Quebec's Scots don kilts and dresses for Tartan Day

Photo: Scott French

Quebec City's Scottish community pose on the steps on the National Assembly before a post Tartan Day reception.

Quebec's Scots donned their tartan kilts and dresses for Tartan Day one day early and one day later this year for the Scottish heritage day celebrated internationally on April 6 every year.

About 40 members of Quebec City's Scottish community, almost all wearing their tartans, were invited to the Salon Rouge at the National Assembly yesterday -- the day after Tartan Day -- by Yvon Vallières, president of the provincial legislature.

The reception was held a day after official Tartan Day to accommodate a delegation of eight Scottish parliamentarians led by Alex Ferguson, president of the Scottish Parliament, said Louise Gunn, a well-known Scottish heritage organizer in Quebec City.

"The Tartan Day is a great way to celebrate one's Scottish roots, " said Sarah Boyack, a Scottish member of parliament for Edinburgh Central. "It's been really interesting to see the Scottish connection to Quebec."

The delegation also made a stop Monday at St. Andrew's Church -- the oldest English-speaking congregation of Scottish origin in Canada -- during a special tour of the Old City.

"It was really great to meet Mr. Ferguson," said Frances Kelly, a native Scot who is a tour guide at St. Andrew's. "He was delighted to see the Twenty-third Psalm in the Scottish dialect on display in the church's museum."

Members of the Scottish delegation were in Quebec City for three days to discuss topics like federalism and renewable energy with members of the National Assembly, said Boyack.

Meanwhile, half a dozen people donned their tartans on Sunday at an organ recital kicking off St. Andrew's 250th anniversary celebrations this year.

The congregation "had its beginning with the beloved Chaplain, Rev. Robert MacPherson and soldiers of the famous Fraser Highlanders of Wolfe's Army in 1759," states a capsule about the church's history on its website.

"With the Peace Treaty of 1763, and the coming of merchants from Scotland and New England, the congregation soon assumed civilian status and was known as the Scotch Congregation - in connection with the Church of Scotland."

The 78th Fraser Highlanders Regiment continues to operate today in Quebec City as a non-profit Scottish heritage organization that promotes and celebrates both its Scottish and military roots.

"I wore my tartan," Moira Hayes, wife of St. Andrew's Rev. Stephen Hayes, reported proudly after attending the organ recital on Sunday. She sported the blue tartan adopted by the church in 2003.

"It's most unusual for a church to take on a tartan of its own when the founding Frasers already had one," said Rev. Hayes.

Renowned especially in Scotland, the specific and separate plaid patterns of a tartan were adopted by each of the Scottish clans and institutions for their kilts and dresses beginning in the 19th century. According to Martin Martin, a 17th century Scottish writer, before that time tartans designated the region from which a Scottish person was from.

"Wearing the tartan is an important part of one's Scottish identity," said Louise Gunn.

Gunn said while she has traces of Scottish heritage herself, she proudly wears the blue and green checkered tartan of her husband's clan -- the Clan Gunn.

In previous years, more public celebrations of Tartan Day, often with parades in Old Quebec, have been held.

That was not possible this year because Ted Gunn, Louise Gunn's husband and chief organizer of the Tartan Day parade and other special events, is still recovering from hip replacement surgery last fall.

"But we'll be back next year -- be sure about it," Ted Gunn promised in an interview.

Nonetheless, Quebec officially recognizes Tartan Day with a special law adopted in 2003.

Although Tartan Day coincides with the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath declaring Scotland's sovereignty almost 700 years ago, the origins of the international April 6 Scottish heritage celebration actually took root here in Canada in 1986 in a resolution at the Federation of Scottish Clans in Nova Scotia.

The resolution asked people of Scottish heritage to outwardly display that heritage by wearing their clan's tartan.

In a campaign led by Jean Watson, one of the authors of that resolution, the day was recognized by provincial legislatures across the country throughout the 1990s.

In Quebec, Scots would only don their family's tartan on the heritage day 16 years later, thanks in part to Quebec City's own Scottish heritage promoters, Ted and Louise Gunn, who pushed to have the celebration recognized in the National Assembly.

In November 2003, Geoff Kelley, Liberal MNA for Jacques-Cartier, introduced Bill 190, or Loi proclamant le Jour du Tartan, formally recognizing April 6 as Tartan Day in Quebec.

"It was immensely satisfying that it went through," Ted Gunn said of the legislative bill that became law on December 18, 2003.