traders, the "Red River Dialect" or Bungee was a mixture of Gaelic and English with many terms borrowed from the local native languages. Whether the dialect was a trade pidgin or a fully developed mixed language is unknown. Today the Scots-Métis have largely been absorbed by the more dominant French-Métis culture, and the Bungee dialect is most likely extinct.
James Gillanders of Highfield Cottage near Dingwall, was the Factor for the estate of Major Charles Robertson of Kincardine and, as his employer was then serving with the British Army in Australia, Gillanders was the person most responsible for the mass evictions staged at Glencalvie, Ross-shire in 1845. A Gaelic-language poem denouncing Gillanders for the brutality of the evictions was later submitted anonymously to Pàdraig MacNeacail, the editor of the column in Canadian Gaelic in which the poem was later published in the Nova Scotia newspaper The Casket. The poem, which is believed to draw upon eyewitness accounts, is believed to be the only Gaelic language source relating to the evictions in Glencalvie.
By 1850, Gaelic was the third most-common mother tongue in British North America after English and French (when excluding Indigenous languages), and is believed to have been spoken by more than 200,000 British North Americans at that time. A large population who spoke the related Irish immigrated to Scots Gaelic communities and to Irish settlements in Newfoundland.
In Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton and Glengarry there were large areas of Gaelic unilingualism, and communities of Gaelic-speakers had established themselves in northeastern Nova Scotia (around Pictou and Antigonish); in Glengarry, Stormont, Grey, and Bruce Counties in Ontario; in the Codroy Valley of Newfoundland; in Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Eastern Quebec.:371-387
In 1890, Thomas Robert McInnes, an independent Senator from British Columbia (born Lake Ainslie, Cape Breton Island) tabled a bill entitled "An Act to Provide for the Use of Gaelic in Official Proceedings.":487-493 He cited the ten Scottish and eight Irish senators who spoke Gaelic, and 32 members of the House of Commons of Canada who spoke either Scottish Gaelic or Irish. The bill was defeated 42-7.
Despite the long history of Gaels and their language and culture in Canada, the Gaelic speech population started to decline after 1850. This drop was a result of prejudice (both from outside, and from within the Gaelic community itself), aggressive dissuasion in school and government, and the perceived prestige of English.
Gaelic has faced widespread prejudice in Great Britain for generations, and those feelings were easily transposed to British North America. In 1868, the Scottish-American Journal mockingly reported that "the preliminary indispensables for acquiring Gaelic are: swallowing a neat assortment of nutmeal-graters, catching a chronic bronchitis, having one nostril hermetically sealed up, and submitting to a dislocation of the jaw".
The fact that Gaelic had not received official status in its homeland made it easier for Canadian legislators to disregard the concerns of domestic speakers. Legislators questioned why "privileges should be asked for Highland Scotchmen in [the Canadian Parliament] that are not asked for in their own country". Politicians who themselves spoke the language held opinions that would today be considered misinformed; Lunenburg Senator Henry Kaulback, in response to Thomas Robert McInnes's Gaelic bill, described the language as only "well suited to poetry and fairy tales". The belief that certain languages had inherent strengths and weaknesses was typical in the 19th century, but has been rejected by modern linguistics.
Around 1880, Am Bàrd Mac Dhiarmaid from The North Shore, wrote An Té a Chaill a' Ghàidhlig (The Woman who Lost The Gaelic), a humorous song recounting the growing phenomenon of Gaels shunning their mother-tongue.
Chuir mi fàilte oirr' gu càirdeil:
I welcomed her with affection:
With the outbreak of World War II the Canadian government attempted to prevent the use of Gaelic on public telecommunications systems. The government believed Gaelic was used by subversives affiliated with Ireland, a neutral country perceived to be tolerant of the Nazis. In Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton where the Gaelic language was strongest, it was actively discouraged in schools with corporal punishment. Children were beaten with the maide-crochaidh ("hanging stick") if caught speaking Gaelic.
Job opportunities for unilingual Gaels were few and restricted to the dwindling Gaelic-communities, compelling most into the mines or the fishery. Many saw English fluency as the key to success, and for the first time in Canadian history Gaelic-speaking parents were teaching their children to speak English en masse. The sudden stop of Gaelic language acquisition, caused by shame and prejudice, was the immediate cause of the drastic decline in Gaelic fluency in the 20th century.
Ultimately the population dropped from a peak of 200,000 in 1850, to 80,000 in 1900, to 30,000 in 1930 and 500-1,000 today. There are no longer entire communities of Canadian Gaelic-speakers, although traces of the language and pockets of speakers are relatively commonplace on Cape Breton, and especially in traditional strongholds like Christmas Island, The North Shore, and Baddeck.
A. W. R. MacKenzie founded the Nova Scotia Gaelic College at St Ann's in 1939. St Francis Xavier University in Antigonish has a Celtic Studies department with Gaelic-speaking faculty members, and is the only such university department outside Scotland to offer four full years of Scottish Gaelic instruction.
Eòin Boidhdeach of Antigonish published the monthly Gaelic magazine An Cuairtear Òg Gaelach ("The Gaelic Tourist") around 1851. The world's longest-running Gaelic periodical, Mac Talla ("Echo"), was printed by Eòin G. MacFhionghain for eleven years between 1892 and 1904, in Sydney. Eòin and Seòras MacShuail, believed to be the only black speakers of Goidelic languages in Canada, were born in Cape Breton and in adulthood became friends with Rudyard Kipling, who in 1896 wrote Captains Courageous, which featured an isolated Gaelic-speaking African-Canadian cook originally from Cape Breton.
Many English-speaking artists of Canadian Gaelic heritage have featured Canadian Gaelic in their works, among them Alistair MacLeod (No Great Mischief), Ann-Marie MacDonald (Fall on Your Knees), and D.R. MacDonald (Cape Breton Road). Gaelic singer Mary Jane Lamond has released several albums in the language, including the 1997 hit Hòro Ghoid thu Nighean, ("Jenny Dang the Weaver"). Cape Breton fiddling is a unique tradition of Gaelic and Acadian styles, known in fiddling circles worldwide.
Several Canadian schools use the "Gael" as a mascot, the most prominent being Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. The school cheer of Queen's University is "Oilthigh na Bànrighinn a' Bhànrighinn gu bràth!" ("The College of the Queen forever!"), and is traditionally sung after scoring a touchdown in football matches. The university's team is nicknamed the Golden Gaels.
The Gaelic character of Nova Scotia has influenced that province's industry and traditions. Glen Breton Rare, produced in Cape Breton, is one of the very few single malt whiskies to be made outside Scotland. Gaelic settlers in Windsor adapted the popular Gaelic sport shinty (shinny) to be played on ice wearing skates, the precursor to modern ice hockey.
According to Natasha Sumner, the current revival of the Gaelic language in Nova Scotia was largely instigated by Kenneth E. Nilsen (1941-2012), an American linguist with a specialty in Celtic languages. During his employment as Professor of Gaelic Studies at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nilsen was known for his contagious enthusiasm for the distinctive Nova Scotia dialect of the Gaelic-language, it's folklore, and it's oral literature. Several important figures in the recent Canadian Gaelic revival, including the poet Lewis MacKinnon, have credited Nilsen with sparking their interest in learning the Gaelic language and in actively fighting for it's survival.
In a major innovation, the 2011 Royal National Mòd, held at Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, crowned Lewis MacKinnon (Lodaidh MacFhionghain), a poet in Canadian Gaelic from Antigonish County, Nova Scotia, as the winning Bard. It was the first time in the 120 year history of the Mòd that a writer of Gaelic poetry from the Scottish diaspora had won the Bardic Crown.
The Gaelic scholar Michael Newton made a half-hour documentary, Singing Against the Silence (2012), about the revival of Nova Scotia Gaelic in that language; he has also published an anthology of Canadian Gaelic literature, Seanchaidh na Coille (2015).
Efforts to address the decline specifically of Gaelic language in Nova Scotia began in the late 1980s. Two conferences on the status of Gaelic language and culture held on Cape Breton Island set the stage. Starting in the late 1990s, the Nova Scotia government began studying ways it might enhance Gaelic in the province.
In December 2006 the Office of Gaelic Affairs was established.
In Prince Edward Island, the Colonel Gray High School now offers both an introductory and an advanced course in Gaelic; both language and history are taught in these classes. This is the first recorded time that Gaelic has ever been taught as an official course on Prince Edward Island.
Maxville Public School in Maxville, Glengarry, Ontario, Canada offers Scottish Gaelic lessons weekly. The last "fluent" Gaelic-speaker in Ontario, descended from the original settlers of Glengarry County, died in 2001.
The province of British Columbia is host to the Comunn Gàidhlig Bhancoubhair (The Gaelic Society of Vancouver), the Vancouver Gaelic Choir, the Victoria Gaelic Choir, as well as the annual Gaelic festival Mòd Vancouver. The city of Vancouver's Scottish Cultural Centre also holds seasonal Scottish Gaelic evening classes.
A Gaelic economic impact study completed by the Nova Scotia government in 2002 estimates that Gaelic generates over $23.5 million annually, with nearly 380,000 people attending approximately 2,070 Gaelic events annually. This study inspired a subsequent report, the Gaelic Preservation Strategy, which polled the community's desire to preserve Gaelic while seeking consensus on adequate reparative measures.
These two documents are watersheds in the timeline of Canadian Gaelic, representing the first concrete steps taken by a provincial government to recognize the language's decline and engage local speakers in reversing this trend. The documents recommend community development, strengthening education, legislating road signs and publications, and building ties between the Gaelic community and other Nova Scotia "heritage language" communities Mi'kmaq, Acadian French and African Nova Scotian.
Increased ties were called for between Nova Scotia and Scotland, and the first such agreement, the Memorandum of Understanding, was signed in 2002.
Today over a dozen public institutions offer Gaelic courses, (such as a Canadian History course in Gaelic at North Nova Education Centre, Nova Scotia) in addition to advanced programmes conducted at Cape Breton, St Francis Xavier, and Saint Mary's Universities.
The Nova Scotia Highland Village offers a bilingual interpretation site, presenting Gaelic and English interpretation for visitors and offering programmes for the local community members and the general public.
Sponsored by local Gaelic organizations and societies, ongoing Gaelic language adult immersion classes involving hundreds of individuals are held in over a dozen communities in the province. These immersion programs focus on learning language through activity, props and repetition. Reading, writing and grammar are introduced after the student has had a minimum amount of exposure to hearing and speaking Gaelic through everyday contextualized activities. The grouping of immersion methodologies and exposure to Gaelic cultural expression in immersion settings is referred to in Nova Scotia as Gàidhlig aig Baile.
The phonology of some Canadian Gaelic dialects have diverged in several ways from the standard Gaelic spoken in Scotland, while others have remained the same. Gaelic terms unique to Canada exist, though research on the exact number is deficient. The language has also had a considerable effect on Cape Breton English.
Names in Cape Breton Island (Eilean Cheap Breatainn)
Names in mainland Nova Scotia (Tìr-mór na h-Albann Nuaidh)
Elsewhere in Canada
Notes and references