When Alexander Fraser left Scotland in 1886, he could not have known that he would become a leading historian and a prolific author who would devote his life to promoting the interests and culture of the Scottish community in Canada. Educated at Inverness High School, Davidson’s Classical Academy, Perth and Glasgow University, where he received his M.A., the son of Hugh and Mary (Mackenzie) Fraser came to Canada on the recommendation of Sir Charles Tupper, to take up a position on the editorial staff of the Toronto Mail (later the Toronto Mail and Empire). He also served as editor of the Scottish Canadian, Massey’s Illustrated, Presbyterian Review, and Fraser’s Scottish Annual.
In 1889 Alexander Fraser married Christina Ramsay, daughter of Dr. Samuel Ramsay of Toronto and his wife Jessie Fraser, daughter of James George Fraser and Chistina MacLeod of Galt, Ontario. Alexander and Christina Fraser had nine children, two of whom died in infancy. The letters to his wife and children during his many absences contain vivid commentary on his travels, concern over their welfare and advice about household matters.
During a 1994 interview, his daughter Shelagh recalled the wonderful ceilidhs she had watched as a child, and the continuous stream of visitors including Mme Alice (Fraser) Prevost ( a descendant of Lt. Malcolm Fraser of the 78th Fraser Highlanders) and Archbishop McNeil from Nova Scotia (one of the few outside the family to call her father by his first name). She showed me the rare book Huronia (1909) on the history of the Jesuits, authored by her father (a Presbyterian), for which he was awarded a medal by the Pope.
Alexander Fraser organized the Gaelic Society of Canada in 1887; was its first Secretary, for many years its President. He was a key organizer of the 48th Highlanders of Toronto in 1891; the revival of Clan Fraser Society in 1894; and the Toronto Historical Society, of which he was President. He served as President of the Sons of Scotland Benevolent Association for 12 years and as President of St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto. He assisted in placing 426 families from the Highlands on Canadian Free Homesteads without cost to country or to settlers.
Colonel Fraser became the first Archivist of Ontario in 1903 and continued in that position until his retirement in 1935. He served as Honorary ADC to the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario from 1914 through 1932 and was an Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel of the 127th York Rangers. He was one of the charter members of the Empire Club, a Past Master of St. John’s Lodge, A.F. and A.M. and later an officer of the Grand Lodge. He was a notary public, a justice of the peace, and special representative for the Province of Ontario at the International Exposition at Havana, Cuba in 1924.
He edited or authored numerous books, papers and articles including the 2 volume History of Ontario ; Huronia ; Brock Centenary 1812-1912 ; The Last Laird of MacNab ; History of the 48th Highlanders of Toronto ; The Highland Regiments at Quebec ; District of Hesse, U.C.; The Clan Fraser in Canada ; Simon Fraser, the Discoverer of the Fraser River ; and many others in English and Gaelic.
Revival of Clan Fraser in Canada
Undaunted by the demise of the Clan Fraser organization established in Quebec in 1868 [likely due to the elaborate constitution which envisaged the election of a Chief for the Dominion of Canada and 111 subordinate chieftains of provinces, electoral divisions, counties, localities and townships to represent all the Frasers, estimated by John Fraser de Berry to be about 12,000], Alexander Fraser set out to revive the clan with a less pretentious and more practicable structure.
In the spring of 1894 a meeting was held in the office of the Toronto Daily Mail, at which there were present: Messrs. George B. Fraser, commission agent; Robert Lovat Fraser, barrister; Alexander R. Fraser, druggist; Dr. J.B. Fraser, physician; Alexander Fraser (of Fraserfield, Glengarry), Secretary to the Boiler Inspection Company; W.H. Fraser, Professor of Languages at Toronto University; W.A. Fraser, civil engineer and contractor; W.P. Fraser, clerk, Dominion Bank; Andrew Fraser, commercial traveller; and Alexander Fraser, of the editorial staff of the Daily Mail.
Invitations were sent to every member of the clan in Ontario, Montreal, New York, Buffalo and Detroit, to attend a family dinner. According to The Clan Fraser in Canada, Souvenir of the First Annual Gathering, Toronto, May 5th 1894 (published 1895), about 300 replies were received, expressing hope for the success of the organization.
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The Chairman was Alexander Fraser (MacFhionnlaidh); and the vice-chairs were occupied by Robert Lovat Fraser, barrister, Toronto, and ex-Mayor John Fraser of Petrolia. A picture of the company was taken, which will form an interesting reminiscence of the happy gathering. From the picture, the face of one who was present at the dinner is unfortunately absent, that of Henry Sandham Fraser, and that of Wm. Fraser, although he was not present, as he would have been were it not that he was just stricken down with illness to which, not long afterwards, he succumbed. The chairman noted that the dinner was excellently served although the turnout was smaller than anticipated.
For the second annual dinner on February 25th 1895, the gentlemen were accompanied by lady friends, a departure from the custom generally observed on similar festive occasions, that contributed greatly to the pleasure of the evening. The committee in charge of the arrangements was composed of Dr. J.B. Fraser (Chairman of Programme Committee), Professor W.H. Fraser, G.B. Fraser, R.L. Fraser, Alexander Fraser (Fraserfield), Alexander R. Fraser, W.P. Fraser, Andrew Fraser, Alexander Fraser (MacFhionnlaidh), Chairman; and W.A. Fraser, Secretary.
Those present were Rev. Dr. Mungo Fraser, Hamilton; W. Lewis Fraser, New York; Donald Fraser, Kingston; R.I. Fraser, Barrie; Andrew Fraser, Barrie; Robert Lovat Fraser, George B. Fraser, and Miss Fraser; Professor W.H. Fraser and Mrs. Fraser; Dr. J.B. Fraser and Mrs. Fraser; Alexander Fraser (Fraserfield), Mrs. Fraser and Miss Kate Fraser; Alexander R. Fraser and Mrs. Fraser; Alexander Fraser (MacFhionnlaidh), Mrs. Fraser, Miss Fraser, Mrs. Georgina Fraser-Newhall, and Mrs. Ramsay; W.A. Fraser and Mrs. Fraser; Dr. Pyne and Mrs. Pyne; Alexander Fraser (Parkdale), and Miss Fraser; W.P. Fraser, Donald Fraser, Charles Fraser, Mrs. C.G. Fraser and Master Norman Fraser, James Fraser, Henry Sandham Fraser. Letters of regret were read from E.A. Fraser, Detroit; D. Fraser, Montreal; Ex-Mayor Fraser, Petrolia; O.K. Fraser, Brockville; A. Fraser, Hamilton; P.M. Fraser, St. Thomas; Rev. R.D. Fraser, Bowmanville; and Rev. Dr. J.B. Fraser, Annan.
Alexander Fraser (MacFhionnlaidh) presided, and the vice-chairs were occupied by George B. Fraser and R.L. Fraser, and W.A. Fraser acted as Secretary. The after-dinner programme was interesting and varied. Besides the usual toasts it included Fraser’s Drinking Song, composed by Mrs. Georgina Fraser-Newhall and sung by Mrs. Alexander Fraser; readings by Prof. W.H. Fraser; bagpipe selections by Pipe-Major MacSwayed, and Highland dancing by Master Norman Fraser. A group photograph was successfully taken of the company by the aid of a flash-light, which will remain a memento of a very pleasant evening.