DO YOU ADMIRE, OR DETEST, THE SCOTCH STREAK IN UPPER CANADA? HERE’S WHERE IT CAME FROM
John Kenneth Galbraith
J. K . Galbraith, the Harvard economist who invented the Affluent Society and helped work out President Kennedy’s fiscal policies, is the most famous expatriate of a part of Ontario that boasts more hard-nosed
Scotchmen than anywhere outside Scotland. Here, in an excerpt from his new book, The Scotch, he writes about ”their clannish attachments and their thrifty, dirty habits — and their pride and honesty”
AN EFFORT was once made to have the road on which we lived called Argyll Street, as an attempt was also made to have the second road to the north called Silver Street. But the community had a strong preference for blunt nomenclature. The road to the north ran through light, sandy soil. It continued to he called Starvation Street even though it was said by some that the name had an adverse effect on land values. Our road was once also an unfavored stretch. The adjacent concessions had been settled first and the sows of the early settlers had taken their litters back to our neighborhood in search of mast. It came as a result to be called Hog Street. In an effort to retrieve something from total inelegance, the Dutton Advance had added an extra “g” but Hogg Street was the best that was ever done with it.
Hogg Street is in Dunwich Township some five or six miles from Lake Erie, and it runs parallel to the shore for seven miles from the Currie Road to the Southwold Township town line. Not even in the Western Isles are the Scotch to be found in more concentrated solution. Beginning at the Currie Road were first the McFarlanes and Grahams, then more Grahams, more McFarlanes, McKellers, C'am-
erons, Morrisons, Gows, Galbraiths, McCallums. McPhails, more Morrisons. Pattersons, McLeods and (I believe) McKillops. Along the way were the Gilroys who may not have been Scotch and a man by the name of Malone. He had moved out from town in very recent times, it was said for his health. But Hogg Street was not exceptional in its commitment to the Highlands, and many parts of the township were much more specialized as to clan. To the north, around a hamlet called Cowal, nearly everyone was named McCallum. The Campbells were similarly grouped around another minute village bearing the not inappropriate name of Campbellton. One or two roads were occupied more or less exclusively by Grahams. In the larger towns, those of four or five hundred people and upward, one encountered a measure of racial diversity. Along the lake, a few families of Irish extraction fished and supported a small Catholic church. And a few prosperous farmers on the immediate shore traced their ancestry to the disgruntled Tories who came to Canada after the American Revolution. In Canada the Tory émigrés are called United Empire Loyalists, and it is known that they migrated out of affection for the king and a deep commitment to personal liberty. Else-
where there was a scattering of English and Irish names. But nearly everyone was Scotch. Certainly it never occurred to us that a well-regulated community could be populated by any other kind of people. We referred to ourselves as Scotch and not Scots. When, years later, I learned that the usage in Scotland was different it seemed to me rather an affectation.
Gogol once observed that there are “many faces in the world over the finish of which nature has taken no great pains, has used no fine tools, such as files, gimlets, and the like, having simply gone about it in a rough and ready way. One stroke of the axe and there’s a nose, another and there are the lips, the eyes gouged out with a great drill, and without smoothing it, nature thrusts it into the world saying: ‘It will do.’” A stranger, on encountering one of our neighbors, would rightly conclude that he had been fashioned in the manner described by Gogol, although with some additional attention to the durability of materials.
Our Scotch neighbors might be tall or short, stocky or lean, although most of them were unremarkably in between. But it was evident at a glance that they were made to last. Their faces and hands were covered not with
a pink or white film but a heavy red parchment designed to give protection in extremes of climate for a lifetime. It had the appearance of leather, and appearances were not deceptive.
This excellent material was stretched over a firm bony structure on which the nose, often retaining its axemarks, was by all odds the most prominent feature. Additional protection, though it may not have been absolutely essential, was provided for most of the week by a stiff-bristled beard. The story was told in my youth of a stranger who, in a moment of aberration, poked one of the McKillop boys on the jaw. He would not have been less damaged, it was said, if he had driven his fist into a roll of barbed wire. In any case, he was badly wounded.
Our older neighbors wore a mustache. This was no clipped nailbrush but a full-flowering piece of foliage that grew and straggled and sagged at the ends as nature had obviously intended. In natural shades it might be black, red or grey. However on many of our neighbors, as the result of an informal rinse, it came out a rich tobacco brown.
On Sundays and at funerals, a Scotchman presented himself in a pepper-and-salt suit or sometimes a
solid black, high - laced shoes with broad toes, a stiff collar and a fourin-hand tie with the knot falling some distance away from the collar button. The man always looked smaller and more shrunken than his clothes, perhaps partly because it was considered sound economy to buy things a little on the large size. During the rest of the week he seemed a good deal more at home in his attire.
SCOTCH FARMERS TOOK TO COMPETITION
On superficial view', a man’s working garments changed little from season to season. The basic components were high-bibbed overalls of blue denim, a blue w'ork shirt and a blue denim smock with steel buttons. These faded steadily and rather agreeably w'ith wear and eventually stabilized at a light sky blue, at least when clean. In the winter more garments — a waistcoat, sweaters, woolen trousers, fleece-lined underwear — were added underneath. (Heavy outer clothes, while they were put on for such sedentary tasks as driving to town, lent themselves poorly to active toil.) As spring turned to summer, the nether garments were shed while the external covering and appearance remained the same. How'ever a few clans continued to believe that the Canadian climate w'as not to be trifled with. Although sweaters, vests and the second pair of pants were discarded, it was consider-
ed safer to w'ear the heavy underwear right through. All of us had heard the story of two elderly and childless neighbors of ours who had the affectionate custom of going each year to the lake for a picnic. While the roast chicken, pickles, pie and cold tea were being put out on the cloth, the husband always went up the bank to bathe. One year he returned downcast; he had lost his vest. A joint search failed. But the following year he returned rejoicing.
"I hae found it. Jean!”
“Found what. John?"
"My waistcoat. Jean. Twas under my undershirt.”
A n enduring problem among the / % Scotch w'as that of personal 1 m. nomenclature. As 1 have noted, a certain number of the clans transported themselves to Canada in bulk, or, in any case, re-formed their ranks quickly on arrival. McCallums. Campbells, Grahams and McKillops were exceptionally numerous. That so many had the same surname would not have been serious had they not so often had the same Christian names as well. To call a son something other than John was to combine mild eccentricity with unusual imagination. And even an unusual imagination did
not normally extend beyond Dan, Jim. Angus. Duncan or Malcolm. A fair proportion of the people we knew were called John McCallum. The John Grahams and the John Campbells were almost equally numerous.
The Scotch eliminated the danger of confusion by giving everyone a nickname. The parents having failed, the neighbors stepped in. The nickname might turn on some feature of a man’s farm or location; most often it was inspired by some prominent personal trait. Since an unpleasant trait invariably makes a stronger impression than an agreeable one. the nicknames were usually unflattering and often offensive.
There were Big Johns and Little Johns and once there had been Wee Johns, but this form had gone out of use. There were also Black Johns and Johnny Ruahs, the latter being Gaelic for red and referring not to politics but to beard and complexion. More regrettably, there was (or within recent memory had been) a Lame John, a Dirty John, a Lazy John, numerous Old Johns, a Bald John, a Nosey John and a Piggy John who w'as named for the number of. and his own resemblance to. his livestock. Most of the McCallums were Presbyterians; one who was not of that faith bore
the proud name of John the Baptist.
The Scotch often tagged people with offensive nicknames even when they were not needed for identification. In later years I knew a bos whose parents had named him R. (for Robert) S. McKercher. The McKerchers were a small clan; no further identification was necessary. But it pleased everyone to take advantage of the initials and call my friend Arss. The Scotch often commented on this practice of giving people disagreeable names. It was also strongly self-perpetuating. Those lads who had somehow' escaped had no objection. Those who hadn't were very glad to see others suffer.
In all sophisticated societies, nothing is so nearly a social absolute as cleanliness. And nothing serves so universally as an index of character and worth. In a rich country, poverty, when combined with cleanliness. becomes respectable. "They arc poor but very clean." In an underdeveloped country, regular bathing serves as an offset to an inadequate Gross National Product. "They haven’t much money but they are clean and tidy." In the United States even few intellectuals are socially so secure that they can afford a gamy smell. For Madison Avenue, this has heen a rich source of reward.
...AFTER THEY’D MADE IT A SURE THING
In 1837 one Mrs. Jameson, the wife of a judge of the province and a Frances Trollope of her time and place, visited Port Talbot and the Scotch settlements and reported on the state of the inhabitants. She was especially impressed by “Their clannish attachments and their thrifty, dirty habits — and also their pride and honesty.” They had not changed appreciably by my time.
Our neighbors lived close to the soil and close to their livestock. Inevitably traces of both clung to them. Nor could everything be attributed to external influences. Men worked and perspired, and a nightly bath was highly impractical. Water would have had to be hauled and heated; anyone taking a bath pre-empted the kitchen, the one warm room in the house, which was needed by other people for other purposes. And a bath didn t do much for personal daintiness without a change of underwear. A daily change would have required a much larger investment than most of our neighbors would have thought reasonable. and the laundry involved would have been an intolerable burden. Better a mildly malodorous husband than a dead wife. The sensible compromise
adopted by our neighbors was to clean up once a week. This was accomplished on Saturday night before going to tow'n and it meant that a man remained in very good condition for church the following day. This modest and practical standard was, however, rigorously enforced. Failure to conform subjected a man to adverse comment. Two men are talking in the town of Dutton as a third approaches.
"Watch it Mac. here comes Andy Leitch!"
“Yeh. 1 see. The air is a mite blue behind."
"Wish there was a breeze. They say Andy ain't had a bath since he fell in the sheep dip."
"You're right lad. Scratch the "Le" of a Leitch and you have it."
But overgeneralization is the enemy of science. If the Scotch had certain resemblances in texture, attire and aroma, they otherwise displayed a pleasing diversity of personal traits. At a minimum, there were many exceptions to any rule. A sense of humor was not their most prominent feature but some, like our next-door neighbor Bert McCallum. were very amusing. They were not, as a rule, easily aroused to anger but occasionally one encountered a man.
or a woman, who had the reputation of a hot temper. Few were belligerent and most were pacifist. During the First World War. when young Canadians were volunteering enthusiastically for euthanasia on the western front, the Scotch regarded the whole enterprise with reserve. They did not think the slaughter ennobling or especially necessary; more surprising, perhaps, they had instinctive misgivings about the men who were in charge. On both points they anticipated by some decades the judgment of historians. Yet. when inspired by alcohol. a Scotchman became very combative. In our community, a man did not get dead drunk but fighting drunk. The resulting battles were part of our folk history.
Some characteristics were specialized as to family or clan. Thus, the Camerons were very prolific. Sons and daughters married young and had children with celerity. This was also true of many of the McCallums. The McKellers, by contrast, had ceased to marry, and the local clan had only a few more years to survive. The Galbraiths a generation earlier had shown the same tendency. My paternal grandfather was a member of a family of seven. Only three married and these three couples, six in all. pro-
duced a total of only five children. The literature of celibacy is silent on the position of those who do not get born. To anyone who has only narrowly made it. the point is not without interest.
Differences in the size of family were related in considerable part to a sharp difference of opinion on the economic role of offspring. The Camerons in my time regarded children as a natural earning asset. Only the minimum amount of money need be spent on the improvement. The marginal cost of getting and preparing an additional pair of hands thus being small, the more the better. This doctrine required that girls work as well as boys, and the Cameron girls worked with a will. In our case, as with quite a few other clans, education was deemed necessary. This cost money and, much more important, it greatly delayed entry into productive employment. ( Proponents of the other system also felt that the individual so educated too often left the farm or that he returned with an exaggerated view of the possibilities of substituting mental for manual labor.) Whatever the merits of the two systems. where education was favored, the number of children had to be curtailed, and that was the practice. The total avoidance of marriage was not so explicitly defended by an economic rationale. There is no doubt, however, that it reflected the prudent tendencies of the community which extended not infrequently to the question of whether a wife was really economically essential. The families of bachelors and spinsters, which were a commonplace in our neighborhood, had presumably decided in the negative.
SCOTCH FAMILIES “BRED FOR LABOR POWER”
This calculation is not yet obsolete. A few years ago a Hollywood press agent was looking for a family of bachelors to publicize a film called Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. After an international search, he found seven unmarried brothers a few miles from Hogg Street toward the lake. It would have been a logical place to look first.
Once the Scotch must have displayed a phenomenal capacity for innovation and adaptation in their farming methods. The transition from the spare, wet and treeless crofts of the Highlands and the Western Isles to the lush forests, deep soil and violent seasons of the land by the lake could scarcely have been more dramatic. It is true that they had always lived in intimate association with their cattle and sheep: to understand these in Scotland was to understand them in Ontario. But the soils, crops, crop rotation, the insects and plant diseases, the problems of farm architecture, machinery and drainage, even the wagon that went to town, were all different. Within a matter of a few months, men made the transition from an agricultural system in which they were guided by the experience of centuries to one where a very great deal depended on a man’s capacity to figure things out for himself or imitate with discrimination those who could.
However, by the time of w'hich 1 am telling, most of the problems had been solved. Few if any of the solutions were wholly satisfactory — seed selection was poor; rust and smut exacted a toll, so did bugs; drainage was imperfect; barns were inefficient and highly combustible and even the animal husbandry in which the Scotch were imagined to be especially gifted suffered a large number of low-yielding animals which suffered in turn from disease, pests and parasites. The Scotch were not bad farmers and some of the clansmen were a lot better than others. (Those families that w'ent in for education, emphasizing quality rather than quantity in their offspring, were notably better than those who bred for pure labor power and forthrightly insisted that what a farmer needed was a strong back and a weak mind.) But stabilization had set in. For the formula “It was good enough for my auld man sc it's good enough for me” combined a decent respect
for one’s ancestors with economy of thought.
Working against this contentment were various official instruments of progress — agricultural fairs, the agricultural extension service, the agricultural schools and colleges. All functioned with remarkable inefficiency. The reason for this failure I have observed many times since and in places as far removed from rural Ontario as Orissa and the highlands of Peru. Those concerned with progress attribute to the farmers the goals and values which they think they should have. They design their measures accordingly. But the farmers, holding in fact quite different values, either pay no attention or turn the programs of the uplifters to unexpected ends.
In the case of the annual exhibition of the West Elgin Agricultural Society, known colloquially as the Wallacetown Fair, the people in charge of progress rightly recognized the interest of the Scotch in making money. But they did not see that this was nearly total. Where money was involved, the Scotch were not inclined to make any of the compromises that a sporting competition required.
The Wallacetowm Fair was held each year in the last days of September in the most golden of the autumn days. It was one of the few days of recreation that every clansman allowed himself and his family. On the second day of the fair, everyone was present. There WTIS a small midway
where one could win kewpie dolls by throwing rings on hooks, buy fresh sugar taffy, knock over tenpins with baseballs, and in fortunate years ride on a merry-go-round. Invariably an itinerant entrepreneur tried to set up with dice. A specially appointed constable closed him down. The Scotch were not only disinclined to gamble but they did not look kindly even on the opportunity. On both days of the fair, there were also harness races. It was always rumored that there was some informal wagering by an exiguous and undefined sporting element but. in the main, the races were for the purpose of ascertaining whether one horse could go faster than another.
All of this was assumed to be decorative, the sugar coating of the pill. The serious business of the fair was the improvement of husbandry. To this end, the farmers brought their cattle, sheep, hogs, fruit, roots, vegetables, needlework, pies and cakes and other products of the domestic arts. Back of this competition lay a year of struggle. Herd sires were selected and herds improved; better seed was selected or bought; orchards were pruned and sprayed; vegetable gardens were cultivated with loving care; the w'omcnfolk diligently practised their needlework, faneywork, baking and other household skills. Competition is the breath of life. The agricultural authorities of the province wisely subsidized this competition by contributing generously to the prize money. This intensified the
struggle to improve for everybody.
Or so it should have been. However, the Scotch recognized quite sensibly that if everyone entered the competition, the money available to any single competitor would be negligible and the trouble would be too great. So by common consent the money WTIS allotted to a handful of families who came to consider it as their own.
Thus, we had a very good herd of purebred Shorthorns. So did Duncan Brown who lived a few miles away on the Back Street. Starting early in the morning of the second day of the fair, we and the Browns drove our best animals to Wallacetown and into the fair grounds by the back or cattle gate. It was very exciting to arrive. Other farmers would be unloading sheep and pigs; a few families who kept good horses would be cleaning harness, wiping buggies or manoeuvring their highstrung trotters through the crowd. There was a rich smell of cigar smoke and horse manure. In the near distance the Muncey-Oneida Indian band, from the reservation some ten miles to the north, would be tuning up with a spine-tingling succession of squeaks and oomphs.
In the late morning or early afternoon, the judging commenced. If first prize went to the Browns, second came to us or vice versa. It all averaged out in the end. Neither we nor the Browns were in the slightest measure stimulated by the exercise. It was simply that there was no way one could so easily pick up thirty or even forty dollars in the course of one day. No ordinary husbandman would have dreamed of anything so impractical as to try improving his herd in order to compete with us. We had no need to improve to get the money. In the case of the Shorthorns, the prize money was divided. For Herefords, every cent went every year to the McNeils.
The livestock prizes did go to the better farmers of the neighborhood. For other products, the reward went, on the whole, to the more backward members of the community. In the case of mangels, turnips, squash, pumpkins, watermelon and potatoes, the prizes were comparatively small. So the wives of the poorer farmers took a little extra care of their gardens and got the money. By common understanding the reward belonged to them. We would not have dreamed of taking a watermelon or an apple to the fair; it would have taken money from those to whom it belonged and it would have implied, in addition, that we didn’t have enough to do. The encouragement to handicrafts was equally exiguous. The same women brought the same patchwork quilts and embroidery to the fair every year and would have been indignant if some parvenu had to come in with something new of competitive quality.
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The other instruments of progress — the extension service, the Ontario Agricultural College and the various services of the Ontario Department of Agriculture — assumed that the Scotch wanted to make as much money as possible. As a result, they fell afoul of the desire to save money. They had other failings as well.
The physical manifestation of these services in our community was the Agricultural Representative. He was in those days a fat, totally bald and very good natured man called Charley Buchanan. Charley was a bachelor, a good mixer, a nearly incoherent speaker and, within limits, a believer in progress. For a time he got around the muddy roads on a motorcycle. Then the provincial authorities bought him a car. He worked faithfully. Most of the Scotch had nothing whatever to do with him.
This was partly because he was based in a small office in Dutton and did not farm himself. Below a certain level of income and sophistication, practising cultivators always suspect those who do not farm themselves. This is not, as commonly supposed, because they attach some mystical importance to toil. (This belief often leads advisers to seek the confidence of farmers by showing that they are not afraid to wield a fork or shovel.) It is because the farmers rightly sense that there is danger in the advice of any man who does not himself have to live by the results. As agricultural services have developed and spread around the world, millions of farmers have benefited from the recommendations and advice. But, a less celebrated fact, quite a few thousands, at one time or another, have received a bum steer. They and not their advisers have paid the price. They may have gone hungry, lost a child or their livestock or their land. What is often deplored as the conservatism of farmers or peasants is, in fact, the healthy respect of men with a small margin for error for what is fully proven wúthin range of their own eyesight.
But the greater difficulty was that everything Charley advised cost money. Some of this was simply ill-considered. The experts at the Ontario Agricultural College (which I later attended) had expensive designs for barns which afforded a maximum of contentment to the cows but which, as the farmers quickly saw, would add little to their income. Poultry houses similarly became palaces. The experts shuddered at the thought of an unpedigreed bull. Once w'e obtained some plans for draining a rather marshy tract that w'e had acquired up Hogg Street from the home farm. It was a margin of hydrologic precision and w'ould have cost considerably more than the farm was worth. The experts regularly priced themselves out of our market.
But even where Charley’s recommendations involved some calculation of cost and returns — the outlay for fertilizer against the value of the prospective increase in the crop — the Scotch were not easily persuaded. Spending money even w'hen it might mean more money was painful. And perhaps also unwise. For with the
increased prospect of gain came the increased possibility of loss. Fertilized crops can dry up in a drought and then the money for the fertilizer is lost along with all else. Better to try for less and be safe. Charley was a man of good sense and recognized that his recommendations were usually unwelcome and refrained from pressing them. My father, who believed in principle in progress and. 1 think, sensed Charley’s problem, used to consult him meticulously on sprays for our fruit trees. By quietly cutting the recommended sprays from three or four to one, he found he could follow his advice on this matter without undue expense. For the rest, he also avoided any guidance by Charley.
Yet munity the agriculture was not static. of the comEach year there were a few clansmen who tried something new. They saw a chance to make money in beans; or they grew' cucumbers for a new pickle factory at West Lome; or they bought a tractor; or they built a silo; or they tried out a high-yielding variety of oats or barley. If these things worked, they w'cre copied. If, as often happened especially with new' moneymaking crops, they failed, the community heaped on the experiments the contempt they so richly merited.
It is possible, to be quite fair, that back of some of these ideas lay the official engines of progress, including even Charley. But it is important not to exaggerate their role. The colleges of agriculture, experiment stations and extension services of the advanced farming regions of the United States and Canada have worked one of the great technical revolutions of all time. They did so because they were perfectly attuned to the farmers they served. The farmers wanted to make money and were willing to spend money to do so. The experts ( tamed by the economists since the days of which I speak and forced to prove that their recommendations would pay out) have been an admirable buttress to this pecuniary urge. But it has been assumed that what has worked so well with us must have an equally marvelous effect on the agriculture of Asia, Africa or South America. Professional agriculturalists are among the world's greatest evangelists. In consequence, for nearly tw'o decades, we have been exporting our system of agricultural services to the peasants and cultivators of the world. The results have, on the whole, been disappointing.
This does not mean that the effort should be abandoned. It does mean that it must be adapted to the values of those involved. If farmers subordinate income to security of income, this must be accepted. The desire to avoid experiments which, should they turn out badly, might exclude eating for a year, may not be wholly foolish. And the goal of these services is not, in the first instance, farmers as a whole. Rather, it is that miniscule minority who can be persuaded to accept the risks (and possibly the obloquy) of innovation and from whom others will learn. ★
This is the first of three excerpts from Mr. Galbraith's forthcoming book, The Scotch.