Big news for Nova Scotia’s Gaelic language and culture

Thanks to the efforts of many, a language once thought dead, has moved beyond revival, into a full-blown renaissance.

And two recent announcements regarding Gaelic education will ensure the language and culture stay around for quite some time.

On March 13 Premier Iain Rankin announced that the province will provide $1.92 million to transform the former St. Joseph’s Convent and Renewal Centre in Mabou into Beinn Mhàbu, or Mabou Hill College.

The 32,000-square foot building – which includes a dining area, kitchen, small gymnasium, elevator and 37 bedrooms – was built in 1952 and will see upgrades in accommodations, the kitchen and technology.

The campus’ offerings will include a foundation year program featuring broad-based course options, including Gaelic culture and history, an executive certificate in cultural organizations and event management, and an executive certificate in music and ethnomusicology.

Students will receive credit recognition for courses through Cape Breton University.

The president of the Gaelic College, Rodney MacDonald, advised Beinn Mhàbu – which will have students living on-campus from September to April with the inaugural first class scheduled for 2022 – will also provide seasonal accommodations during the peak tourism season.

MacDonald is excited about the potential and he predicted a big change in the community as it transforms into a year-round destination.

The Gaelic College president said the college will ensure that Gaelic culture, history, language and music is a central focus in its programming, as the campus will provide an opportunity for local students, and provide an opportunity for Gaelic heritage, language and culture to be showcased.

MacDonald also highlighted how Beinn Mhàbu, North America’s first Gaelic-medium school beginning at the primary level, will be home to artists-in-residence, and a Gaelic-based internet radio station with podcasts, traditional music and student showcases.

MacDonald noted that between 800 and 900 students access their programs each year, with 70 per cent of their adult learners coming from outside Atlantic Canada, while 70 per cent of their younger students come from Nova Scotia.

Students may come to the Gaelic College for a week in the summer, while some people can complete online courses with them, and others may participate in courses like their immersion program where they receive credit for a full university course in four weeks.

Despite being celebrated, the premier said the Gaelic language, culture and identity need nurturing to thrive and the funding will help promote, preserve and perpetuate Gaelic identity.

Rankin said the investment also builds on the significant Gaelic renewal taking place at the college, on the island and in communities around the province.

Just before the big announcement in Mabou, it was confirmed that Dr. J.H. Gillis Regional High in Antigonish was recognized as the first in the world to offer a self-taught Gaelic literature course as part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program.

StFX student Emma Smith is the first student in the world to complete the course; learning to read, write and speak Gaelic at an academic level, by herself.

She said she went from reading Gaelic children’s books in Grade 10, to reading Shakespeare and very high-level poems in Grade 12, all in Gaelic.

A now a first-year StFX student trying to fit in as many Gaelic courses as possible, Smith said she feels a sense of accomplishment and his happy that other schools and other students now have the same opportunity she had.

To have the course recognized, the Strait Regional Centre for Education (SRCE) said the school was required to develop a prescribed reading list of nine literary works, a timeline for the student to study the course that included 150 hours of course time, provide tutoring, and schedule time for the student to study.

To offer the program, the school had to have: a minimum of two works studied linked to each of the areas of exploration of the course; coverage of at least three of the four literary forms (poetry, drama, fiction, non-fiction); coverage of at least three literary periods; a minimum of four works originally written in Gaelic being studied, by authors on the prescribed reading list; a minimum of three works translated into Gaelic, originally written in a different language than Gaelic, by recognized authors on the prescribed reading list; and works from a minimum of three places as defined by the prescribed reading list, covering at least two different continents.

Darrell LeBlanc, director of programs and student services for the SRCE, explained that following a two-year process and a great deal of preparation, in June 2018, the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) approved the course as an additional option to fulfill the language requirement of the IB program.

Lindsay MacInnis, IB coordinator, said because there are no self-taught Gaelic courses, it took her a year to create an academic level booklet.

Since this was a new course, MacInnis consulted with several Gaelic experts including Sabhal Mor Ostaig at The Gaelic College, Beth Ann MacEachern from Halifax Regional Centre for Education, and Mairi Parr to create the prescribed reading list. The IB Gaelic course reading list was organized around several concepts including culture, communication, transformation, perspective, creativity, representation and identity, the SRCE noted.

MacInnis said one of the benefits in offering the course is that it is more inclusive for students. As a result of the change, Grade 10 students can now take the IB program and continue with their Gaelic studies, MacInnis said.

As the former premier noted about the Mabou campus, these developments are absolute game-changers, not only for the Strait area, but the entire Gaelic community of Nova Scotia.

Although they are separate announcements, these developments are definitely related; institutions will now be able to offer Gaelic courses and programs to students, and their communities will undoubtedly benefit. Not only education, these developments will help spread Nova Scotia’s unique Gaelic culture around the globe.

Concentrating government resources in these areas can offer educational, social, cultural, linguistic, and economic benefits to the province for generations to come.

Most importantly, it helps maintain and protect a language and culture deserving of preservation.