Clan Donald in Canada by John H. Macdonald

John H. Macdonald is the Honorary Secretary of the Clan Donald Society of Canada and is descended from Ewan Macdonald, an old man who carried his grandson, Ewan Og, through the snowbound passes out of Glencoe on the night of 13th February 1692.

Sitting here in Canada, looking out over the snow-covered fields and the winter-bare trees, it all seems so far away and so long ago: Those heather hills, the majestic lochs and the gracious people of Scotland.

It all seems so long ago since that fateful springtime afternoon when we sat in Donald J. Macdonald’s book-lined study in Edinburgh and I wondered aloud why no attempt had ever been made to transport a Clan Donald Society to Canada. Why, since there are more clansmen and clanswomen in Canada than any place else in the world, including the Highlands.

At that, the cunning Donald J. replied quietly: “I honestly don’t know … but why don’t you start one when you get back home?” He said it so quietly; between sips of tea, and so nonchalantly that I was caught off guard. I readily agreed that it would be a wonderful thing to raise the clan banner in Canada, to unite the untold thousands of Canadian clansmen and clanswomen of Clan Donald.

Donald J. then gave me a list of the Life Members of the Edinburgh society, who are living in Canada (incidentally, my wife and I are also Life Members of that organization). “These people will be your right hands,” he remarked as he urged me on. With such a gracious host, how could anyone refuse?

The next day, George MacDonald Banks sank another nail in my coffin. My wife and I were dinner guests of George and his charming wife Esther. Filled with good food and drink, I moved further down the path. Donald J., his wife Bunty and their very personable daughters, clinched the deal. Over another tasteful dinner, it was settled. I left for Canada with the fire, whipped up by Donald and George, burning bright.

But on the plane crossing back to Canada, I was thunderstruck at the magnitude of what I had agreed to. Starting a small Clan branch in some tiny town would be a pleasurable task … But organizing a Clan Donald Society of Canada, which would stretch from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans over an area of 3,845,144 square miles (Canada is the third largest country in the world), involving many thousands of eligible persons … it all seemed an impossible task for one mere man.

But we have started. The beginning is small but the interest is high and already we are starting to spread our wings. This is a report to our fellow clansmen on what has happened to the Clan in Canada in the past months since that Spring day in 1961.

On my return to Toronto, Canada, I contacted His Hon. Judge Ian M. Macdonell (of Greenfield) and Miss Carolyn Macdonald of Sanda. I then wrote to Wing Commander John A. Macdonell of Lochgarry; Colonel Hugh Macdonell Wallis DSO MC OBE, Colonel Paul P. Hutchison ED QC LL.D DCL, all residing in Montreal. Alt the above are Life Members of your Edinburgh Society.

They were most willing to help. And their services to date have been invaluable. But it fell on the Judge and Miss Carolyn to bear most of the burden. I asked the Judge to take the office of President of the Toronto branch of the Clan Donald Society of Canada and then requested Miss Carolyn and Lochgarry to accept the posts of vice-president. Although the Society was starting with the Toronto branch, I felt that Clan Donald would be lacking if it did not include Lochgarry.

I got myself into a secluded corner and ordered myself to be the Hon. Secretary of the Clan Donald Society of Canada and the Secretary of the Toronto branch.

I then contacted Lord Macdonald, Clanranald, Glengarry and the Earl of Antrim and asked them to serve as Honorary Presidents of the Clan Donald Society of Canada. Lord Macdonald, Clanranald and the Earl of Antrim replied quickly with their acceptances and I am most indebted to those three gracious gentlemen for their help and astute suggestions.

Glengarry didn’t write his acceptance. He dropped in to accept personally. One hot Saturday afternoon in August, I was sipping a long and cool one when a telegram arrived from Colonel Wallis in Montreal … Glengarry was on his way to Toronto from the UK and would arrive Sunday afternoon, less than 24 hours.

As it was, he arrived three hours ahead of schedule … completely throwing off a series of newspaper, radio and television interviews we had lined up for when his plane (an RAF Transport on which he had “hitched” a ride) landed at Toronto’s Malton Airport. We still managed to scrape up a few, and Glengarry spent more than an hour on the runway at the airport being photographed and interviewed.

We found a piper to pipe the Chief down the ramp. But it was on such short notice that he didn’t have time to change into proper attire; he piped the Chief into Canada dressed in a business suit. The only piece of anything close to Scottish I could rustle up in a hurry was a Macdonald tartan tie.

On the drive into town, at a speed of 65 miles per hour, Glengarry accepted the post of Honorary President and confirmed our first executive.

Glengarry spent five days here in Toronto, as guest of Judge Macdonell. He then travelled by train to Montreal where he was guest of Colonel Wallis. He visited with Lochgarry, his senior cadet. Then, it was off to the U.S. where he was to be the Guest of Honour at the Ligonier Highland Games in Ligonier, Pennsylvania.

Glengarry’s visit, though it was much too short, did much to activate the interest in the Clan here. His quick wit and charming personality won everyone he met. We hope he will visit us again soon. On his next visit we shall greet him properly, with a kilted piper.

We also hope that the other Chiefs of the Clan will be able to drop in and spend a few days with us. This is an open invitation for them to visit and for any other members of Clan Donald. I know that they, and you, would enjoy this land which got its beginning when General Wolfe’s Highlanders silently scaled the cliffs of Quebec City and fought a battle on the Plains of Abraham to defeat the French and win Canada for the British Empire.

The first meeting of the Clan Donald Society of Canada was held in Toronto on November 19, 1961, at a place called the Irish Hall … we couldn’t find a Scottish one and this seemed near enough. Close to 100 turned out and many more were kept away by poor weather. But the Clan seems to be off to a good start here.

Our next step is to launch a general membership drive here in Toronto to interest as many as possible of the 10,000 clansmen living in this area. I have also started proceedings for the birth of more branches of Clan Donald … in Nova Scotia, in Glengarry County, in Montreal and in Western Ontario. Our building will go on until some day in the distant future when there will be Clan Donald societies from one ocean to the other in this nation.

It is our most earnest hope that Clan Donald in Canada will enjoy the most cordial relations with Clan Donald in Scotland, especially Edinburgh … it was the Edinburgh society which started all of this and we hope you will be proud parents as we grow out of our swaddling clothes.

Before ending this report from across the Atlantic, I would like to pay a special tribute to Donald J. … without his help, encouragement and advice, Clan Donald in Canada would have failed at the start. On his wisdom, we have built.

The Clan Donald Society of Canada

Executive of the Toronto Branch, as confirmed by the membership attending the Founding Meeting, 19th November 1961.

His Hon. Judge Ian M. Macdonell

Miss Carolyn Macdonald of Sanda
Wg Cdr John A. Macdonell of Lochgarry

John H. Macdonald

Mrs J.H. (Larri) Macdonald

Robert McDonell, A.A. ‘Sandy’ Murray, John A. McCaughan, Mrs Ian Sinclair, Mrs Duncan MacDonald, W.M. ‘Pat’ Macdonald, Archie Macdonell, M.A. ‘Murdo’ Patterson, Alex Stark, Albert Macdonald Webb.