ANTIGONISH: Antigonish is home to a unique place in the educational world in the midst of the many shelves of books inside the Angus L. Macdonald Library at StFX University.
Home to one of the premier collections of its kind in North America, the Fr. Charles Brewer Celtic Collection has been proving to be an important resource for StFX’s Celtic Studies Department and many more from international scholars, musicians, authors and playwrights.
“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,” Special Collections Librarian Susan Cameron said. “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.”
Recentl,y when Baile nan Gàidheal, (The Highland Village) wanted to construct a display for a new building addition to its living history museum and Gaelic folklife centre, they turned to the Fr. Charles Brewer Celtic Collection to inquire about partnering 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.
Likewise, musical artists Mary Jane Lamond, Heather Sparling and Mairi Britten, who is 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.
Similarly, international researchers, such as Rob Dunbar, chair of celtic languages, literature, history and antiquities at the University of Edinburgh, whose research interests include Gaelic in Canada, are frequently in touch for their work.
Located just off the Hall of the Clans on the library’s third floor, the two rooms that house the Celtic Collection 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.
“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,” Cameron said. “It is a modern day success story of institutional support for a marginalized language and culture.”
The collection, she said, 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, and it houses some important Canadiana and Nova Scotia history resources.
Although the emphasis is on Scottish Gaelic, Cameron suggested all Celtic languages are represented including Irish, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton.
Cameron highlighted how library staff were able to assist musician Mary Beth Carty, after she reached out to the Celtic Collections when she wanted to enhance the authenticity of recording a particular song, and were able to track it down for her on Gael Stream, Struth nan Gàidheal, Cape Breton Gaelic Folklore Archive digital collection.
Staff were also able to help 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.”
The mandate for the 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.
Local playwright Duncan MacDonald, who has authored productions such as Ships of 180, uses the Fr. Charles Brewer Celtic Collection. StFX Canada Research Chair in Digital Humanities Laura Estill has also approached the Celtic Collections in relation to a collaborative project for two new courses she is teaching on book histories.