Transatlantic Ties

Travel writer Tiffany Thornton recently visited Glasgow from her home in Halifax Nova Scotia and is struck by the historic links between Scotland’s largest city and Canada including the country’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A Macdonald.



09 Jan 2015
4 minute read

Glasgow, Scotland is more than just a vibrant city that lies along the historic River Clyde. It’s a city infused with fantastic culture, food and architectural delights. It’s a place where affable Glaswegians welcome you at every turn. They are more than happy to tell visitors where to go for the best haggis and a good pint of Scottish beer.

Fortunately for Canadians looking to visit this remarkable city, direct flights already operate from Toronto (year-round), Vancouver and Calgary (seasonal) with Air Transat (Canadian Affair) and Westjet’s highly anticipated new five-hour, non-stop service from Halifax to Glasgow begins operating this spring.

The new scheduled Westjet service presents a great opportunity for Nova Scotians to explore the many historic links between the city of Halifax and Glasgow. In fact, the province’s name of Nova Scotia is derived from Latin and means “New Scotland”.

The ties don't stop there though, and how could they, when the Scots were some of the first to settle in the rugged wilderness that would eventually become the country of Canada. In fact it is not surprising to discover just how many distinctive similarities Canada shares with Glasgow.

Walk through lovely George Square in Glasgow’s city centre and you will come across the statues of many iconic Scottish figures standing proudly, surrounded by the backdrop of stunning Victorian architecture.  One famous statue is that of Robert Burns "the national poet of Scotland" whose work is celebrated all around the world.  Statues of Burns can be found in most Canadian cities, in places like Allen Gardens in Toronto, Stanley Park in Vancouver and Dominion Square in Montreal, just to name a few.

Literary greatness is one of the many things the Scots can boast about.  Esteemed writer and poet Sir Walter Scott certainly falls into that category, and his monument, which was the first public monument in the world dedicated to him, towers above George Square. On this side of the Atlantic you can find statues of both Sir Walter Scott and Rabbie Burns in Halifax’s bucolic Victoria Park.

McGill University in Montreal is a world-renowned institution known for its medical programme and it is one of Canada's most distinguished universities. M.R. James McGill, a Glaswegian politician and merchant who had immigrated to Canada, founded the university in 1821 with money that had been bequeathed to him.

Glasgow is a truly a walkable city. If you take the time to saunter along the bustling main thoroughfare of Sauchiehall Street, you will pass by yet another relation to Canada - the Bank of Halifax, which was established in 1853. 

Argyle Street in Glasgow forms most of the downtown core, offering up great pubs and culinary finds.  It shares its name with Halifax's trendy Argyle Street, which is full of some of the hippest pubs and most popular outdoor patios in the city. In fact, the buildings towards the west end of Glasgow’s Argyle Street look uncannily like her sister street in Halifax. The historic bonds and cultural similarities run deep between Halifax and Glasgow.  Remarkably, Glasgow’s oldest pub is fittingly named the Scotia Bar. It’s an alluring place where Glaswegians gather together to listen to live music, partake in good ole whisky and sing along to traditional Scottish songs.

Of all of the places in Canada that have been touched by Glasgow’s influence however, nowhere is it as strong as in the Maritime Provinces.

Image from Town of New Glasgow Facebook page.

Canada's smallest province, the picturesque Prince Edward Island, is home to the pastoral town of New Glasgow, which is appropriately situated next to a river that is also named Clyde. The neighbouring province of Nova Scotia boasts a New Glasgow as well, which was named after the city of Glasgow in 1809 - the same year that its first trading post was established. Like its namesake the town went on to become a manufacturing hub when large deposits of coal were discovered nearby in the early 19th century. New Glasgow’s town hall is one of the wonderful structures that Sir John A. Macdonald commissioned to be built in sandstone reflecting his Scottish birthplace.

Born in Glasgow on January 11th, 1815, Macdonald would go on to become Canada’s first Prime Minister and one of the Fathers of Confederation, uniting the provinces into one nation in 1867. Many cities across the country are planning celebrations to commemorate his 200th birthday in 2015.  

Kingston, Ontario, where Sir John A Macdonald resided after he immigrated to Canada has planned a bicentennial logo, highway signage and re-development of the existing Macdonald monument. A plaque dedicated to Macdonald’s memory can be found in Glasgow at the Ramshorn Theatre on Ingram Street.

This close transatlantic bond still continues on today with Canadian visitors to Glasgow representing the third largest overseas market for the city in terms of numbers and spending power.

There truly is no better time to visit Glasgow and uncover all the amazing links that bind the city to the history of Canada.

Find out more about what to see and do in Glasgow in 2015.