© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY SALLY COLE
Participants in the P.E.I. component of the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry project show several of the panels they helped to create. From back, left, are Mary J. MacDonald Gallant, tapestry committee chair, Cecil MacPhail, chief of the Caledonian Club of P.E.I., and Aggi-Rose Reddin, committee member. Sitting is Myrna Babineau, president, P.E.I. Scottish Settlers Historical Society. Missing from the photo are representatives of the Argyle Women’s Institute and the Brudenell Pioneers who also took part in this project which is now bound for Scotland.
Mary J. MacDonald Gallant feels strongly about her Scottish roots.
She has done genealogical research, travelled to Scotland with her family and is the secretary of the P.E.I. Scottish Settlers Historical Society.
Gallant is also interested in Scottish arts and crafts.
So, when she got an email last year from a friend, Chas MacDonald in Scotland, telling her about the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry project, she knew intuitively that it was something she wanted to get involved in. Sponsored by the Prestongrange Arts Festival in Scotland, it celebrates 2014 as homecoming year in Scotland.
“I looked at the website and got excited, so I took it to the P.E.I. Scottish Settlers Historical Society (PEISSHS) and said, ‘we should do this’. They quickly agreed,” says Gallant who, with the help of volunteers, formed a tapestry committee, researched the stories they wanted to share and started to work.
The results — five beautifully embroidered panels — speak loudly of participants’ passion for the project.
Committee member Myrna Babineau felt like a fire had been lit underneath her. She did most of the handiwork on the Glenaladale Settlers panel, which shows people leaving Scotland in 1772 aboard the Alexander, a brig bound for P.E.I.
“As I was stitching the ship, I had a real spiritual connection. I felt like I was with them. And because they came, I’m now here,” says Babineau, the PEISSHS president.
Aggi-Rose Reddin was also moved as she stitched the faces and the figures for the Pioneers First House.
“This panel is so much about family that I couldn’t help but think about what our ancestors left behind when they came here over 200 years ago,” says Reddin.
It was also a special experience for Gallant, who stitched Keep the Faith.
This colourful panel features Father James MacDonald, the first priest of the Scots in 1772, Bishop Angus MacEachern, the first P.E.I. bishop and founder of St. Andrews church and college, as well as the Scotchfort Memorial erected by the descendants of the Glenaladale settlers on the 150th anniversary of their arrival.
“I couldn’t do it without thinking of the people who came before us, their struggles and what they left behind. I did it to commemorate them and the faith that they brought with them. I also thought about my dad, Clarence MacDonald, from Maple Hill. As part of a later generation, he helped to keep it going,” says Gallant adding that, in all, over 40 sewers took part in the project, including representatives from the Caledonian Club of P.E.I., the Argyle Women’s Institute and the Brudenell Pioneers.
“Aggi-Rose spent an enjoyable Saturday afternoon with the latter group, hosted by Marion Clark, stitching and sharing stories,” says Gallant.
It was also a special experience for Cecil MacPhail, chief of the Caledonian Club of P.E.I. who, besides getting volunteers to sign up, made a few stitches of his own on The Landing.
“It’s a thread to the old country, where our ancestors are from. When they arrived here they brought certain customs with them and we’re still promoting these to this day,” he says.
Now that the handiwork is finished, committee members
are promoting the next phase of the project.
“We’re putting on the main sewer’s name and the initials of those who helped on each panel. Then, they go to Scotland to the Prestoungrange Arts Festival where they will be stretched, steamed and individually mounted,” says Gallant.
Along with panels from around the world, these pieces will tour Scotland. Then, after this year, the exhibition will be available for tours of other countries that took part.
“We’re thinking of 2017 as a good year (for the collection) to tour Canada,” says Gallant, adding that organizers are also putting together a book with pictures and a write-up on everyone who took part.
“It will be published in English, French and Gaelic. So the show and its creators will be well documented.”
AT A GLANCE
Just the facts
What: Scottish Diaspora Tapestry project.
The project includes the 25 countries where Scots have dispersed to, with each country stitching panels which tell the story of the Scots who left. Canada has 35 panels in total. P.E.I. has five.
Tapestry committee members gathered up historical information and sent it to Scotland for artist Andrew Crummy to use in creating designs for the panels. In turn, they received canvas with a pattern marked on it, a map of the design, a booklet that showed the basic stitches along with a bag of coloured yarn. In the end, it was up to members to look through the bag and see what shades of blue and green they wanted to use.
The P.E.I. Scottish Settlers Historical Society took on this project, working with the Argyle Shore Women's Institute, the Brudenell Pioneers and Caledonian Club of P.E.I.
For more information, go towww.scottishdiasporatapestry.org.