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History: Scots in Canada

The Ulster Scots:

The Scots went to Ireland first before heading off to the remote corners of North American and the Antipodes. Populations had been migrating between northeast Ireland and western Scotland since prehistoric times, and from the mid-thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, mercenaries from the Hebrides and Highlands known as the gallowglass would seasonally travel to Ulster to serve in conflicts between Irish lords. Concentrated, planned migration of Scots to Ireland began during the reign of James I of England and VI of Scotland. Starting in 1609, the government concocted a scheme to confiscate all of the lands of the Gaelic Catholic Irish nobility in Ulster and settle the province with Protestant English and Scottish colonists in order to suppress local uprisings. While the British government was settling a number of Scots in Ulster under this plantation program, mainly people from Galloway, Ayrshire, and the Borders Country, two Ayrshire lairds were also independently establishing Scottish settlements in the east of the province.

The Scots population in Ulster was further augmented during the Irish Confederate Wars of the mid-seventeenth century, when a Scottish Covenanter army landed in Ulster to protect Ulster-Scottish settlers from the native Catholic landowners. Many of the soldiers took up permanent residence in Ulster after the conflict settled. At the end of the century, another major wave of Scots came to northern Ireland as tens of thousands sought refuge from famine. After this, the Presbyterian Scottish settlers and their descendents took Ulster's numeric majority from the native Irish Catholic population.

There was tension, however, between the majority and the state. The British government discriminated against Scottish Presbyterians as well as Irish Catholics, granting full rights only to members of the state church, the Church of Ireland, who were mostly descended from English settlers and native converts. Queen Anne's Test Act of 1703 further discriminated against those who did not participate in the established church, prompting an exodus of Ulster-Scots from Ireland to the North American colonies that lasted throughout the eighteenth century.

About half a million Ulster-Scots arrived in Canada from the start of the colonial period to the end of the nineteenth century. They went first to the Maritime Provinces, settling the Townships of Onslow and Truro in Nova Scotia in 1760. Londonberry, the town the original two hundred twenty-nine immigrant families founded, bore the name of the place they had left behind in Ireland. Large numbers of immigrants arrived in Prince Edward Island in the 1840s, amounting to roughly ten percent of Charlottetown's population by the end of the decade. Unlike in the United States, immigration from Ulster to Canada remained high through the nineteenth century: between 1896 and 1900, over half of Canada's Irish immigrants were Scots that hailed from Ulster.

As land in the eastern part of Canada became scarce and expensive, the Scotch-Irish headed west to the shores of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and to the Huron Peninsula, where other Scots settlers were establishing themselves. Although some of their descendants headed west into the prairies and British Columbia, two-thirds of Canada's Scotch-Irish were concentrated in Ontario by the beginning of the twentieth century.

The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and
do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.
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