The tiny Hebridean Isle of Canna holds an outsized place in Scottish
culture – and in our hearts. Now we have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make sure this extraordinary island and the treasures it holds are protected and made accessible to visitors from around the world.
In 1981, the National Trust for Scotland received an incredible bequest from Dr. John Lorne Campbell and his American wife, Margaret Fay Shaw – the remote Hebridean island where they lived and worked for over forty years.
John, a pioneering Gaelic scholar, and Margaret, a folklorist and photographer, purchased the island in 1938 and together made a home in Canna House. Over the decades, they amassed an extensive archive of audio and film recordings featuring Scots Gaelic songs and folklore, as well as poetry, photographs, and publications. Their collection remains one of the most important archives of Scots Gaelic language and culture in the world.
Since 2006, with the generous support of American donors, The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA has had the privilege to grant funds for critical work on Canna. We’ve underwritten the conservation and digitization of archival materials and funded urgent repairs to Canna House, where the collection is stored.
Today we’re embarking on an ambitious plan to improve access – both physical and virtual – to the natural, built, and cultural heritage of Canna and to the globally-renowned collection amassed by John and Margaret.
And we’re asking for your help.
Heritage and Habitats
Located southwest of Skye, Canna’s small size – only 4.5 miles long by 1 mile wide – belies its natural and cultural significance. The island teems with thousands of years of history. Archaeological evidence suggests human settlement as early as 5,000 BCE, with Christianity on the islands by the 7th century and monastic connections to the nearby island of Iona. Canna’s coastline provides sanctuary to over 20,000 breeding seabirds and scores of other wild creatures, from porpoises and whales to puffins and eagles.
We are committed to protecting the island, its wildlife, and the Campbells’ collection, as well as ensuring the ongoing sustainability of the small crofting community that calls it home. To do so, we must safely improve access, while also fighting commercial development that could harm the environment.
Will you help us protect Canna and its treasures today, so they are safeguarded for the islanders and scholars of tomorrow?
From Pennsylvania to Scotland
Like so many Americans, Margaret Fay Shaw felt a powerful connection to Scotland. When Margaret, a Pittsburgh native with Scottish ancestry, first arrived in the Hebrides to learn Gaelic and record traditional songs and folklore, the community welcomed her with open arms.
One of the earliest female filmmakers, Margaret created thousands of photographic prints, negatives, and films that captured rare footage of everyday 20th-century life in the Hebrides and Nova Scotia. Her steadfast dedication to her work and her adopted island community continues to highlight the meaningful connections between Scotland and North America.
We can ensure this bond remains strong for future generations. Help us protect Margaret’s legacy so that the island and traditions that she and John loved and fought to save do not become lost to history.
Preserving the Campbells' Legacy
A cornerstone of our work is preserving Canna House and making the Campbells’ home, their garden, and their remarkable collection of Scots Gaelic language and culture accessible to visitors from around the world.
This includes an update to Canna House’s mechanical and electrical systems, ensuring the safety of the archive and enabling internet connectivity for researchers. At the same time, historic outbuildings are being repurposed for use as accommodations for scholars. Curators and educators are reinterpreting the house, garden, and views so that today’s visitors will be engaged and inspired by the island’s magic. And vital updates to the harbor infrastructure will ensure biosecurity and attract tourists, sustaining the local economy.
Our goal is to help more people experience Canna’s cultural and natural heritage. But we’re also facing an unexpected threat: the potential development of a large-scale, open-pen fish farm in the Sound of Canna. We now face a fight to protect the wildlife that call the island – and the waters around it – home.
We must meet these challenges now, before it’s too late. Can we count on your support?
Double Your Impact
Generous American supporters, Helen and DuWayne Sayles, have made us a challenge: they will match all gifts for Canna, dollar for dollar, up to $50,000. Their challenge presents an incredible opportunity for us to protect and promote Canna for generations to come – and it offers friends like you a chance to double the impact of your gift.
Will you join Helen and DuWayne in preserving Canna by making a tax-deductible gift today?
Donors of $200 or more will receive an exclusive NTSUSA USB containing a digital file of the film Solas, which has never been previously available in the United States. Produced by the National Trust for Scotland’s Fiona McKenzie, an accomplished musician, Solas showcases the pioneering cinematography of Margaret Fay Shaw. It uses previously unseen film footage and Margaret’s own words to tell the story of her life in the Hebrides and the people she met there. We are proud that support from American donors like you has made new scholarship – like this film – possible. Your continued support now will open the door to even more possibilities for sharing Scots Gaelic heritage with the world. Thank you!