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Scots’ Canadian links in spotlight

The role played by Scots in the establishment of Canada was the topic for a lecture by Professor Tom Devine.

The talk, entitled ‘The Scottish Impact on 19th Century Canada’, marked 150 years of the Canadian Confederation, which was established in July 1867.

Professor Devine, author of the ‘The Scottish Nation 1700-2000’ and ‘Scotland’s Empire, 1600-1815’, highlighted the prominent role played by Scots in the history of Canada

Scots were amongst the first European settlers to colonise the area of North America that would later become Canada. Today, those with Scottish ancestry constitute the third largest ethnic group in Canada.

The lecture, at the University’s Playfair Library, was hosted jointly by the School of History and the Centre for Canadian Studies.

The Centre is the oldest research institute located outside Canada, and provides a forum to research topics including politics and international relations, sociology, social anthropology, law, geography, languages, literature and history.

Strong links

Today, the University of Edinburgh is the most popular destination for Canadian and American students who choose to study at a UK university.

Edinburgh graduates played a prominent role in the establishment of Canada’s higher education system. In 1823 the Montreal Medical Institution, which would later form part of McGill University, was founded as the country’s first medical school, by four Edinburgh graduates.

The particular approach to medical education which was adopted became known as the "Edinburgh curriculum". This consisted of two six-month courses of basic science lectures and two years of "walking the wards" at the Montreal General Hospital, where the importance of practical experience was emphasised.

One of McGill’s most important principals, Sir William Peterson, who’d studied Classics at Edinburgh, would ensure growth and stability through the tumultuous years of the First World War. Peterson established McGill on a firm financial footing and encouraged the establishment of colleges in Victoria and Vancouver.

Sir Robert Falconer was another Edinburgh alumnus whose time in Canada would prove impactful. Having graduated with a degree in classics, followed by three years studying divinity, Falconer returned to his native Canada and became president of the University of Toronto in 1907.

His tenure saw steady growth at the institution, allied to the introduction of innovative ideas like the admittance of Chinese students on scholarship programmes. Falconer’s success led to his being offered the position of Principal and Vice-Chancellor at Edinburgh, but ill-health forced him to decline this.

Related links

North America Office

Canadian Studies

Scholarships for North American students

School of History, Classics & Archaeology