I’ve just returned from an amazing three week trip to Scotland and England to reconnect with friends I made seven years ago when volunteering for The Iona Community on the Isle of Iona, one of the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. Our shared experience on Iona ran so deep that our conversations picked up where we’d left off in 2004. I had expected this instant connection but was not ready for a strong sense of belonging in the UK. I see myself as a citizen of the world, eager since childhood to explore new ways of life in Quebec, South America, Africa and Asia. I loved listening to my maternal grandmother’s stories of the family’s past in the lowlands of Scotland but never became carried away with clan affiliations or discovering the family tartan. My father’s parents didn’t tell me anything about their background so I thought we’d lived in Canada forever. My blue eyes and pale skin said otherwise but I didn’t give my European heritage much thought.
So why do I feel instantly at home in Glasgow? I slip into that gritty working town like I’d lived there all my life in spite of having to strain at times to understand the accent. A social attitude or way of relating to people must have rubbed off along with my grandmother’s stories. Repeated visits to the farm near St. Marys Ontario which my Scots great grandfather bought in 1867 have imbued me with a Scots world view. The generous Scots hospitality was naturally accepted and passed on.
The knowledge gap of my father’s family was filled in the late ‘70s when my third cousin once removed brought us up to date on family history. It turns out that my great great great grandparents left Devon, England, for Troy, Ontario in 1823. Headstones for their parents are in the churchyard in Parkham, Devon, and a distant relative owns and works 900 acres of farmland in the nearby village of Buckland Brewer. And so in the gloom of a wet and windy January afternoon I set off west from London in a rental car to find my ancestors’ graves. The next morning under a leaden sky pierced by weak shafts of sunlight I gazed on the graves of Abraham (1741-1825), Elizabeth (1734-1810), William (1760-1846) and Mary (1753-1833). Lunch with my 82 year old relative in Buckland Brewer capped off my day but not before I learned about his life as a farmer, pilot, insurance executive and associate of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Back in Canada once more I find that the discovery of my British roots gives me renewed confidence in dealing with the daily challenges of my life in Vancouver, not because of racial or cultural superiority but because I know who I am much more than I did on December 27th when I left on my UK adventure. If that’s true for me, pride of ancestry is probably even more important to readers of The Afro News who have chosen to leave the lands of their birth to move to Canada. The deeper the roots the higher the branches will grow.