Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Scholars, musicians, museums, playwrights and more finding important resources in StFX’s Fr. Charles Brewer Celtic Collection  

March 31st, 2021
The Fr. Charles Brewer Celtic Collection at the Angus L. Macdonald Library

A unique place in the educational world is found inside the Angus L. Macdonald Library on the StFX campus, where the Fr. Charles Brewer Celtic Collection—one of the premier collections of its kind in North America—is providing an important resource for StFX’s Celtic Studies Department and many more from international scholars to musicians, authors to playwrights. 

Just recently when The Highland Village, or Baile nan Gàidheal, wanted to create a display for a new building addition to its living history museum and Gaelic folklife centre, it turned to StFX’s Celtic Collection to see if they could partner to digitize important original Gaelic questionnaires the library has in its collection by John Lorne Campbell, who undertook the first comprehensive survey of the Gaelic language in Nova Scotia in 1932. 

Similarly, musical artists Mary Jane Lamond, Heather Sparling and Mairi Britten (also a StFX Celtic Studies professor) have drawn on the Celtic Collection as a valuable resource in their efforts to create a comprehensive database of Gaelic songs in Nova Scotia as part of their three year Language in Lyrics project. 

And international researchers, such as Dr. Rob Dunbar, Chair of Celtic Languages, Literature, History and Antiquities at the University of Edinburgh, whose research interests include Gaelic in Canada, are often in touch for their work.

UNIQUE, VALUABLE COLLECTION

“StFX is the beneficiary of visionaries such as former President Dr.  Patrick J. Nicholson, who, long ago, dreamed of a “Gaelic Library” and took steps which led ultimately to the creation of the Fr. Charles Brewer Celtic Collection at the Angus L. Macdonald Library. Many others agreed, that StFX was the perfect place for such an entity, considering the large numbers of Gaelic speaking Scottish Highland settlers in the area, and contributed in tangible and intangible ways,” says Special Collections Librarian Susan Cameron.

“The importance of this unique, valuable, and rare collection, to our students, faculty, the local Nova Scotia Gaelic community, as well as a widely distributed network of scholars, is evidenced by the myriad and ongoing use of its resources. It is a modern day success story of institutional support for a marginalized language and culture.”  

Located just off the Hall of the Clans on the library’s third floor, the two rooms that house the Celtic Collection at StFX have been part of the Angus L. Macdonald Library since the four-storey brick building opened in 1965. 

With over 10,000 items from extremely rare material dating back to 1690 to the most modern scholarship, the collection has grown over the years to become the largest of its kind in Canada and is recognized as one of the most significant in North America. 

Special Collections Librarian Susan Cameron (third from right) and Sr. Margaret MacDonell (left), professor emerita at StFX, former head of the Department of Celtic Studies and StFX honorary degree recipient, are seen a number of years ago when members of the Scottish Parliament visited the Celtic Collection 



Ms. Cameron says this collection represents the heritage and culture of StFX’s founders and helps preserve and promote the literature, folklore, history, language, and music of the Celtic peoples, specifically the Scottish Gael. Although the emphasis is on Scottish Gaelic, she says all Celtic languages are represented including Irish, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton. As well, the collection houses some important Canadiana and Nova Scotia history resources.

The mandate of collection is to support the students and faculty of the Celtic department by collecting, preserving, and providing access to scholarly materials in relevant, multi-disciplinary subject areas. The local and extended Gaelic community and other researchers are also served by this resource.

Quite a few Celtic Studies graduates use the collection, as well as a broad range of others. 

For instance, musician Mary Beth Carty reached out to the Celtic Collections recently when she wanted to enhance the authenticity of recording a particular song. Library staff were able to track the song down for her on Gael Stream, Struth nan Gàidheal, Cape Breton Gaelic Folklore Archive digital collection.

They also helped scholar Effie Rankin in her research for her latest publication, "‘Bidh mi Cumha mu d’Dhéibhinn gu Bràth’[I Shall Grieve for You Forever]: Early Nova Scotian Gaelic Laments." Genealogy 4, no. 4 (2020): 118.

Local playwright Duncan MacDonald, who has authored productions such as Ships of 1801, is also a user and StFX Canada Research Chair in Digital Humanities Dr. Laura Estill has recently approached the Celtic Collections about a collaborative project for two new courses she is teaching on book histories. 

 

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