P.E.I. Scottish history part of huge tapestry on display

It's a tapestry so big, it can't all be put on display at once. That's how much influence the people of Scotland have had around the world, as seen in the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry.

Scottish Diaspora Tapestry features 5 historic Island scenes, stitched by local volunteers

Part of the giant Scottish Diaspora Tapestry, on display until Oct. 22 at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown. (CBC)

A gigantic tapestry which celebrates Scottish heritage and the influence its people have had around the world has arrived in P.E.I., and is on display at the Confederation Centre of the Arts.

The Scottish Diaspora Tapestry is made up of 305 panels, each with a scene depicting Scottish culture as found around the world.

There are 34 countries represented, and five of the panels came from volunteer embroiderers on P.E.I.

One of them was Mary Gallant ("One of the Maple Hill MacDonalds"), who first got people on the Island involved after a friend in Scotland told her about it.

"I looked at it and went, wow, this looks like a fun project," she told CBC Mainstreet's Angela Walker. "So I took it to the P.E.I. Scottish Settlers Society, and we had a certain time frame to stitch these panels, so we decided we could maybe do two panels in that time frame."

One of the five tapestry panels made in P.E.I., this depicts the landing of Scottish settlers on the Island in the 1700s. (CBC)
But then, Gallant and her colleagues thought the Island deserved more in this worldwide project.

"P.E.I.'s the most Scottish province in Canada, we should be able to do more than two panels, we just gotta get the other Scots involved," she said. "So we decided to try for five, and succeeded. We did succeed in getting the other Scottish groups involved, everywhere from the Caledonia club, to the Stanhope Settlers, to the Brudenell Pioneers, to the Argyle Women's Institute."

The groups were asked to submit design ideas to represent important Scottish heritage events on P.E.I.

The five they chose were the landing of the Glenaladale Settlers in 1772, one depicting the building of a pioneer's first house, a panel to honour the Scots involved in Confederation, one titled Keep The Faith, recognizing Catholic Highlanders who arrived in 1772, and a final one called The Landing, showing the early arrival of Scots on the Island.

Mary Gallant (left) is one of the volunteers from P.E.I. who helped stitch the five local tapestry panels, while Jenny Bruce is the tour director for the display. (CBC)
Then, an artist drew the scene, and sent it back for the volunteers to stitch.

"None of us were professional embroiderers," said Gallant. "We'd done it as kids, as young adults trying a piece out, but none of us considered ourselves professionals. But when we saw the finished tapestries, I think everybody was pretty proud of the end result."

The work is so huge, it can't all be displayed at the centre at one time. Friday the first half is being switched with the second selection of the 305 panels.

The tapestry made it to North America on its world tour this year, and has been a magnet for those of Scottish ancestry.

"I think there's a great pride when they actually see this," said Jenny Bruce, who is the tour director for the tapestry. "I think they're amazed, because it's stories that have been forgotten."

With the tapestry so large, only part of the display can be shown at one time in the Confederation Centre. (CBC)
At each location on the tour, she's also been able to meet all the volunteers who took part, some 1,000 in the 34 countries involved.

"The gathering of people together to actually stitch the work, and research the work," said Bruce. "And actually be involved in the work itself, the panels themselves. The cooperation and organization from one country to the next, it's been quite remarkable."

It's left Mary Gallant with a sense of pride for her Scottish heritage, and for her Island home as well.

"You're honouring your ancestors, your roots, and you're doing it in a unique way," she said. "This has traveled around the world, and through Scotland. So P.E.I. has been well represented."

The Scottish Diaspora Tapestry will be on display at the Confederation Centre of the Arts until Oct. 22.

With files from Mainstreet