Hespeler’s Scottish Connection

by Feb 11, 2021Hespeler, history1 comment

Hespeler Heritage Centre was recently made aware of a forgotten piece of Hespeler’s history. At the end of May 2010, an elderly gentleman, Adam Houston, visited the Hespeler Heritage Centre to deliver a number of documents, pictures and a display pertaining to the connection between Hespeler and the Royal Burg of Selkirk, in Scotland.

He was fulfilling a task first undertaken by Mr. Jack Harper, Honorary Lifetime President of the Selkirk Colonial Society, prior to Mr. Harper’s death earlier that year. Mr. Houston and wife were preparing their return to Scotland to participate in the centennial celebrations of the Selkirk Colonial Society. Like Hespeler, the Royal Burg of Selkirk was a textile town.

At the beginning of the 1900s, a number of Scots came to work in the R. Forbes & Company mill in Hespeler. This group of Scottish ex-patriots wanted to retain a connection with their far-off homeland.

In 1909, Thomas B. Williamson visited his birthplace in Selkirk for an annual celebration known as the “Common Riding” (an event not unlike our own Hespeler Reunions). Upon returning to Hespeler, he learned that an old friend now living in Australia, had been home at the same time and their paths had never crossed. Mr. Williamson set his thoughts to conceiving of a way exiles could stay in touch around the world.

In 1910, a group of 46 weavers met in a Hespeler hostelry and led by Mr. Williamson, James Hislop and others, founded the Selkirk Colonial Society. The aim of the society was to provide a means for emigrants to stay in touch with one another around the world.

Membership was not confined to those born at home, but was open to anyone that could trace their lineage back to Selkirk.

In 1911, under their own golden standard crafted in Hespeler, Society members for the first time participated in the “Common Riding Procession”. Immediately following a rousing rendition of “The Maple Leaf Forever” by a choir of elementary school children, the Selkirk Colonial Society’s banner was “cast” at the closing ceremonies. The Colonial Society never looked back …. chapters were formed in other countries and in successive years banners from Hawaii, New Zealand, South Africa, Malaya, and Australia were “cast” along with Canada. It has truly become a world- wide organization.

Selkirk Colonial Society Picnic1916 Hespeler Selkirk Society Picnic

Standard bearers have also returned to Selkirk from far and wide; U.S.A., Brazil, Trinidad, Barbados, Mauritius, Sweden, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Indonesia, Qatar and France.

Today the Society is managed by a group of emigrants who have returned to live in the Burg of Selkirk. Centennial celebrations of the Selkirk Colonial Society took place on “the first Saturday following the second Monday of June” 2010.

Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig and Hespeler Councilor Rick Cowsill extended congratulations and greetings from the place where it all started one hundred years ago. To our knowledge no current members now reside in Hespeler, the Society’s birthplace!

1 Comment

  1. Eileen Townsley Gordon

    I belong to a Scottish Genealogical website and they may be interested in this information. Thank you for the article very interesting.


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