St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto (1836-2021)
The St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto is proud to be celebrating our 185th anniversary in 2021. The organization was founded in 1836 to raise money for Scottish immigrants in financial distress. Canada would not become a country until 1867 which makes the Society older than our nation!
The modern Society has remained true to the benevolent goals of our founders. The organization continues to fundraise through donations and events that showcase Scottish-Canadian culture. These experiences range from online whisky tastings to pub nights and formal affairs like the St. Andrew’s Charity Ball. Everyone is welcome to attend whether you were born in Scotland, have Scottish ancestors or are just looking to meet some great people!
The annual membership fee of $25 helps the Society sponsor Highland Dance troupes and Celtic musicians. These funds also support our bursaries for post-secondary students who are focused on Scottish studies.
St. Andrew’s Societies
The Scottish diaspora has made an incredible impact around the world. From business and politics to science and the arts, the descendants of this small nation have always punched above their weight. Wherever they immigrated, Scots worked diligently to keep their heritage alive. Whenever a number of them ended up in one place, a Society soon followed.
St. Andrew’s Societies can be found in dozens of cities on six continents. Although they were organized independently, many maintained informal links. More of an effort is being made for these groups to work together in the modern era.
Saint Andrew, as patron saint of Scotland, was one of the more common symbols used by immigrants to organize themselves. St. Andrew’s Day (Nov. 30) was most often chosen as the date to gather and dine on traditional fare. After the meal, which would almost always include haggis, there would be a series of toasts, songs and music.
The first St. Andrew’s Society, in what would become Canada, was founded in 1798 in Saint John, New Brunswick. The society provided benefits for its members in times of illness and helped arrange their funerals. Aside from paying dues, members were required to march in the funeral processions of their comrades.
The Toronto Society
The first meeting of the St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto was on May 5, 1836. The settlement of 10,000 people was growing quickly with a constant influx of new immigrants. The young city had changed its name from York only two years earlier.
Many of Toronto’s most prominent citizens were of Scottish heritage. A number of them got together and agreed to form a committee to assist their compatriots who had fallen on hard times. It was agreed that the main focus would be on those who those who were newly arrived. Officers were elected to administer the Society and its charitable efforts.
The organization has remained true to its philanthropic roots. The St. Andrew’s Charitable Foundation has donated over $1 million to worthy causes in the past 15 years. The grants focus on families in crisis, public health, homelessness, food insecurity and assisting newcomers.
The Society still welcomes newly arrived Scots with open arms. We offer whatever assistance we can and introduce them to great Canadian pastimes like skating and curling.
Our First President
The Toronto chapter’s first president was William Allan. He was described as a man of “ability, aggressive force and sterling character”. Allan was born in 1770 on Moss Farm near the town of Huntly in northeast Scotland. After immigrating to North America, he settled in the Niagara region and prospered as a merchant. In 1795, he relocated to the colonial capital of York and was granted 200 acres of land. Allan built a mansion on the property and named his estate Moss Park as a tribute to his childhood home.
The Allan mansion was demolished during the 1960s as part of urban renewal efforts. A large park and community centre now sit on what remains of the land. The Moss Park Armoury was added to the grounds in 1965 to provide a home for several units of the Canadian Forces Primary Reserve.
The 48th Highlanders
The 48th Highlanders are among the units stationed at Moss Park Armoury. The connection between The St. Andrew’s Society and the 48th dates back to the late 1800s. A group of local Scottish cultural organizations came together to raise funds and lobby the government to form the province’s first kilted regiment. Despite being rebuffed on their initial requests, the group persevered and achieved their goal.
The relationship between the Society and the 48th has remained close, ever since the battalion’s inception in 1891. Many of the Society’s functions take place at the Moss Park Armoury thanks to this strong connection. Several officers attend the annual Charity Ball with the regiment’s Pipes & Drums a focus of the evening’s entertainment.
Many prominent Torontonians have been members of the Society. George Brown, one of the most famous Scottish-Canadians in history, served as President on two occasions. Brown was born in Scotland and came to Toronto after living in New York for several years. He became a prominent politician as an articulate champion for Upper Canada (Ontario). Brown played a major role in securing national unity and was one of the Fathers of Canadian Confederation.
Brown was also the founder and editor of The Globe, Canada’s most influential newspaper at the time. The paper was renowned for providing up-to-date and accurate information on world affairs in the era before Atlantic cable. Brown used the paper to support his political agendas including strong support for anti-slavery movements in the United States, Great Britain and British colonies in North America. The Globe would eventually merge with The Mail & Empire in 1936 to form The Globe & Mail, Canada’s leading business newspaper.
Brown is still celebrated many years after his passing. Statues of him can be found at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in Toronto (Queen’s Park) and on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. George Brown College, one of Canada’s largest post-secondary institutions, is named in his honour.
For those interested in a more detailed background of the society and its members, the book One Hundred Years History captures the organization’s first century. A more recent publication continues the story from 1936-2018: Our Second Century: A History of the St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto.
The Modern Era
After 185 years, we are proud to say that The St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto is still going strong. New faces are always welcome on our membership roster and at our events. We hope to see you soon!