Ryan Taylor Scots helped shape Canada


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By Ryan Taylor

Canada's first prime ministers were Scottish. The men who built the cross-Canada railroad were Scottish. It's hardly surprising that early Ontario was said to have 'a Scottish mind.'

The Glengarry settlement was one of the first in Ontario, with refugees from the Highland Clearances in Scotland. By 1851 there were concentrations of Scots in Lanark, Elgin, Grey and Middlesex as well as Dumfries.

Lucille Campey, a Canadian academic working in England, has made a career of studying Scottish immigration to Canada. Her new book, The Scottish Pioneers of Upper Canada, 1784-1855, moves her attention to Ontario.

Starting with Glengarry in the east, Campey looks at the principal Scottish areas along the St Lawrence, north of Toronto and then in the west. It is surprising how many there are, as the many useful maps illustrate.

One of Campey's tools in her study are the fragmentary passenger lists from ships who transported the immigrants. More than half of the new volume is taken up with lists of Scots, with details of where and when they travelled, their occupations, places of origin and the names of sponsoring societies. There were 550 ships which made over 900 crossings of the Atlantic bringing hopeful pioneers to Canada.

The Clearances and enclosures of the late 18th century had disrupted Scottish society. People had left homes occupied for centuries. Emigration societies had sprung up, with charitable intentions of assisting those who were willing to move to the colonies. As Ontario developed, it was a logical place for them to go.

The emigration societies would supply funds for the trip and tools to assist in setting up new homes in the wilderness. Some even offered house plans, but their cosy British cottages bore little resemblance to the log cabins which were actually built.

The Scots were suitable settlers for the Ontario forest. The unforgiving climate and landscape of their homeland had toughened them. So had their poverty. They could stand the snowy winters and hot summers in the new land. They were used to hard work, and prospered. It was hardly surprising that by the late 19th century, there were Scots in so many positions of power and influence.

They remained linked to Scotland, however. When the Presbyterian Church of Scotland erupted in conflicts in the 1840s, which led to its breakup into various sects, the churches in Canada followed suit. Even individual congregations were affected, dividing and forming new groups. At one time there were several Presbyterian churches even in a place as small as Galt (now in Cambridge), each sure their theology was the right one.

Even the notes on the passenger lists can provide a picture of the dilemmas faced by the emigrants. When little Hector MacDougald, aged ten, fell ill just as the Oughton was to sail from Kirkcudbright in 1804, his parents stayed behind to tend him as did his brother Laughlan. The five other children, headed by Angus (17) and Munly (18), left for Canada along with a married brother. The youngest brother was only 2. The scattered records do not tell us when the MacDougalds were reunited.

This is the fifth in Campey's series on Scottish immigration. With their emphasis on the passengers and ships, they have clarified an area of genealogical research which has been very difficult. Anyone who has connections with Scots Canadians will benefit from the way she has brought so much information together.

The Scottish Pioneers of Upper Canada 1784-1855 ($28.95) is published by Natural Heritage Books . It is available through bookstores across Canada.

Posted June 21, 2005
Column copyright © 2005 Ryan Taylor

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