JOHN M. KELLY LIBRARY
The Eclectic Celtic
A Look at the Selective Toronto Celtic Revival
The term ‘Celtic’ was once used, “to describe what people were not – not Roman, not Viking, not Mediterranean, not metropolitan or imperial […] the name Celt is a badge of otherness.” This definition was occasionally used to refer to an ancient culture that had roots in Early Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany. However, it serves little in describing the modern representatives of Celtic culture and their own ties to Canada and further still, Toronto.
The Eclectic Celtic Perspective
O’Driscoll, R. (1981). A Canadian Tour of Celtic Scotland: Diary of the 1981 Journey. File StS 6.3, Special Collections, Irish Arts. John M. Kelly Library, University of St. Michaels College, University of Toronto. This is a printed journal kept by Robert O’Driscoll during an academic trip to Scotland in 1981. It documents a day-by-day summary of the various events and sites that O’Driscoll visited and attended during his two-week tour, with noted special attention on the assorted academics and celebrities he met over the course of his journey.
Dr. Robert O’Driscoll (1936-1996), the late Celtics and literary professor at St. Michaels College at the University of Toronto, demonstrated this very divide in his published journal A Canadian Tour of Celtic Scotland (Image 1), which documents an academic trip to the country where he associated with various members of Scotland’s upper class. Born of Irish descent in Newfoundland himself, I thought O’Driscoll would have been more keen to research the Celtic immigrants who have contributed to the legacy of Canada, especially in Toronto. Instead, he became obsessed with creating a revival of ‘Celtic’ culture in the city between the 1970-80s, researching ways to revitalize the perceived culture of the ancient Celts with the publics’ interest. In this, I feel that he failed to recognize the evolution that the Celtic people have undergone throughout history, resulting in Toronto in the form of the modern Irish immigrant.
The Lineage of a Toronto Celtic
The Irish immigrants were among the city’s original lower class, surging to Toronto after facing famine in the late 1840s. Despite accounting for almost a quarter of the population at the time, they were marginalized for their poverty and religious beliefs, struggling for decades to establish a respected community within the Toronto Ward where they could integrate into the city’s society. The Celtic Revival of the 1970s hardly made any mention of these hardships faced by the living generations of Celtic immigrants, lacking the connection between the glorious Celtic culture of the past and their modern Toronto decedents.
Canada and the Celtic Consciousness: A Symposium [Programme]. (February 5-12, 1978). University of Toronto. Celtic Arts and the Canadian Association for Irish Studies. File StS 6.3, Special Collections, Irish Arts. John M. Kelly Library, University of St. Michaels College, University of Toronto. This is the cover of the pamphlet for the symposium The Celtic Consciousness, organized by the UofT Celtic Arts Society. Taking place between February 5-12, 1978, it inspired several other related events, speaker talks and later a book containing the 55 essays discussed at the conference. O’Driscoll was the convener and Chairman of the committee responsible for planning the symposium.
A prime example of this detachment was clearly demonstrated in The Celtic Consciousness, a week-long symposium that took place at the University of Toronto in 1978 (Image 2). Convened by O’Driscoll, it was the first of its kind in the city, attracting the leading authorities on Celtic culture from France, Canada, Czech Republic, the UK and the United States. Despite its theme and the host city’s deep association with it, the academic speakers touched very little on the struggles of 20th century Celtic immigrants. However, I believe that the symposium did unintentionally serve a greater underlying purpose as it called attention to the need for more reflective Toronto cultural representations. Contemporary movements that followed aimed to reinvigorate this city’s interest in its early immigration roots, paying tribute to those who had worked hard to shape Toronto into the diverse metropolis it is today.
Breanna Stephenson is a first year Masters of Museum Studies candidate at the University of Toronto, new to living in the city. Holding an undergraduate honours degree from the University of Guelph in Art History, Breanna is interested in the management and conservation of historical Canadian museum collections, and their international relations with other world institutions. Her ethnic background runs several generations of Canadians back, but she has known Celtic ancestry from Scotland, Kent and other Nordic countries.
 Kennedy, M. (2015). From monsters to manga
“The definition [of Celtic] was occasionally used to refer to an ancient culture that had roots in Early Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany. However, it serves little in describing the modern representatives of Celtic culture and their own ties to Canada and further still, Toronto.”