Homecoming 2009

10 04 2009

In a few hours time I will be leaving  Vancouver on a nine and half hour flight to Amsterdam, and then a quick hop (i hope) back to Glasgow.   Last night’s final reception was excellent – a good blend of the academic (Simon Fraser University whose Scottish Studies Department is imaginative and knowledgeable), the business (SDI had invited a whole range of business contacts including some members of their hard working and very helpful Global Scots network) and the wider diaspora.   Plus a sprinkling of Scots Academics who had been attending the Burns and Transatlanticism symposium.    Kirsteen McCue was one of  them, and she sang beautifully at the end of the speeches.   My theme when I contributed was Homecoming 2009 and several people afterwords told me they had either already booked, or were about to.   Certainly the campaign is making ground and I am sure we will see not just the immediate benefit, but a longer term uplift including an uplift in understanding of the modern as well as the traditional strengths of Scotland.

Then it was  very relaxed dinner in a Thai restaurant in downtown Vancouver but by the end we were all begining to nod off so the final nightcap was very quick.  I was asleep almost before my vancouver_spring_mediumhead touched the pillow.

Good Friday here is a clear and slightly warm spring day, with white blossom on the trees in the city centre (the picture is not mine – a tourist one from the city website) .   We are going for a brunch to Granville Island and to do some last minute browsing amongst the craft and arts shops there.   Then on to the airport  – and starting for home !


Furthest west….

10 04 2009

..which was at Fisgard Lighthouse for us. After a night on Vancouver Island (where I stayed with Dennis and Glynnis MacLeod) I had an appointment to meet Dave King,img_4283 the Manager of Parks Canada’s Historic Site at Ford Rudd which includes the lighthouse. The fort was established to guard the bay on which Victoria sits , where there was a British naval base in the late 19th century. Now its gun emplacement’s are empty but it does tell a story of imperial power, and also of imagined enemies – it never fired a shot in anger !
There were lots of similarities between the work of Parks Canada and that of Historic Scotland and making – and learning from – those comparisons was the reason for reaching our furthest west.
Then it was time to start the journey home, geographically speaking for each of our steps now is eastwards. So from the floatplane terminal in Victoria ( a lovely spot)img_4297 I flew back to Vancouver and dsc03847on to a meeting with the Mayor, which included the Deputy Mayor and a city councillor. His administration has only recently come into office and is tackling all sorts of issues including city wide preparations for the Olympic Games. Like all cities Vancouver is also highly aspirational in terms of being green – perhaps more so than some, because it is even attempting to introduce low power, low emission LCD street lighting. It has already converted all its traffic lights to LCD.
The next stop was a quick bite to eat at Granville Island, a wonderfully eclectic place full of art and craft galleries, food and produce stalls , flowers and many, many tourists. In the midst of it all is the Emily Carr University of Art & Design where our group met the President & Vice Chancellor Ron Burnett (who works closely with the art schools in Glasgow and Edinburgh) and then were invited to tour some of the classes.
In the first of them we were confronted with a bouran decorated by saltires and Native American symbols , and the inspirational Xwalacktun who has been responsible for no less than 30 totem poles IN SCOTLAND including the one at Prestonpans opposite the Goth, where I was two weeks ago. He showed me a picture of him at work in Glenrothes, showing Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Grant (the Council Leader in Fife) how to make their impression on a piece of Douglas Fir.dsc03857 He introduced us to a student who was working on his very personal design for a pole – and told us he would be in Scotland next year. I promised him a tree to work on!
We also saw an extraordinary computer based visual effects studio where we all donned 3D glasses and could almost touch the tulips that just a second before had been flat on a screen in front of us.
Now there is a brief down time before the final formal event of the trip – a reception jointly hosted by Simon Fraser University and Scottish Development International to mark the end of Scotland Week here in a suddenly sunny Vancouver.
Tomorrow I hope to post some reflections on the trip and over the next few days theimg_4330 site will be updated with some press coverage and anything else that comes to hand ! So keep img_4244checking.

Between sea and sky.

9 04 2009

Of course I took lots of pictures on the flight. Here are some of them….


Burns and a’

9 04 2009


The picture above is Canada from the air – and what a sight.   For most of the flight there was a clear view of the land (and lakes) below .   The scale is vast and, as you can see, winter is still here.

But Spring has come to Vancouver.   There is blossom on the trees even if, as everywhere in world, when we got there we were told “You should have been here yesterday !”   Today is overcast and ,we are told, tomorrow it is going to rain.

None the less the city feels balmy compared to the snow flurries of Toronto.  We even sat outside to have coffee between arriving at the airport and our first scheduled appointment at Simon Fraser University.   The event there was a symposium on Robert Burns and his transatlantic importance and I felt privileged to deliver my take on Burns, the Diaspora and Scottish culture,img_4180 especially as the audience included a number of distinguished Scottish academics.    I was sorry I had to leave after a brisk and informative question and answer but fortunately I will meet the participants again tomorrow when I speak at the closing reception of the trip, hosted by the University and SDI.

Then it was on to meet the President and CEO of the Winter Olympics, Philip Steenkamp.  The Winter Olympics open here on February 15th next year and preparations are well in hand.  In fact it is the first Olympic venue ever to have the infrastructure completed a year in advance.   The purpose of the meeting was to discuss legacy – a key element of an major sporting event now.   Work is well underway on the Glasgow 2014 Legacy Plan and it was interesting to hear the Vancouver take on what they were trying to do with the community and in culture.   I got lots of food for thought.img_4197

Prior to the photocall with Mr Steenkamp we had scouted the balcony of Canada Place ( which houses a Cruise Liner dock as well as the World Trade Centre) and it seemed a good place for a team photo – so here is the team with the North Shore in the background.

Now we are all waiting for the float plane to take  us to Victoria , on Vancouver Island.   It will be my first time in a floatplane and I am looking forward to it; even if those who run the terminal have a taste in muzak that runs from Tom Jones to Norah Jones (all off which is playing in my ears as  I write this.)

Out West

8 04 2009

A quick update:  it has been another early start  and now we’re in the airport awaiting the flight to Vancouver.  I must admit I am sorry to be leaving Toronto – a city which has wholly embraced img_4156Scotland Week as it has for many years embraced Scotland and those who come from there.    The reception we’ve had has been enthusiastic, warm and engaging.  Canada is clearly interested in Scotland, this has been evident from the reaction to speeches I’ve delivered, the discussions I’ve had with cultural and business figures and the media interest.  So far I’ve spoken with Canada’s largest daily newspaper the Toronto Star as well as the National Post . the Ottawa Citizen, a number of specialist magazines and web sites and the Hamilton Spectator.   I’ve appeared on Business News Network and CBC radio and later today I’ll be speaking to the arts correspondent at the Globe and Mail.   I even hear there has been some reporting back home !    Now I am heading to Vancouver and then on to Victoria for the final leg of Scotland Week 2009.  I am sure the welcome and the interest there will be just as strong.

Scots at home.

8 04 2009

What a tremendous evening.   The event was the annual Scotland Week reception in Toronto, hosted by SDI and Visit Scotland in association with the Society for Scottish Studies.   It was standing room only but beforehand I got the chance for a private chat with Dr Kirsty Duncan, dsc03816a first time Liberal MP for Toronto, but a long term friend and champion of Gaelic.   Her fluency in the language  put me to shame but it was great to be able to thank her on behalf of Scotland and to present her with a copy of the Leabhar Mor ; one of the most wonderful recent achievements in the Gaelic arts field and which I was lucky enough to launch (in its second edition) last year in Edinburgh.

The evening blended whisky tasting (courtesy of Glendfiddich) , a Scottish chef ( Tom Lewis) , original Scottish song from the uniquely talented Roddy Hart (accompanied by RSAMD student Heather Downie who was also with us in New York) , a speech from David Hunter who chairs the Scottish Studies Society here, a welcome from Peter Lederer (Chair of Visit Scotland) and a brief word from me thanking all those involved and urging the entire company to come home to Scotland during Homecoming 09 (though not all at once – there are 5 million people of Scots descent in Canada alone and they would therefore just outnumber the existing population!).

The centrepiece was the presentation of the “Scot of the Year” award , which this year went to the remarkable and redoubtable Flora MacDonald, dsc03839who was Canadian Foreign Minister and who now oversees a dynamic foundation which she has set up and which brings help and democracy to Afghanistan.   It was amazing to see her , for I have met her before – in the dining room of a hotel in New Delhi in February 2000 when I was representing the Scottish Parliament at the first Commonwealth Parliamentary Association event we had been entitled to attend.   She is fifth generation Canadian, but fiercely proud of her Lochaber ancestry as well as her Cape Breton roots.

I had the privilege of talking to her before and after the ceremony and she is a guiding light to all those who flag – in her eighties she is off again to Afghanistan on 1st May at an age when some  people would glad just to be able to go out and get the messages !

It was wonderful to meet so many people who were enthusiastic about Scotland and keen to visit us.   But eventually it was time to go , and I finished the day with a quiet but enjoyable meal with the great Scottish Government team of officials who have made this visit possible.      And who, with me , have still got three days to go !

Hamilton to Hamilton…

7 04 2009

The morning started with a forty five minute drive (through the blowing snow this time) to Hamilton – Hamilton ,Ontario that is.    The meeting with Mayor Fred Eisenberger was to discuss film incentives, cultural policy , museums, environment , the economic downturn (Hamilton is a steel town whose mills have fallen silent in the last month as a production “pause” takes place) and of course Homecoming.   Hamilton, like all places in Canada has a healthy proportion of first, second, third and many generation Scots settlers.   Inviting them to visit Hamilton , Lanarkshire – as well as lots of other places – seems a good idea.

Toronto SkylineThen back to Toronto to deliver a lecture on the Constitution to the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto.   There was a lively question and answer session afterwords which included the observation by one man that I was not the type of “wild eyed separatist” he expected.   Good !

After a Visit Scotland photocall (of which more later because I am attending a joint Visit Scotland and SDI reception tonight)  I talked Oysters with Patrick McMurray of Starfish – an Oyster and Fish Restaurant who is the world record holder for shucking Oysters; 33 in a minute.  He lives, breathes and talks Oysters, hasstarfishoysterbed written a book about them and wants to import them from Scotland. I hope we can make it happen soon – there don’t seem to be any insuperable obstacles.

dsc03809 Then a chat with Duncan McKie and a very knowledgable President of the Canadian Independent Record Producers about the legislative system which supports Canadian music on radio and which has produced a huge flowering of Canadian talent.   Worth learning from.

Finally a bi-lateral witht he Ontario Culture Minister, Aileen Carroll at which we talked film once again as well as her Council of Arts and Media Advisers.    It was a useful insight into cultural activity in the Province and she was full of praise – as several people have been – about the National Theatre of Scotland and “Black Watch”.    It has literally swept the world !

Now off to that reception at which I will be presenting the annual Ontario “Scot of the Year” award.  I wonder who to???