Centennial celebrations include commendation to “Mother of Tartan Day”

Community COVID-19 Featured

St. Andrew’s Society of Pictou County is marking its centennial this year and has plans in place to celebrate all year long.

One of the ways in which the 100-year-old organization plans to highlight the occasion is with a special presentation to Jean MacKaracher Watson who is referred to by the local group as “the mother of Tartan Day”.

“This lady single-handedly brought us Tartan Day so we want to recognize her for that,” said Barrie MacMillian, president of St. Andrew’s Society of Pictou County.

The St. Andrew’s Society of Pictou County prepared a letter of commendation for Watson that lists her many achievements and work on behalf of all-things Scottish.

Born May 29, 1936 in Pictou, Jean-Louise MacKaracher Watson is the daughter of the late Angus MacKaracher and Rita (nee Heighton) MacKaracher. She attended school in Pictou then re-located to Halifax when was 22 and did clerical work.

The letter indicates that in her youth she liked to draw and to paint and has been teaching others art for the past four decades. The majority of her paintings are based on Scottish themes.

Her parents instilled a deep sense of pride in and responsibility toward Scottish identity, culture and heritage and she has been relentless in her support of Scottish cultural projects.

Two years after the first quadrennial International Gathering of the Clans in Nova Scotia in 1979, she and her husband, Andy Watson, founded the Pipes and Drums of Clan Farquharson. She served as their president for six years and was a founding member of the Clan Farquharson Society of Canada.

Through the 1980s, Watson promoted the establishment the Clan Lamont Society, the Clan Watson Society, and the Clan Stewart/Stuart Society of Nova Scotia. She was a founding member of the Federation of Scottish Clans in Nova Scotia (FSCNS) when it was established on May 14, 1982, allied with the Scottish Societies Association of Nova Scotia (SSANS).

She has been called a “tour-de-force in the Scottish heritage movement” for four decades.

It was during her time in the Federation that Watson was the driving force behind the proclamation of the first Nova Scotia Tartan Day on April 6, 1986 by then-premier John Buchanan. She successfully petitioned the Nova Scotia government to proclaim “Nova Scotia Tartan Day” annually.

Then she turned her attention to other provinces and within the decade, Tartan Day had been recognized by nine Canadian provinces, many American state legislatures, and was proclaimed by the United States Congress in 1995. The National Assembly of Québec proclaimed “le Jour du Tartan” in 2003. Official recognition by the Government of Canada came in 2010, observing April 6 annually as “National Tartan Day.”

She served from 1996 to 2000 as president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #90 (Waverley, NS) and received the Meritorious Service Award for her work in preventing the closure of this Branch.

Watson has become known for her assistance to people, societies and organizations that are seeking information or direction in “all-things Scottish.” In 2007 she was awarded the prestigious Canadian Scot of the Year Award for recognition of her lifelong achievements in promoting Scottish culture and heritage.

When her husband passed away six years ago, Watson turned her attention to volunteering at Lower Sackville’s community radio station, CIOE-97.5FM and pitched the idea of a weekly “Scottish-hour” that would promote Scottish culture. She developed a standardized music-and-events program called “The Voice of New Scotland” (VONS). It was popular until the COVID-19 pandemic prevented her from recording new programs.

The accomplishments of this dynamo are plenty, lauds MacMillan, which is why the presentation is well deserved.

The St. Andrew’s Society of Pictou County has been visible in the community since 1921 and works to achieve its mission statement which is to preserve, promote and celebrate all aspects of Scottish history and customs. The largest tangible way the group has done this lies within the Town of Pictou.

“In 1921 at a special meeting in the New Glasgow Town Hall, our society approved a plan to erect a permanent Hector Memorial in Pictou.” Unveiled in July 1923, that memorial still stands today.

MacMillan laughs when speaking of his role in the Society. “I’ve been president for many years — I’m on my third term as president.”

The good deeds of the group in promoting Scottish culture can be seen in many other ways in the community. The group funds the annual Scottish dance competition at the deCoste Performing Arts Centre; participates in and donates funds for the kirkin’ of the tartans at the Festival of the Tartans in New Glasgow annually; provides financial awards for two emerging Scottish fiddlers at the annual New Glasgow Music Festival and financially supports the event; provides an award to the Pictou County Highland Dance Association which is an annual championship program; gives awards to the Pictou County Celtic Association’s workshop in music and Gaelic; and provides financial awards to the Na Gaisgich Pipe and Drum Band in support of its youth training program. Annually, the St. Andrew’s Society of Pictou County hosts the annual Robbie Burns Dinner, now in partnership with the Na Gaisgich band, and also hosts the annual Feast of St. Andrew’s.

There are approximately 60 members in the organization who work to preserve, promote and celebrate all aspects of Scottish history and customs.

Other festivities are planned to mark the group’s centennial. If Covid-restrictions allow, a gala Scottish concert is planned for Oct. 23 at the deCoste Centre. “It’s hard to plan right now with all of the restrictions, but we’re doing what we can.”

The group has also commissioned a sign at the cairn in Knoydart marking the Battle of Culloden to designate it as “the cemetery of the pioneers.”

MacMillan said, “We think that’s a pivotal piece of Scottish history that we’re helping to commemorate.”

The St. Andrew’s Society of Pictou County is also helping local resident Brenda Hutchinson with the publication of her book on the cemeteries that contain the graves of the Hector passengers. “We’re giving her a major financial donation for that.”

Other events are in the works to recognize the centennial of the St. Andrew’s Society of Pictou County.