This is Argyll: Oban Bay

Oban Bay Copyright Sue Anderson

In many ways, this is Argyll. The reasons are in the photograph. As with Argyll, historically and in the present, the pulse of life here beats as much on the water as on the road or the railway or in the air.

Here are yachts at their moorings – with Oban Sailing Club hosting the renowned West Highland Yachting Week and the Round Mull Race, among others. Oban Canoe Club may not be visible here but it has over 200 members, canoeists and sea kayajers taking advabtage of the matchless resources available.

Here is a Calmac ferry making its way through the narrows between the north end of the Ise of Kerrera and the mainland. It’s on its way to the Isle of Mull, which it does every two bours – but it could as well be making for Islay, Colonsay, Coll and Tiree  – all islands in Argyll; or to Barra or South Uist in the Western Isles. Other small ferries serve the inshore islands of Lismore and Kerrera itself.

Kerrera, facing Oban at the far side of the Bay, gives it shelter and definition. It is Kerrera that creates the snug sanctuary of Oban embracing its bay, looking to the mass of Mull over the top of the low protective island opposite.

Argyll is as much island as mainland and Oban is the link between the two. It is the most beautiful and the most coherent of the towns on Scotland’s mainland west coast. There is a symmetry in its structure: the two piers, north and south, literally flanking the town; the heights of Pulpit Hill on its southern wing; the crowning folly of McCaig’s Tower on its eastern skyline; the strength of the Cathedral almost on the water on the north shore of the bay; the skeletal MacDougall Castle, Dunollie, on the hill as the bay turns in the north to Ganavan Sands.

During the second World War Oban was a pretty busy place. The port was used by the Royal and Merchant Navies. An air raid shelter remains in the centre of the town. The air strip built then for the RAF at North Connell is now Oban Airport, hosting the Argyll Air Service operated by Highland Airways.

Services from here run to the islands of Colonsay, Coll and Tiree, ferrying residents and visitors and making it possible for island children studying in Oban to get home at the weekend. Tiree Airport is also reached from Glasgow.

Loch Lomond Seaplanes runs scheduled services from the Clyde in central Glasgow to Oban Bay and on to Tobermory on Mull.

The geographical dispersal of Argyll, with its islands and with its great mainland landmass shredded by sea lochs and freshwater lochs has bred a cluster of localised centres. It obstructs the developent of a single centre. Nevertheless, Oban is the heart of Argyll. It brings its people together and its physical nature and location is representative of this place.

Oban Bay Copyright Sue Anderson

Copyright: Sue Anderson, Images may not be reproduced without prior permission from Sue Anderson.

This is Argyll: Kiloran Bay, Colonsay

Kiloran Bay, Colonsay Copyright Sue Anderson

As you approach from the ferry Colonsay can look quite stark, but from the air, or from the ground once you’re there, it’s very beautiful. Colonsay has a green heart and some of the best white-sand beaches in the Hebrides. This photograph, by copyright holder Sue Anderson of Island Focus, shows  Kiloran Bay with its beach typical of Colonsay.

Colonsay is one of a group of Inner Hebridean islands, the outrigger to Islay and Jura. It can be reached by CalMac ferry into Scalasaig and by air from Oban. The new Argyll Air Service, operated by Highland Airways, gets schoolchildren from the island to school in Oban and back home for weekends far ore often than used to be possible. Colonsay’s relatively exposed location makes winter ferries vunerable to cancellation.

The air journey is stunning if you get the visibility. The Islander place doesn’t fly high so you see an entire sequence of Argyll’s islands.  Among them, there’s the slender Lismore, the massy Mull and Jura, south west of Colonsay, with the unmistakeable landmarks of its mountains, the Paps of Jura.

Colosay has a rich cultural life, with an emphasis on literature and music. It has its own journal – The Corncrake – its name a reminder of the wildlife that is one of the island’s enduring attractions. It has a pretty legendary bookshop and a publishing company, House of Lochar. It has a music festival, Ceol Cholasa, about to move into its second year. And it has a half marathon attracting runners from afar.

Then it has the Gardens of Colonsay House and the lovely satellite island of Oronsay, reached by causeway when the tide permits.

And it has a really useful website that, rarer than it should be among many community sites, is refreshed regularly.

In its worldwide ancestral connections, Colonsay is the homeplace of Clan Macfie and of the Colonsay branch of Clan MacNeill.

Kiloran Bay, Colonsay Copyright Sue Anderson

Copyright: Sue Anderson, Images may not be reproduced without prior permission from Sue Anderson.

This is Argyll: Lismore Lighthouse

Lismore Lighthouse Copyright Sue Anderson

This photograph is by copyright holder Sue Anderson of Island Focus. It shows the lighthouse south of the Argyll Isle of Lismore, sited on Eilean Musdile, separated from Lismore by a quarter-mile wide sound.

The island, then called Mansedale, is about ten acres and was bought by the Commissioners of Lights in 1830 from Charles Campbell of Combie.

Designed by the patriarch – literally, since his sons and grandsons succeeded him – of Scotland’s lighthouses, Robert Stevenson and built by James Smith of Inverness for £4,260, the light went onstream in 1833.

Given Stevenson’s epic first construction of a lighthouse on the fearsome Bell Rock – or Inchcape rock – eleven miles off the Angus east coast, Lismore will have een a relatively comfortable billet.

The white tower of the Lismore lighthouse is 26 metres high with the height or the light itself at 31 metres. It has a nominal visibility of 17 miles with a white light flashing every ten seconds.

At its opening it was anticipated to be of great value to the many ships coming through the Sounds of Islay, Luing and Mull. It also opened up the Firth of Lorne and Loch Linnhe, the western approaches to the Caledonian Canal.

Robert Selkirk, a descendant of Alexander Selkirk – the marooned Scots sailor who was is thought to have inspired Daniel Defoe in writing Robinson Crusoe – was the first keeper of the Lismore Light.

During the first World War, two keepers at Lismore managed, in the most difficult circumstances, to rescue two airmen clinging to the wreckage of their plane in the water.

In June 1965 the keepers were wth drawn after the light had been convereted to automatic operation.

Lismore Lighthouse Copyright Sue Anderson

Copyright: Sue Anderson, Images may not be reproduced without prior permission from Sue Anderson.

Argyll streams to SAMS marine biology Open Day at Dunstaffnage

Plankton modelsWho ever thought science was boring and who could have imagined the fascinations revealed yesterday (7th March) to the biggest ever audience for the Open Day at Dunstaffnage at the Scottish Association of Marine Sciences (SAMS).

People of all ages, with and without scientific knowledge, got up (very) close to a bewildering variety of marine species and organisms, researches and kit.

They interrogated the staff and students manning the exhibits, watches videos on research projects and Arctic research expeditions, saw a collection of boys toys that would give Jeremy Clarkson food for thought, were awed at the serious purposes of these exhibits and got a glimpse of research on the move on SAMS research ships.

Micro Algae feed fish SAMS kid & Sea UrchinChildren held sea urchins, watched Sea Cucumbers see off the opposition with a cloud of white gloop, guessed at the meaning of eco labels, fed ‘fish’ with their own colourings of the mesmeric variety of shapes of micro-algae and named six ground breaking ice-research buoys that they – and all of us – will be able to track on Google Earth for the next ten years.

Get your head around some of this:

  • SAMS is the UK’s leading marine biology research establishment.
  • It is the third biggest ice rsearch establishment.
  • It has built, in Loch Linnhe – between the Isle of Lismore and the mainland, the largest artificial reef in Europe and possibly in the world. It can contribute to as varied fields as the development of surfing waves to lobster farming.
  • Within a year it will mount a research expedition to the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean – the deepest place in the oceans and the lowest place in the world, at 11 kilometres. This expedition will see the first lander (a piece of equipment that lands on the sea bed to conduct various measurements) ever to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
  • The SAMS community is multinational, with expertise from all over the world coming together at the Dunstaffnage HQ and with its scientists regularly leading and joining research teams of international composition.
  • SAMS advises the Scottish Government.
  • It works for the Food Standards Agency (FSA), monitoring water and marine organisms all around Scottish waters.
  • It has developed the capacity to farm sea urchins
  • SAMS main research ship, the RV Calanus, works mainly in Scottish inshore waters but goes as far out as the Tiree Passage and the Stanton Banks (south of the Outer Hebrides and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). This far out is at the extreme limit of the Calanus’s capacity.
  • The Leverhulme Foundation funds an artist-in-residence at Dunstaffnage – Victoria Clare Bernie.

SAMS Young EinsteinSAMS barnaclesPerhaps the greatest privilege of the day was to see at first hand a large group of specialist scientists, at the top of their fields, working together with obvious enjoyment, energy and pride – and all able and interested to talk intelligibly to non-scientists. Now if bureaucrats and IT people could only do the same…

The poet WB Yeats said ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’ and the SAMS staff proved that one bigtime. It’s only those who don’t really know what they’re talking about – or who have little to say in the first place – who cannot or will not be plain speaking. Yesterday saw people find out about the most complex marine biology researches, understand what they were about and why they were important – and being utterly wonderstruck. Now that’s a class act.

From its base in Argyll, SAMS is leading international research in, among many other things, aspects of climate change and renewable energy development, including the production of biofuels. Everybody know that these two issues are among the hottest topics in the world today.

Research Cruises

RRS James Clark Ross at RotheraThe SAMS scientists call them ‘cruises’, but anything less like a cruise liner would be hard to find. Anuschka Miller, SAMS’ Press Officer and herself a scientist, descried life aboard a research ship as ‘like Big Brother – except that you can’t vote anyone off”. These are expensive and intensive expeditions where everyone’s work and careeers are on the line. Pressure on time and resources is quite extreme.Tensions can run quite high. Compatibility and tolerance are essential.

Packing for these cruises is not like throwing a few t-shirts, jeans and swimmers into a bag and taking off. All the equipment and all the materials needed have to be assembled and transported. If the smallest of insignificant things is not there, its absence can preudice an entire research opportunity. Annie Glud, a Dane working in the geochemistry lab and responsible for making the microbes the scientists use, is also responsible for packing for a lot of the research cruises. She says it is down to making careful and comprehensive lists and checking every item.

SAMS sometimes charters the research ice-breaking ship, the James Clark Ross, which normally works in the Antarctic and then has to come north to the Arctic which is the base for much of SAMS researches. The James Clark Ross has some of the UK’s most advanced facilities for oceanographic research. If the SAMS team does not need all of the places on the ship, these are offered to scientists with similar interests and projects from other interational ice  research establishments. With the ‘Big Brother’ factor in mind, it’s obviously important to make as sure as you can that all those on board will get on.

Arctic Ice Research

Jeremy Wilkinson with Arctic buoysLed by Dr Jeremy Wilkinson (second row on the far left) , this project is about to deploy six specially created research buoys in the Arctic ice. These will take various measurements and transmit the data back to Dunstaffnage. The project is about mapping the movement of the Arctic ice and of the waters in its approaches. Over the ten-year lifespan of the buoys’ batteries, this work will tell us a lot about global warming, its impact on the ice fields and some of its consequences.

The buoys contain batteries capable of seeing them through the periods of 24-hour darkness to the point each year – for ten years – where the sun will charge their parallel solar batteries.

Dr Wilkinson will deploy the buoys, spend a month in the Arctic on oher research work ad then come back to Dunstaffnage where he will progressively track the shifting positions of the buoys and

This is the project where schools and children around Dunstafffmage are naming ech of the six buoys. Within two months, the SAMS website will carry a link to Google Earth, enabling each of these six buoys to be tracked by anyone. The children who named them will be able to follow their movements with the ice and in the water as the ice melts. Dr Wilkinson will then be going into local schools to keep them in touch with what the project is discovering.

The Mariana Trench Expedition

ROV into waterLed by Dane, Dr Ronnie Glud with Dr Henrik Stahl, both researchers in sediment bio-geochemistry, this expedition will fly out to Japa with its speciallty developed lander within the next twelve months. They will the charter a Japansese research ship with its own Remotey Operated Undersea Vehicles (ROVs), needed to manoevre the lander into the exact position it needs.

The project will lower the specially developed lander to the botto of the Mariana trench – a first in marine research – and the ROV will move it into the exact porition required and activate it by pressing on a special switch.

This lander (a benthic lander) has been developed and  equipped to withstand the huge pressures at 11 kilometres down. It aso carries special foam buoyancy to make sure it can be retrieved. Sometimes the weights that keep landers stable on the sea bed are abandoned as the lander is freed to return to the surface. Sometimes as in this case, the ROV will actually lift the lander to the surface, retrieving it in its entirety.

The interest of the Mariana Trench – and its neighbouring deep ocean trenches, is to test the logical theory that, with their steep sides, they may be repositories for all sorts of material sweeping across the ocean floor over countless centuries. The lander will be finding out what depth of sediment is down there at the bottom of the trench and what it is composed of. Dr Glud is one of the world’s leading scientists in this field and, with Dr Stahl, the project is likely is intended to add significantly to our knowledge of the evolving marine environment.

Renewable energy research

Artificial ReefSome of the work being done with the artificial reef in Loch Linnhe will contribute strongly to the development of tidal energy harnessing and of offshore wind turbine installation. Much research in this field is designed to measure the destructive impact of invasive installations in the marine environment. As SAMS scientists point out, this specfic research is designed to test the rate and nature of recovery and even of new and positive developments from such installations.

Alongside this research, SAMS is leading a new research project commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).  This will explore the impact on marine species of the presence of undersea installations – both tidal turbine arrays and the foundations for offshore wind turbines. The research is based on developing the understanding of the soundscape that marine species already receive on passage through areas like, for example the Pentland Firth (which alone has 10% of Europe’s potential for tidal energy) and the changes made to that soundscape by the installation of tidal energy generation devices.

Sea Urchin Farming

Sea urchinDr Adam Hughes leads research at SAMS into this development. The initiative is designed to achieve two parallel targets: creating multiple crops for fish farmers; and keeping the marine environment around such farms clean.

One problem with fish farms is that a fair amount of the feed misses the fish and drops through the cages to the sea bed – as do the excretions of the fish themselves. If sea urchins ca be farmed – and SAMS have now shown that they can – they will be the ideal parallel crop for fish farmers. Not to put too fine a point on it, they are not fussy eaters. and they are prized as a delicacy in many cuisines.  Restaurants pay high prices for them, so they would be commercially as well as ecologically valuable.

SAMS Past and Present

Dr Linda, Robb (well known in Argyll writing and drama circles), a marine ecologist who has been with SAMS through its evolution for one year after it began to its present eminence. She says that when the Marine laboratory was first set up, it had thirty of the houses in Dunbeg tied for its staff. That gives a real sense of how important it has always been.

It went through a period of stress when it looked likely to close, with its expertise moved to be centred elsewhere. The the embryonic University of the Highlands and Islands realised what a gem it had in its necklace of potential establishments around the edge of the Highlands and the decision was taken to star a degree in marine biology.

Dr Robb sees that as the turning point in a new life for what became SAMS and was taken forward energetically by a visionary director.

SAMS Lawrence MeeSAMS now has a new visionary director, Professor Laurence Mee who was appointed eighteen months ago and took up his post fully a year ago. Professor Mee brings to SAMS an enviale background in marine policy research – a field he will be responsibe for developing at SAMS – and experience as an adviser to Government.

He is clearly energised to the point of being galvanised by the stellar establishment he now leads. He speaks with enthusiasm not only of the expertise of his staff but of their passion for their work, the harmony in which they work together and of the buzz of the entire establishment.

He says that SAMS is pointing itself at the sort of development where, should it eventualy chose to do so, it could be floated on the stock exchange. Here is a serious research institution with its feet in the water, working on and with issues affecting the lives we will shortly lead as we face to up to our environmental responsibiities – a little late in the day – and with a muscular entrepreneurial drive. This is exemplary stuff for Argyll.

And Professor Mee could not be more right about the buzz that permeates SAMS. Students (like Kirsty Hill from Fort William and Chris McCaig from Glasgow – not the Oban tower), staff and technicians alike all evangelise for the privilege and opportunities of working together at SAMS. At least two current staff members have come through SAMS marione biology degree, underlining its potential for job creation.

Some last fun facts:

  • Every second breath each of us takes is oxygen provided by micro-algae.
  • Sea cucumbers are eatable marine creatures. (Although Dr Adam Hughes has not eaten one himself)
  • The reproductive procedure of the barnacle could become a schoolboy fantasy.
  • The ragworm manages to use two different clock systems simultaneously – the circadian clock (the 24 hour clock we share) and the tidal clock – it can only eat on the flooding tide. (Ask Dr Kim Last, whose work in this field is fascinating and will inform us about ourselves.)

A warning and request for your help to protect Scottish Aquaculture

Scotland is next in line for invasion by an alien species capable of wrecking havoc in the aquaculture that is so important to Argyll. A variety of Sea Squirt, Tunicate Didemnun, has been found at Malahide outside Dublin, then at Holyhead in Wales. While divers at Holyhead made successfully strenuous effort to eradicate, it would be naive not to realise that th species will come north to Scotland.

The Didemnum sea squirt clothes itself vertically around mussell ropes and horizontally on scallop beds. It does not suffocate either but its gloopy brown-into-orange downward trails are very hard to scrape off entirely. When mussells are harvested and scallops hand dived or dredged not all of what Dr Liz Cook descroibes as snot, can be cleared off tem. As the residue dries it literally stinks. Try selling seafood with this on board.

Dr Cook is asking everyone who spends time around Scottish shores, at marinas, pontoos and piers, on boats and cleaning their hulls, on mussell farms and oinviovled in harvesting scallops, to look out for the presence of this material. The snotty brown-orange trails can be anything form a few inches to a metre long.

If you see any evidence of anything you think might be this stuff, contatc Dr Liz Cook at SAMS (01631 559000) at once. Argyll and Scotland – simply cannot afford to let this species establish a presence here.

SAMS White Coats

For Argyll’s film unit, led by John Fife Patrick, spent the day at SAMS and two short video news pieces are published here. See:

The photographs above, from the top, are reproduced here either with permission – as shown – of the copyright holder, Rebecca Martin or under the Creative Commons licence:

  • Models of plankton made by children at Lochnell Primary School. Photo: Rebecca Martin
  • Andreas Day educating For Argyll on micro algae. Photo: Rebecca Martin
  • A little visitor cradles a sea urchin. Photo: Rebecca Martin
  • Einstein Junior and barnacle fascination – with Dr Adam Hughes in attendance. Photos: Rebecca Martin
  • RRS James Clark Ross in the Antarctic. Photo: Tom L-C, Creative Commons
  • Dr Jeremy Wilkinson at SAMS with his six research buoys destined for the Arctic Ice. Photo: SAMS
  • The science ROV ‘Hercules’ during a launch in 2005. Photo: Creative Commons
  • Artificial reef in construction (SAMS ‘ artificial reef in Loch Linnhe was made from material from Glansanda Quarry). Photo: Creative Commons
  • Sea urchin. Photo: Creative Commons
  • Professor Laurence Mee, Director of SAMS. Photo: Rebecca Martin
  • Job done. Photo: Rebecca Martin

This Is Who We Are – opportunity for Rothesay, Campbeltown, Calgary, Tobermory and Lismore

Scotland Canada Jigsaw - Cultural Connects LogoThe organisers of the This Is Who We Are exhibition are making contact with places in Canada sharing these names. This means that both the Scottish and Canadian places will be featured in the evolving exhibition – if they want to get involved.

The interest is huge. Rothesay in New Brunswick came straight back at the organisers with an instant response. It is very enthusiastic about being involved and interestingly, next year – 2010 – is its 150th anniversary. Good connections made between the two Rothesays now could lead to exciting developments for both next year. For Argyll is already on to this and will be covering what happens next.

Campbellton (slightly different spelling) is also in New Brunswick. Lismore, as mentioned in the feature article on This Is Who We Are, is in Nova Scotia. The organisers are making contacts there at the moment. Calgary – the massive oil and gas metropolis – is in Alberta and is already involved in the project. Tobermory is in Ontario, on the Bruce Peninsula and is a lakeside resort with a very active scuba diving community.

What happens is that people in both communities simply take photographs representing their own lives in their own place. Sequences from both communities are then exhibited in the visual conversation that is This Is Who We Are. Suddenly we are no longer strange to each other. We have the sort of knowledge that enables us to go on to renew, make and develop our own contacts, individually and as communities.

This project extends everyone’s reach and its consequences can be enduring if the opportunities are seized with interest on both sides.

SO – Rothesay, Campeltown, Lismore, Tobermory and Calgary, over to you. The organisers have asked us to pass on a direct invitation to you to become a part of this.

You don’t even need a central organisation – although community groups and community councils can get organised collectively and get the images rolling in. Individuals in these four communities can start taking photographs on their own initiative now. In both cases -  email your images direct to Graeme Murdoch at:

If there are other communities in Argyll and the Islands who are aware of places in Canada that share their name – email that information to Graeme and Harry at the email address above.

And you may want to know about the image accompanying this article – it’s the neat logo for Cultural Connect Scotland, Graeme and Harry’s organisation that is creating this project. (If you click on the link above, you’ll see how this image works live and how it says what it means.)

The project will over time, be extended to other parts of the world with Scottish connections. We understand that New Zealand may be the next target – so if you know that your community has a counterpart there, start taking your photographs now and let the organisers know.

Invitation to Argyll

powwowFor Argyll has just published a series of articles to do with the powerful This Is Who We Are photographic exhibition, exploring life in places in Canada and Scotland linked by similar names.

The creators of the exhibition, Graeme Murdoch and Harry McGrath have now issued an invitation to all Argyll communities whose names are echoed in places in Canada – we have already mentioned a Rothesay, a Campbelltown (yes, two ls), a Lismore,, an Iona, a Calgary … and there are many others.

The invitation is to take your own photographs in and of your place – photographs which tell abut the life you lead. What happens in your place? Where does its heart beat? What are its special places? What are its important occasions? Who’s around?

Graeme and Harry want your own individual views – literally – of where you live and what it’s like to be there.

This project has the capacity to build living and productive links between Argyll places and, initially, places in Canada with whom they share a name. The project is intended to move on to other parts of the world where there are Scottish connections of all kinds. These guys will literally trail the presence of Scotland across the globe. The mutual advantages in this are endless and as much profound as practical.

Practically, the project will provide names of people to talk to and places to go and see for people travelling in both directions. Above all things, this stops anyone feeling a stranger in the other’s place..

More profoundly, it will develop a modern belonging – in both directions. We tend to think of people elsewhere belonging here – but they inhabit another Scotland – many other Scotlands – we can discover and belong to.

All it takes is to open communications – share information and images. So get clicking now while the idea’s hot and email your photographs to Graeme at:

The photograph above is of Grame (centre front, kilt) and Harry (dark sweatshirt, behind Graeme) at a Lil’wat First Nation powwow at Mount Currie on their recent travels on this project. Our feature article on This Is Who We Are looks at the curious fact that the surname Wallace is one of the major Lil’wat names.

This Is Who We Are – photographs from the journeys to find out

Harry McGrath  & Graeme MurdochFor Argyll has published a feature article – This Is Who We Are – on the exhibition of that name, the most inspirational of the main Homecoming Scotland 2009 commissions. Its creators are Graeme Murdoch, a photographer and former art director for a series of national newspapers and Harry McGrath, an academic and Coordinator of the Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver (pictured left, with Harry on the left and Graeme on the right).

The exhibition brings together images from a selection of Scottish diaspora communities in Canada – in Nova Scotia, Alberta and British Columbia.

The journey described in the feature – from Vancouver to Calgary, Airdrie, Canmore, Banff, Craigellachie, Coldstream, Mont Currie and back to Vancouver – was one of several the two men made in putting this exhibition together.

What follows here is a series of photographs taken on these journeys by Graeme Murdoch and captioned by him. Together they catch something of the flavour of the rich variety of experiences the two men encountered as they tracked the seeds planted  by the Scots in Canada.

The road east (to Calgary)

THE ROAD EAST:  after a long flight from Edinburgh we headed east from Vancouver. Now we are in Western Canada driving hundreds of miles on the Trans Canada Highway through rainforests, snow capped mountains, and arid plains to places where Scots have been before and left a trail of toponyms – Calgary, Banff, Airdrie, Coldstream, Craigallachie, Abbotsford – for us to follow. Ahead of us is Mount MacDonald, named after John MacDonald, Canada’s first premier. Beyond, the Rockies, and our destination, Calgary. (Photo: Graeme Murdoch)

Calgary Alberta

CALGARY, ALBERTA: the petro-capital of western Canada. The original settlement became a post of the North-West Mounted Police (now the RCMP). Originally named Fort Brisebois, after NWMP officer Éphrem A Brisebois, it was renamed Fort Calgary in 1876 by Colonel James Macleod after his home on Mull. The day after we hit town we appeared on CTV live noon news. ‘I had no idea that Calgary was named after a place in Scotland’,  said Ian White, CTV anchor man. Our story was launched. (Photo: Graeme Murdoch)

Airdrie Alberta

AIRDRIE: the open plains of Airdrie in Alberta. (Photo: Kori Sych)

Bear Cub escape NS

BEAR CUB: we were eager to see bears, and did in British Columbia, but our friend Pam Doyle, the writer/photographer on the Canmore Leader sent us this picture of a bear cub making a dash for the woods. (Photo by Pam Doyle)

Iona NS Church

IONA: East Bay, near Iona. This was the first major Scottish Settlement on Cape Breton Island (Photo by Derek Campbell)

Cape Breton Church in Snow

CAPE BRETON CHURCH: snowy kirkyard in Inverness County, Cape Breton. (Photo: Derek Campbell)

Signs in Nova Scotia

SIGNS: Scotland is everywhere in Canada. This is the north shore road in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. One name not on the sign is Knoydart which is a small hamlet near Lismore. (Photo: Graeme Murdoch)

Lismore cemetary NS

LISMORE, NOVA SCOTIA: The sun lit church cemetery of ST Mary’s RC church. Two lines from a poem on a panel by the church state:
“A narrow creed drove Scotmen o’er the sea,
Their hearts were Mary’s and they would be free.”
by Rev. A. A. MacKinnon

Lismore was once called Bailey’s Brook after John Baillie, a disbanded soldier from the 82nd Regiment, who settled at the mouth of the brook. It is a settlement of Highland Catholics beginning in 1788. (Photo: Graeme Murdoch)

Pictou - Graveyard of descendants of Hector

PICTOU:  It is 5.30am and I wake to the first clear sky since we arrived in Nova Scotia. This is the graveyard on the point outside town where many of the descendants of the settlers who arrived on the Hector in 1773 are buried. The names on the headstones are testimony to Pictou’s  motto: “The Birthplace of New Scotland”. There are Grants, Frasers, MacDonalds, Mackintoshes laid to rest here. (Photo: Graeme Murdoch)

Copy right on all the photographs above resides with the named photogrtaphers and are reproduced here with permission.

This Is Who We Are

Calgary Bay MullWe’re about to describe a journey so start seeing it in your head. The first step is a drive east to Calgary, then north to Airdrie, back south to Calgary, then north west to Banff and south west through Craigellachie to Coldstream.

Much of this is familiar but something’s not quite right. If you drove east to Calgary you’d be starting in the Atlantic. If you went north from Calgary looking for Airdrie you’d be hard put to find it – and if you struck north west from Calgary to Banff you’d land on Barra first.

We’re not in Scotland, of course. We’re in Canada, travelling with two inventive and creative Scots. One is photographer and former national newspaper art director, Graeme Murdoch, who has worked with some of the world’s leading photographers and ‘done time at The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday’. His colleague is academic, Harry McGrath, who has lived in Canada for 25 years and has been Coordinator of the Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University – a name known to every piper in the world and whose pipe band is the current Grade 1 World Champions.

Calgary AlbertaGraeme and Harry are here in pursuit of the most exciting and productive of the inspirations to be stimulated by the Homecoming Scotland 2009 initiative. They’re exploring the other Scotland, out west – and finding out who we are, whichever of the Scotlands we live in just now.

The route travelled on the journey above, one of many on this odyssey, says everything about what the two men are doing. They are taking a set of what we receive as familiar places, then throwing them into an entirely different relationship to each other and to us – and the result is disturbing and oddly exciting. They then reveal ‘the other’, something we know and do not know at the same time.

All of this starts to put a picture together, to show us who we are. As Graeme says, you don’t have to be a native Scot to be of Scotland. An article in Hidden Europe said of Argyll, ‘Argyll is a state of mind’. This is as equally true of Scotland as it is of any place that matters to anyone.

The top photograph is of the Bay at the original Calgary  in the north west of Argyll’s Isle of Mull. (Photo:Scottish Viewpoint) The lower photograph is of Calgary, Alberta -  the petro-capital of western Canada. The original settlement became a post of the North-West Mounted Police (now the RCMP). Originally named Fort Brisebois, after NWMP officer Éphrem A Brisebois, it was renamed Fort Calgary in 1876 by Colonel James Macleod after his home on Mull. (Photo: Graeme Murdoch)

One place and another

Look at what happens if you superimpose the two maps.

Airdrie AlbertaVancouver looks east to Canada’s Calgary and further east to the first Calgary on the north west of Argyll’s Isle of Mull – looking chronologically from the newer development to its source. It’s a reverse experience of standing at the Place de la Concorde in Paris, looking up the Champs Elysees through the Arc de Triomph and out to La Defense where the modern Grande Arche – the imperative of the future, dominates the horizon.

And talking of reversals, this is a world where Knoydart is a hamlet near Lismore.

Scotland’s first Airdrie can put itself in the position of its newer namesake (the photograph above shows the open plains of Airdrie in Alberta. Photo: Kori Sych ) and feel the pull of the mighty Calgary to its south.

All of this drives you to interrogate your orientation and to explore the impact of different relationships. There’s nothing so liberating as ‘What if…’.

Harry and Graeme put their journey plans together and then took off. Graeme describes them both as ‘media tarts’ so when they hit each place on their route, they make for the TV and radio stations and the local papers. It doesn’t take long for the old arterial connections they are after to start running free again.

On one occasion they were on CTV’s noon news bulletin in Calgary after what Graeme describes as: ‘… a 14 hour flight from Edinburgh via Amsterdam to Vancouver, then a 480 mile drive across the Rockies and looking like we’d been up all night, which was not far from the truth’. During the five minute interview, Ian White the anchorman, admitted he hadn’t known that Canada’s great oil and gas metropolis was named after a tiny settlement on the west coast of Mull. He does now – and so do his viewers.

This Is Who We Are

Graeme Murdoch says of the photo below: Now we are in Western Canada driving hundreds of miles on the Trans Canada Highway through rainforests, snow capped mountains, and arid plains to places where Scots have been before and left a trail of toponyms – Calgary, Banff, Airdrie, Coldstream, Craigallachie, Abbotsford – for us to follow. Ahead of us is Mount MacDonald, named after John MacDonald, Canada’s first premier. Beyond, the Rockies, and our destination, Calgary. (Photo: Graeme Murdoch)

The road east (to Calgary)In each community in their tours of Canada – in Nova Scotia, Alberta and British Columbia – the two initiate a photography project among the local people. What they produce will eventually link back to the places in Scotland with the same names and is gradually creating a digital archive of images of the Scottish diaspora.

Graeme and Harry are shaping an exhibition from all of this. It will never be finished because there are so many Scotlands across the world to be connected with each other. But it already has a strong identity. This Is Who We Are is the title of their initial exhibition. It was launched by then Environment now Culture Minister, Michael Russell, at Dumfries on Burns Night and will complete its current cycle in an exhibition at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood on St Andrews Day.

There can be no stronger statement about the perceived value of this work than that it has opened and will close Homecoming Scotland 2009. It is and will be the gatekeeper, the junction, the exchange of experiences, the melting pot, the new Scottish alchemy. It makes it possible for Scots everywhere to see backwards and forwards in a single gaze.

What it has already done is extraordinary. These two men have flown, driven and walked the line between Scotlands. They have been a physical and present link between them. You could legitimately use the word ‘ambassadorial’ but that word summons something more self important than life enhancing. This work articulates the incoherent heart of Homecoming Scotland, giving it meaning, dignity – freeing it to soar.


The men have entered the maelstrom of the diaspora and emerged clutching treasures from the deep past.

LilOne of these was the discovery that many of the Lil’wat First Nation community in Mount Currie, near Whistler – host to the 2010 Winter Olympics – carry the surname Wallace. One of the Lil’wat Wallaces, now a friend, Stan Wallace, told how he thought they had come to have the name.

He believes that Government Indian agents went through the valley to register native people and ‘either couldn’t spell our Indian names or didn’t want to and so assigned us random names’. It seems likely that one of these agents was a Scot who used the iconic Wallace name as one of the ‘random’ names to be chosen.

Harry points out: ‘Renaming First Nation people was common practice and part of a form of cultural denigration that included banning of cultural practices like potlach and longhouses and eventually the taking away of children and placing them in residential schools far from their community. The latter happened to Stan who was taken as a child by the Oblate Fathers and put in residential school three hundred miles away near Prince George’.

Stan’s wife, Shawn Wallace who is the main continuing contact for Harry and Graeme, has her own more direct Scottish connection. Her Great Great Grandfather came from Orkney and was called Bruce – so in her life she has been both Bruce and Wallace.

Harry also says that the youth soccer team from Mount Currie has been to Scotland to play, brought here by Jim Easton who was a professional with Hibs in the 1960s and now lives in Vancouver. The most recent connection with Mount Currie is the This Is Who We Are project.

The photograph above shows Frank Wallace, a Lil’wat traditional dancer (Photo by ShawnWallace, wife of Stan Wallce whose theory about the origins of the Wallace name in the Lil’wat First Nation is above.)

Art for life’s sake

Harry McGrath  & Graeme MurdochThis article reflects only a fragment of the interconnections Graeme (on the right in this photograph) and Harry (on the left) have unearthed and reinvigorated and it makes you impatient and hungry for more.

The exhibition in not the sort of art that any Duke of Sutherland will ever sell to the nation for £50million for passive viewing.

This is an art that we are a part of making, that encompasses us, that shows us to ourselves in new ways, that opens doors to possibilities of all kinds. It is a fluid and living art, responsive to its circumstances, never complete. It deals in the territory between the moment and the infinite. It is not a fixed and unchanging art that draws its audiences to its own certainties.

As he opened the exhibition at its launch, Culture Minister Michael Russell said: ‘This exhibition brings us closer to the real idea of homecoming: it  presents the link that is made by people who are like us but who have faced different challenges. It is  an exhibition that is not only visually exciting but also one that  stirs emotions and thoughts’.

Jim Mather, Enterprise, Energy and Tourism Minister and Argyll’s MSP, said of the project: ‘This is a truly magical project that uses the power of photography to connect and lift the spirits of people in Scotland and Canada. For many of us on this side of the Atlantic we now have the evidence that not just hearts are Highland and Scottish but so too is the warmth of many modern photographed Canadians. Equally, these photographs confirm the great affinity between our peoples whether there are genetic links or not. The photos also show we share values and attitudes and my wish is that long may they continue to bind us together’.

It would be a privilege for Argyll to have the opportunity to be a part of this most galvanic of the Homecoming Scotland events and to engage in this conversation between Scotlands. It has to be possible and it has to be made possible.

The photograph above shows Harry McGrath on the left and Graeme Murdoch on the right.


See and read the companion story to this feature under Homecoming Argyll in the top menu of this site – This Is Who We Are: photographs from the journeys to find out - a piece of photo-journalism by Graeme Murdoch on the his and Harry McGrath’s journeys and experiences across Canada, treading in the footsteps of those whose forefathers footsteps had once imprinted on the hills and glens of Scotland.

See and read too the articles below, from the media in the UK, Canada and Scotland, describing and reflecting on This Is Who We Are. There is little duplication. Each of these adds to what you see and discover about this adventure in Scottish conversations.

Copyright on all photographs above resides with the named photographer and are reprodced here with permission.

So why did Argyll refuse the This Is Who We Are exhibition?

Exhib launch at Mid Steeple DumfriesThere is another side to ‘who we are’: unmotivated, uninventive, unenthused, unambitious, perhaps demoralised. This negative tendency just booted  into touch a proposal that the This Is Who We Are exhibition might come here. (Sorry for the metaphor but it has been a big rugby weekend.)

Argyll was offered this exhibition and the brief reply received from Argyll and Bute Council’s arts department at Eaglesham House in Rothesay was simply that there are no exhibition spaces in Argyll and Bute.

When this was brought to For Argyll’s attention yesterday (28th February and not, we would want to make clear, by the curators themselves whom we had not known before) we were infuriated, despairing and challenged in equal part.

It is infuriating to have evidence that indicates a lack of imagination, red corpuscles and simple get-up-and-go in the only formal point of access to the arts in Argyll. Who could not be enlivened by the generative excitement of this work? Who would not bend walls to make it happen here?

It is despairing to wonder how many other exciting experiences have been offered to Argyll over God knows how many years and have been similarly stifled at birth. This is unlikely to have been the only such incident.

Argyll cannot afford to be seen by the creative industries as an inactive sump. Along with renewable energy, outdoor activity resources and wildlife access, cultural energy will breed a major part of the social and economic development Argyll badly needs.

Yes, it may be that good people are in the wrong jobs. It may be that the appointing criteria are wrong – that the added value that specific ‘charged’ individuals can bring to a job is not prioritised. It may also be that the jobs are wrong, that they don’t offer room for creative and policy input. It may be all of these things. Neither Argyll nor Scotland will grow if we do not engage with these issues and take responsibility for change.

And we can do this

Signs in Nova ScotiaCalgary is a major link between Canada and Argyll. So is Campbeltown. So is Rothesay. So is Lismore . So is Iona. And there are others. This work speaks to and for Argyll. It has to be seen here.

For Argyll was  immediately challenged by the immediate nonsense of the alleged lack of any suitable spaces for this exhibition in Argyll. You have only to read the links to media responses to the exhibition in the UK, Canada and Scotland – given here below and supplied to Argyll and Bute Council arts department – to understand the flexible and informal nature of the work. Its heart is conversational and interactive. It does not need Tate Modern to materialise in Mid Argyll.

The exhibition, as it is formed – and it can be reformed – consists of 4 wall-hung panels measuring 1.6 metres wide and two free-standing displays which are 2.6 metres wide by 2 metres high. These use both sides. There is also an iMovie video. Graeme and Harry have made it clear that they will also do a talk and slideshow in venues too small even for such a physically undemanding show.

So the Corran Halls in Oban could not host such an exhibition? And An Tobar on Tobermory, next door to Calgary, is incapable of this as well, even though exhibitions are part of its normal programme? Aqualibrium in Campeltown has no exhibition space and would have no interest in this opportunity? We’ve phoned Aqualibrium and the answer is a positive yes on both counts. What about the magnificent Craignish Hall or the almost mystical Crear? What about Islay’s Ionad Chaluim Chille Ile  – and the new Port Mor Centre? And what about the Here We Are centre at Cairndow – a perfect foil to ‘This is who we are’?

What’s not possible?

The photographs above are, top, of the This Is Who We Are exhibition at Mid Steeple, Dumfries; and of a road sign in Nova Scotia. Graeme says of this one: ‘Scotland is everywhere in Canada. This is the north shore road in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. One name not on the sign is Knoydart which is a small hamlet near Lismore. (Both photos: Graeme Murdoch)