St. Andrew’s Societies

Society of St. Andrew Pipe Band

St. Andrew’s Societies

Over the years, Scots immigrants have formed various ethnic and national societies in their places of settlement to preserve their identity, culture, and class. These societies, including St. Andrew’s Societies, Highland, Caledonian, and Burns clubs, followed specific patterns and served specific cultural and social needs. St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, was a common symbol used by Scots immigrants to organize and identify themselves, and St. Andrew’s Day, celebrated on November 30th, was the day chosen by many to gather and celebrate their Scottish identity.

Before the formal organization of Scottish-specific societies, Scottish residents in British North America celebrated St. Andrew’s Day with dinners. These dinners were attended by men who belonged to the city’s business and political elite and served as both a social occasion and a way to reinforce their identity as Scots. The first St. Andrew’s Society in Canada was formed in 1798 in Saint John and was organized as a mutual benefit society that provided benefits for its members in times of illness and arranged their funerals. 

St. Andrew's Society of Saint John

Despite the political influences that spurred many St. Andrew’s Societies to form during the unrest of the Rebellions, most of these societies continued to exist and formed an important community organization for the Scottish elite. However, there was a distinct class bias in the way that they celebrated, and the levying of fees among their membership left out the less affluent among the Scottish communities. Caledonian Societies, which began to be formed around the 1840s, were more popular among these Scots and catered to less cultured pursuits like Highland Games, music concerts for Halloween, and Burns Suppers. 

Associational culture in the 19th century was masculine in its orientation, with groups like the St. Andrew’s Societies and Freemasons open only to male members. Women’s societies in the period were uniquely feminine in makeup and dedicated to more feminine pursuits like charity or temperance. It was only in the late 19th century that women became more visible at St. Andrew’s events, most notably with the introduction of the St. Andrew’s Ball in place of the traditional dinners of the early years. 

Fredericton Society of Saint Andrew Pipe Band performing a concert at the Fredericton Playhouse. The band was lead by Pipe Major Ivan Downie. 1970
Fredericton Society of Saint Andrew Pipe Band performing a concert at the Fredericton Playhouse. The band was lead by Pipe Major Ivan Downie. 1970

St. Andrew’s Societies in the 19th and 20th centuries tended to organize around St. Andrew’s Day, typically commemorated with a dinner and later a ball. Female membership in the societies themselves came at around the same time, with most societies segregating female members from male members until the 1940s. Some societies created “Associate” memberships to classify their members according to responsibilities and privileges.

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