The first ever Orkney Homecoming took place in 1999 in celebration of the island’s historical connections with the Hudson’s Bay Company in Manitoba, Canada.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Hudson’s Bay Company was a fur trading business in Manitoba, Canada which employed many staff from Orkney who according to company records of the time were “more sober and tractable (easier to deal with) than the Irish, and they engage for lower wages than either the English or Irish.” While many men returned home to Orkney at the end of their contracts, others stayed in Canada marrying Aboriginal women and starting families.
Orkney Tourist Board realised that there was an opportunity to develop a celebration of these historical links and welcome Canadian descendants of those Orkney workers back to the island for a homecoming. The Director of Orkney Tourist Board said: “The idea came from a meeting I had at World Travel Market in 1997 with the Great Canadian Travel Company. We thought a homecoming would be a fantastic way to mark the millennium and to celebrate the historical connections between our two communities.
“Working with a local tour operator, we developed a package which included travel to Scotland, a special ferry sailing to Orkney, plus accommodation, tours and cultural events on the island. Sponsorship allowed me to travel to Manitoba to promote the event on radio and TV, and before we knew it, the event had gone viral and we ended up attracting people from right across the world!
“The ferry journey into Kirkwall Harbour is something that will stay with me forever. When the ship’s captain announced to those assembled on the deck, ‘The harbour frontage you can see is unchanged since your ancestors left. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome home’ it was a truly magical moment.”
Such was the event’s outstanding success, a follow up Homecoming was organised, creating an ongoing legacy of cultural, social and economic links between Orkney and Manitoba.
Ancestral Tourism takes people on a truly personal journey, which is memorable, emotional and creates lasting, bonding relationships for tips and advice on how to make the most of this year round commercial opportunity visit the Tourism Intelligence Scotland Ancestral Tourism Guide.