Culture and Context

Our Scottish Families

The John McDougalls, born of a Highland clan, first raised the walls of the cottage c.1858 using local limestone and dressing its street-side with carefully-matched blocks of gray granite. By the dawn of the new century, a second family, also from the heather hills of Scotland, had taken ownership of the cottage. Newly married in 1901, James Baird and his wife Margaret, moved in and set about "renovating" their first home. The most fashionable of the "modern decor" that the Bairds would add to the cottage were the exotic landscapes and trompe l'oeil ceilings that James's brother Jack painted in the young couple's dining room and study.

Where did these exotic scenes come from? Were they the products of an active imagination or had this adventuresome brother really viewed those fantastical landscapes and witnessed the dramatic events he painted on the walls? Learn more about these beautiful painted landscape friezes.

Join us for tea in the "Frieze room" - see upcoming dates.

Our Neighbourhood - Galt's Historic Factory District

The banks of the Grand River from Dickson Mill to Concession Street were dominated by industrial development from the 1840s. Amongst the factories located there were Turnbull Woolens, the Shurley-Dietrich Saw Company, Getty and Scott Shoes, Cowan and Company, McGregor Gurley Company and closest to McDougall, the Dumfries Foundry which by 1860, when John McDougall joined the staff, had become Goldie & McCulloch Ltd.

Walking Tours wtih McDougall CottageThe company started small, doing general foundry work and employing only 22 hands. Gradually they diversified their products, manufacturing boilers, engines, flour and saw mill machinery and wood-working equipment. By 1875, they had added safes and fireproof vaults to their line and by the end of the century they were employing more than 450 men. The company had the most extensive plant in Galt, covering an area of 4.5 acres and was recognized as one of the leading manufacturing firms in Canada. The neighbourhood witnessed incredible growth over the last half of the 19th century with foundry buildings expanding and workers' housing proliferating along the streets that defined the company property. The 1920s fire plan of the area records that labourers' dwellings were made of frame, some with brick veneers, others finished with roughcast (plaster). Interspersed, were more substantial houses constructed of local limestone or granite like the cottage John McDougall built.

What remains of Galt's historic "factory district" today? The major buildings of Goldie & McCulloch's "South Works" survive as Southworks Mall and looking north (right) as you leave McDougall, you can still see the "belvedere" of the safe works and pattern shop which could well be where John McDougall, pattern maker, spent his work days. Much of the workers' housing still exists on Glebe Street, St. Andrews, parts of Grand Avenue and other nearby streets. Goldie's own substantial house, which at one time could have been seen from McDougall's front door, is now hidden from view by company expansion and later residential development.

Join Cottage staff on themed walking tours of the McDougall area from July to October.

Scottish Oral Traditions - Music

Music was a constant in the lives of the Scots of the Highlands and Islands. Their use of a special form of the bagpipe - the great war pipe - was developed during the 16th century when the clans were growing in manpower and needed a more resonant martial instrument than the harp or the voice of the poets, which had been used of old for the recitation of the Brosnachadh - the incitement to battle. Every self-respecting chief had his piper who specialized in Laments, Gatherings and Salutes. The music they played - the Piobaireachd - was composed in an extremely elaborate style and it was considered offensive if pipers used their instruments for more frivolous purposes such as accompanying dancing.

Music at McDougall CottageThe use of harps, though, lingered on to the end of the 17th century, while the viol, then the fiddle came into wider use in the Highlands. In Strathspey during this period, dance tunes began to be composed for the fiddle and the movement spread. Fiddlers enjoyed the patronage of the lairds and chiefs and some even had their family fiddlers. Sometime in the 19th century the accordion - the box - made its welcome appearance at Highland dances.

Mostly, though, the country folk expressed themselves in song. Many of the thousands of songs that have been documented are working songs, songs to help the people through laborious tasks. An English servant who accompanied his master to Skye in 1782 wrote scornfully that the people there "wasted much time in telling idle tales and singing doggerel rhymes" and that all kinds of labour was accompanied with singing: "If it is rowing a boat, the men sing; if it is reaping, the women sing. I think if they were in the deepest distress they would all join in a chorus."

Among the most interesting of the working songs that have survived are the waulking songs. "Waulking" is the process of fulling or consolidating hand-woven woollen fabric which, before mills were developed in Scotland, was performed by 8 or 10 women seated at a table, rubbing and thumping the dampened cloth in time to their singing and passing it "sun-wise" around the circle. Certain songs were reserved for certain parts of the process with the slow ones sung first, then faster ones added as the momentum of the work increased. This wonderful tradition was transplanted to Cape Breton by the Scottish immigrants who settled there and it is extremely fortunate that at least some of the waulking songs they sang there have been documented by folklorists and musicologists.

Oral Traditions - Storytelling

"In every cottage there is a musician and in every hamlet, a poet." This was no figure of speech when Mrs. Grant penned her Letters from the Mountains in the late 1700s. Scotland long had music and the spoken word among the strongest of its cultural traditions. Poetry, for example, had once been written by highly trained professional poets in the elaborate, stylized metre demanded of the Gaelic language. Wandering bards called "strollers" disseminated their own style of songs and poetry, much of which was captured in a book called the Storytelling at McDougall CottageBook of the Dean of Lismore (begun 1512), which in its own right became well-known and loved throughout the Highlands. But by the 17th century, these professional poets were being gradually replaced by new, simpler and more tuneful poetry-making in Scotland. The new poets came from every rank of life, the kinsfolk of chiefs and tacksmen, ministers and schoolmasters, cattlemen, slaters and crofters. They included both men and women and some among the most distinguished were even illiterate. Between 1645 and 1830 historians report that the Highlands alone boasted 130 poets whose work was considered by authorities to be "outstanding".

The people also had their practiced story-tellers who passed down the oral literature of their predecessors. The evening ceilidh in crofting communities, provided a venue for these tellers. In these communities, the people worked together in the fields during the day and discussed together in the house at night. The ceilidh was therefore a literary entertainment where stories and tales, poems and ballads were rehearsed and recited, songs were sung, conundrums were put, proverbs were quoted and many other literary matters related and discussed. Ceilidhs were held in the houses of the tellers and the subject matter each specialized in was a varied as the hosts themselves. Hector Macisaac of South Uist, for example, was an unlettered cottar but his stories, poems, tales and ballads, apparently, could have filled several volumes. His wife was also a teller who knew many secular runes, sacred hymns and fairy songs.

McDougall's regular kitchen ceilidhs, though featuring primarily music and song, form part of this evolving, time-honoured oral tradition. Check them out the first Thursday of each month.

Scottish Foodways

Scottish foodways are celebrated at McDougall Cottage all year round. Throughout September you will find delicious smells are sure to waft from the cozy kitchen on Saturdays. In September, we cook up tasty traditional treats, testing recipes from our visitors and contributing to our growing culinary repertoire. We're determined to publish a recipe book in future and we're collecting local recipes, family stories and photos.

To get you in the mood, why not try one of Scotland's favourite sweet treats, Oaty Rhubarb Crumble, and learn more about Scottish foodways.