scots wae hae

Kemnay, Aberdeenshire. postcard, circa 1980, but unchanged for a century

The main street of Kemnay: the flinty buildings and people of northeast Scotland found in A Scot's Quair by Lewis Grassic Gibbon.  

My grandmother's grandfather, Robert Reid, was a shoemaker there. In the tradition of atheist, radical, autodidactic Scottish shoemakers, he read and wrote Greek, taught Classics to his bright little grand-daughter Nellie, skipping over his own romantic daughter and her Tennyson.

The lapidary 99%, then as now, was much more complex than a number.  Much is made of the lack of social mobility in Victorian Britain: emigration was the only way to really get ahead, but how many people in our relatively wealthy and privileged society would teach themselves to read and write Greek today, or any difficult language, sitting in some small isolated town with no university courses within miles, no online lessons, just the texts?

The shock of leaving Kemnay for Albert Park, a flimsy town that served surrounding farms east of Calgary, was total.  No one ever really recovered from it.  Kemnay and picnics on the grounds at Ballater, the 'Earl of Mar's children who only get half an egg for breakfast so be thankful you have a whole egg to yourself', the rosewood piano, tea with the Bruces – such things became golden, truly a lost Elysium, compared to 'getting ahead' in Albert Park, which along with the rest of the prairies was experiencing both a wheat boom and a real estate bubble: everyone was building houses, everyone lost their shirts.  

The excavation in the photograph below was about getting rid of a hill in Albert Park to make way for houses.  Some things never change in Calgary. 

Albert Park, 1912. Glenbow Archives NA 2087 1