News release

Celebrating Gaelic Language and Culture, Op-ed

The following is an op-ed from Minister of Gaelic Affairs Maureen MacDonald.

Nova Scotians have been celebrating their Gaelic roots with Gaelic Awareness Month since 1996. Activities throughout the province in May have provided an opportunity to honour the contributions Gaelic continues to make to our diverse history and culture. It is also allowing us to rededicate ourselves to keeping Gaelic language and culture alive in 21st century Nova Scotia.

Historically, Gaelic has been important to Nova Scotia in many ways. In the 1901 Canadian census, 50,000 Nova Scotians selected Gaelic as their mother tongue. There were Gaelic-speaking families throughout Cumberland, Colchester, Pictou, Antigonish and Guysborough Counties, and of course Cape Breton Island.

The 20th century was a challenging time for the survival of the Gaelic language in our province. Communities lost their young people in battle during both world wars, economic challenges led to out-migration to Boston and other parts of Canada, and there was a lack of serious institutional support for use of the language. All challenges to preserving and enhancing Gaelic culture.

And yet Gaelic endured in Nova Scotia. Its survival is a credit to the determination of Gaelic-speaking Nova Scotians to ensure their culture and language did not disappear. They visited and helped each other, worshipped together, made songs and music on traditional instruments and continued to tell their stories -- all in Gaelic.

In the early 1970s, the Gaelic Society of Sydney's activism resulted in the creation of a pilot program that brought Gaelic teachers from Scotland to Inverness County. One might see this initiative as the first of several hopeful signs that Gaelic language and culture would endure in Nova Scotia.

In 1996, the Nova Scotia Education Act was amended to specify that "school boards in Nova Scotia must offer core French classes from grades 4-9. Where they are offered, Mi'kmaq or Gaelic may fill the requirement". In that same year, May was officially designated as Gaelic Awareness Month.

Today, government is working with community partners to support the preservation of one of our province's founding cultures. The Office of Gaelic Affairs, created in 2007, has a primary mandate to increase the numbers of Gaelic speakers in the province. The office has spearheaded a program called Gàidhlig aig Baile, or Gaelic in the Home, where the emphasis is on using Gaelic as the language of instruction, ideally in a home environment. A pilot project entitled Bun is Bàrr, or Root and Branch, is bringing mentors together with an apprentice to engage in the language.

And the hard work to preserve Gaelic language and culture continues to bear fruit. In 2010, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II rededicated Government House with the unveiling of a plaque in four languages -- English, French, Mi'kmaq and Gaelic. A symbolic moment, it was a recognition on the part of government that Gaelic language and culture are indeed an important, living element of the province's past, present and future.