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The past wasn’t always kind

1.   Sending children away from home for school.

   a.   In rural eastern Ontario during the Depression, both my parents were sent to another town for school

      i.   My mother (a farm girl) attended a one room elementary school about 2.25 km (1 1/3 mi) from their home.  In order to even out grade sizes, she was advanced a couple of times and finished at the age of 11

         She was shipped off to town at the age of 12 to attend highschool where she boarded by the week. One of her stories was when she went to a butcher to buy bacon, she was asked “what kind, back or side?”. Her answer was “I want if for my breakfast”.

      ii.   My father (from a merchant background) attended elementary school in a neighbouring (they’re now incorporated together) hamlet about 1.5 km (1 mi) from his home.

         He too was shipped off to the next town for highschool. One of his friends said they used to head off on Sunday evening (by sleigh in the winter) with their week’s supply of food to last until Friday noon.

   b.   Again in rural eastern Ontario, I worked with an up-through-the-ranks patrol supervisor. He’d started work right out of elementary school.  His family didn’t have the money to allow him to board in the “high school” town. School bussing was started the year after but he was working. 1949 was a year too late.

   c.   Sir John A MacDonald’s father wasn’t the most successful in business. The family ended up in Hay Bay south of the town of Napanee. When John was 10 they had scraped up enough money to send him (aged 10) off to school.

   Sending children away for schooling was not a foreign concept when Canada was being envisioned as a country from Atlantic to Pacific.

2.   Unmarked graves of children

   a.   My Father was born during the first world war.  He was the third child of my grandparents.

      i.   The first two lived long enough to be named. One was Barbara and I’ve seen a picture of her being held by her grandfather. The other was Ida.   My father remembers his dad in tears thinking about them.

         I know the cemetery and the general area where they’re buried but the graves are unmarked.

         I had living 5 uncles and aunts. The infant mortality rate in my father’s generation was 25%

      ii.   My grandfather’s family (again in eastern Ontario) suffered child deaths.  There were 5 (infant to 5 years old) who died between 1861 and 1876,

         Their names are inscribed on a 3 generation family monument; no individually marked graves.

         I had 4 great aunts and uncles. The child mortality rate in my grandfather’s generation was 50%.

   Infant and child mortality is sad, even gut wrenching. Unfortunately it was not uncommon. I was born at the end of the second world war and remember the fear of measles, mumps, whooping cough, polio and TB. It is during my lifetime that vaccination for these disabling and killer diseases became common. As a society, we’ve forgotten that life has perils.

The Plaidneck

There are too many Humans

There are too many Humans

Today, I heard another news story of Ontario agricultural lands being removed from production to make room for more houses. The rate was 132 hectares per day (the report said one farm per day, but for those of us in older settled areas, it is closer to 3 100 acre farms/lots per day).

Why are we still growing houses not food.

Too many of us. Probably

Not that long ago, I listened to a radio program about sand. Apparently commercially available sand is getting in very short supply. Sand is an integral parr of one of the most common construction materials – Concrete (the stuff too many “intellectuals” call by one of its smaller ingredients – cement). The article said by a not too future date, 90% of the population (of the “south”/developing world) would be housed in cities. We need sand to build those cities.

Maybe we should look not at not enough sand but too many people.

In my lifetime, the world’s population has tripled (a annual growth rate of about 1.8%).

We are seeing local wars for territory; local food shortages, global changes in climate. Trying to accommodate upwards of 8 billion people in a finite habitat seems to be becoming more and more difficult.

Think of this. Many “western” countries are hoping to reduce green house gasses (GHG) to 50% of the 2005 amounts by 2030. World population has grown 19% since 2005 and is expected to grow another 9.5%. A 50% reduction imposed on a 28.5% larger population is approaching a 67% reduction in GHG (by everyone).

Is it possible. Maybe, but I’m skeptical. After the short lived Covid slowdown, there does not seem to be a will to continue “not doing that”. If population (not just population growth) is not reduced, we are in trouble. If growth is reduced by half, by the time my grandchildren are my age, there will still be over 15 billion people (twice today’s population) on the planet.

There is an experiment where a closed vial of nutrients has a dividing cell introduced. The experiment is designed so that the cell(s) divide every minute and the nutrients will last exactly one hour. Some questions

when is half the nutrient supply left? —- One minute before the end.
How much nutrient is left 5 minutes before the end?
— There will still be over 97% of the nutrients left.

Continued growth in a finite system is not possible

The Plaidneck


Who was Sir John A MacDonald?

Sir John’s family was originally highland. Highlanders were clan based, oral society who spoke Gaelic, not English (or Scots); they were predominantly Catholic. I’ve surmised because of his name that sometime in the 1700s, his family, either forced or for their own reasons left the western highlands (where that sir name originated). Sir John’s father Hugh was born in Dornoch Scotland (on the east coast but still in the highlands). Sir John was born in Glasgow (1815), a lowland city. I’ve seen no record that Sir John spoke Gaelic. They were Presbyterian when they came to Canada.

The family left Scotland in 1820 and eventually settled in Hay Bay (Bay of Quinte area of Canada). They were middle class. When they finally had enough money, John was sent away to school.

So basically, Sir John’s family had moved out of their longtime home, lost their culture, lost their language, changed the flavour of their religion, sent children away for schooling.

There were different major cultures in Scotland; not so much today. We have a habit of lumping them all into the majority “Hoot mon, Scots Wa Hae” ilk. That is a very different culture, but is the one we now envision whey thinking Scottish. With the encouragements of King George IV, Scotland has appropriated the kilt as its national garb (but the small one, not the great kilt originally from the Highlands); appropriated the bagpipe (but most often playing music in the style developed by the British army’s schools of piping) and they speak the lowland Scots, a language that is kin to English.

The highland culture (language and dress) was purposefully discouraged (the Proscription Act). Today, Highland Gaelic is pretty well gone (estimated to be down to 60,000 speakers world wide). The people have been scattered – the clan lands that gave its name to where I live here in Canada was sold off to and the people encouraged to then were forcibly moved.

Sir John came from that background (a people, culture and language) that had to become something else to survive and improve. How is it then so difficult understand a program of boarding schools to inculcate the language and norms of the majority society?

My background.

I am a 5th generation slow propagating Canadian of highland Gael descent. I believe the family from whom I derive my last name left the greater Hebrides maybe two generations before they left the highlands. Our family lore (passed down by a great-aunt who carried our story into the mid 1900s.) is that we came from the Sleat peninsula of the Isle of Skye. There is written record that the family had moved to the north side of the Firth of Forth before leaving Scotland and settling in the Huntington QC area (1925 census). When it was possible, they then moved to Glengarry County ON. The name carrier was a miller (and is recorded as such in the 1852 Upper Canada census) his son a merchant, my grandfather a university grad who also became a merchant; my father was a general surgeon and I am a Civil Engineer. I believe the family came to Canada speaking English; however, my paternal Grandmother’s family (who came up from the Mohawk Valley to escape the retributions for being loyal during the American revolution) spoke Gaelic, but would not pass it on.

My dad was a piper and piped at school and in the military (I play his pipes). He, in the early 1950s, took me to a movie about a highland rogue/folk hero. My mom (from a family descended from middle march Scots) asked how it went. Dad said I think his heritage was showing.

There is an adage (now in English) that the Gaelic society believed you couldn’t be smart if you couldn’t remember but the dominant culture believes that you can’t be smart if you don’t write and read.

I was brought up in Quinte area of southern Ontario – a reading and writing a very English speaking part of the province. I now live in Glengarry County. Here people have kept some of the highland culture. Although we have become a “civilized” place there is still an underlying empathy for story telling.

The lost culture of a people who easily blend in, is easy to forget.

Hopefully, this adds some background to the origin of my thoughts

Now, my name rant.

MacDonald is an English spelling of a Gaelic patronymic. First M’, Mc, Mac (or any other variation) are the same thing; basically what a scribe (probably not from the culture) thought he (yes he) heard. It means son of (patronymic) and we’ve adopted it for a sir/family name.

A simple definition is: Donald is a masculine given name derived from the Gaelic name Dòmhnall (and I’ve seen different spellings of the “… nall” part). Note. There is no ending “d”. That too has been added by the English. The pronunciation is heavy on the “Do” (sort of doe) the “mhn” almost disappears and the vowel in “all” is not emphasized. Think of the Irish name Connell (another scribe’s spelling of the same Gaelic name). It’s COn ‘ll. I’ve listened to the language change as people try to improperly distinguish between the various incorrect English spellings of a good Gaelic name.

The Plaidneck
(and remember, normal is vastly over-rated)

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