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Note:  The background for this section is faded Nova Scotia tartan.



Portrait of Highlanders coming ashore at Pictou, NS

"Nothing but fire and sword can cure their
cursed, vicious ways of thinking."

The Earl of Albemarle,
Commander of King George's Army
In Scotland in the summer of 1746.

  Lets away to New Scotland, where Plenty sits Queen,
O'er as happy a country as ever been seen,
And blessed her subjects, both little and great,
With each a good house and a pretty Estate.

"Nova Scotia, a new ballad"
  The Gentleman's magazine, London, Feb. 1750.

After Culloden, a vicious 'ethnic cleansing' of the troublesome highlands of Scotland slowly began to gain momentum.  Spurred on by a thirst for revenge by an embarrassed English establishment, this monstrous pogrom slowly gathered strength and was fed by its own cancerous appetite for land and greed.  By the early 19th century, Scotland was laid bare, its heart and soul torn from its bosom, and yet,  beyond the western horizon, a New Scotland was rising from a sleep of a thousand centuries- to become the new homeland of the Scot, a place where a Highlander could own his land and bow to no one, a land where the ancient Scottish flag could be flown freely, a land called:

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Nova Scotia is unique in more ways than one.  It is the only Canadian province with only one major land entry point.  Therefore, a spectacular sunken gardens and tourist park enthralls all visitors at Amherst.  A piper is on duty throughout the summer tourist season and is in big demand for photo opportunities.

 By the 12th century,  most of the land in Scotland had been denuded of trees, exhausted by frivolous kings and lairds, and was not capable of sustaining a growing population.  Only about 1% of most rural area s was actually arable, resulting in continuous squabbling over the precious little productive land remaining.  The situation became worse after Culloden, with the breakdown of an ancient way of life, and the loss of what little security a paternalistic clan structure provided.  Then, at the dawn of the 19th century, a deliberate government campaign began  to 'ethnically cleanse' Scotland of its ancient Highland population in favour of the black-faced Cheviot sheep, the 'four legged clansmen.' 

In the early 18th century, over 10,000 Scottish Highland soldiers were raised by the English to fight against their old allies; the French, at Louisbourg, at Quebec, and later, in the American revolution.  It is even recorded that Wolfe, the conqueror of the French Empire in North America, the very same British Officer who had been a severe military prosecutor in Scotland under the 'Butcher' Cumberland, died in the arms of a Fraser Highlander. Most of those survivors were awarded grants of land in Quebec, Prince Edward Island,  or in Nova Scotia (the acreage dependent of their rank).
The English obtained 'the best of both worlds' in this manoeuvre.  They ridded Scotland of thousands of troublesome young men, and they planted British North America with a committedly loyal British Army-settler base.  Before the mass migration of Highland Scots, Nova Scotia, (which included
P.E.I and New Brunswick), had been settled primarily by New Englanders, whose loyalties to England in the face of an emerging unrest in the 13 American colonies was highly suspect. Consequently, the British were in a hurry to settle 'loyal' Highlanders, who had no love for the English but were dedicated Monarchists, in this strategic area.  Meanwhile, in Scotland ordinary people were starving.

In 1773,  180 Highlanders set sail from Greenock on the Clyde, to Pictou, New Scotland, (or Nova Scotia) in the leaky brig Hector, thereby pioneering the later large scale emigration of Highlanders to Nova Scotia.  Fleeing the overcrowding, starvation and persecution that followed the defeat of Prince Charle's Jacobite army at Culloden, they had two choices, flee or starve.  Many of those aboard had witnessed the tragedy of Culloden and wanted above all to start a new life where Highland traditions and a pastoral way of life were still possible.

They sailed in search of land they could call their own, free from oppressive and arbitrary rule by absentee landlords and vicious rents charged by absentee chiefs for land they could actually call their own.Reconstruction of the brig Hector at Pictou

The Hector's fearful voyage was the genesis of the great flood of Highlanders to the northern and eastern shores of mainland Nova Scotia and on to the glens and highlands of Cape Breton Island.  This was the defining moment from which Nova Scotia became truly a Celtic "New Scotland."  It defined the political, cultural, and legal nature of a land where the errors of 'Olde Scotland" would not be repeated.

Highlanders Determine the Character
of Nova Scotia

In all of Canada, there is one place where being Highland  Scottish is like being part of the establishment.  That hallowed place is Nova Scotia.  Then, if you still don't feel Scottish enough, go to Cape Breton, truly the most highland Scottish place outside of bonny Scotland!  Check out the list of Premiers of that province, and you will find that Scots   Dominate

It has been said there are more Gaelic-speakers in Nova Scotia than in Scotland.  It is the site of a Gaelic College.  The hills of Cape Breton are officially referred to as the 'Cape Breton Highlands .Being Scottish in Nova Scotia is serious business

The causeway between the mainland and Cape Breton is named 'the Road to the Isles.'  There are more MacNeils in the Cape Breton phone books than Smith.  The centre of Scottish fiddle music in the Western Hemisphere is Cape Breton.  And the best known army regiments in  Nova Scotia are: the North Nova Scotia Highlanders,  the Cape Breton Highlanders,  and the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment).  A Piper greets visitors at the Nova Scotia/New Brunswick border and at the Halifax International Airport during the tourist season.  A visitor might be excused if he felt for a moment, upon entering Nova Scotia, that he  was in fact in Scotland.  Well, That is the Message!
In Scotland, poor Highlanders who had the 'temerity' to fish for salmon in neighbourhood streams were, at times, hung from the nearest tree by irate game wardens in the pay of  kings and absentee lairds.  Consequently, Nova Scotia is the only jurisdiction in the new world where every
person, however humble, has the legal right to access to any body of water.

As a property owner alongside the Shubenacadie River, I occasionally witnessed people trudging across my lawn and/or garden carrying a canoe heading for the river to fish or merely to enjoy the river's scenery.  The slight inconvenience of having strangers cross my property at their convenience, was offset by the secure knowledge that here was a land where individual freedom to enjoy the bounty and beauty of the countryside universally triumphed over the petty devices of property owners.

"Then let them once but o're the water,
Then up among the lakes and seas
They'll make what rules and laws they please."

Robert Burns   (When writing about Nova Scotia) 

History of the Scots in Nova Scotia

It is a little known fact that Nova Scotia is the only province in Canada, that by its very charter, does not owe loyalty to England.  Nova Scotia was created by James VI (James I of England) in 1621 in a Royal Charter written in Latin (so as to keep its contents unknown to the average Englishman).  And so the name 'Nova Scotia' stuck.  Its loyalty was to the Scottish court, where selected leading nobility were designated with the title 'Baronet of Nova Scotia.'
After failed Scottish settlements in Cape Breton and Annapolis Royal, in the early 1600s, the disaster at Culloden provided the English with the opportunity to finally pacify the Highlands, which they had long considered as wildly uncivilized. At first Scottish emigration was often voluntary. But as the 'Clearances' began to depopulate the Highlands of Scotland, the northern shore of mainland Nova Scotia and the highlands of the Island of Cape Breton began to swell with Highland Scots.
78th Highlanders, the 'Fraser' Regiment
The 78th Highlanders of Canada during drill in Halifax, Nova Scotia
Soldiers who had fought in the new world had told friends of  its abundance, and profiteers had described it as a land of plenty.  In 1773, 189 Scots arrived at Pictou, Nova Scotia aboard the 'Hector'.  Eighteen had been taken by smallpox and dysentery.  Many of those spared were ill and weary.   To their dismay, and to the dismay of tens of thousands who came later, Nova Scotia offered more forest than anything else.

There was land in abundance but what they had not been told was, it was covered in huge Pine and Spruce.  To those from the barren western Highlands, these trees seemed like iron. After their experiences with landlords in Scotland, these pioneers were not about to be satisfied with a few acres.  These Scots were land hungry!  They cleared trees with a vengeance and built settlements at Pictou, Antigonish, New Glasgow, Stellarton, and  Trenton.

After the Hector, came many ships carrying Scots, among which there was:

the Dove (with 275), the Sarah (with 700),  in 1801 - 700 souls from Loch Broom, in 1802 - four vessels to Pictou, one for Cape Breton, in 1803 - 800 to P.E.I., and eleven shiploads of emigrants from the northern Highlands, where most were destined for Pictou.  By 1803, there were 3,000 people at the harbour and in settlements which stretched for a radius of 12 miles from the Pictou townsite.

By 1803, there was a dependable food supply.  Their diet of potatoes, herring, mackerel, coarse bread, butter, cheese, pork and beef, all produced locally.  Visitors found that children of eight and ten in Pictou were as  big as those of fifteen or sixteen in Scotland.
Wrote one journalist, "I was told by a teacher from Scotland, that the children here would learn as much in three months as they would do in Scotland in twelve.  At the age of ten years they have the freedom of speech and the fortitude and boldness of a Scottish boy of twenty.

As Bard John MacLean of Barney's River, affirmed:

"Canada is our country,
The new land of freedom and plenty,
A good land in which overlords
Do not expel us from the glens."

"MacGregor of the Verses"
Reverend Doctor James 'Drummond' MacGregor

A tall singular bearded man of 27, a Presbyterian minister from the Loch Earn hills in northern Perthshire, educated at the University of Glasgow,  named at birth - James Drummond, (at a time when the MacGregor name was still proscribed) changed his name to "MacGregor" while still attending the University at Glasgow.


His father was James Drummond, who was born in 1716-17 at Portmore, now St. Fillans, on Loch Earn in Comrie Parish, Perthshire.  Drummond learned English while working for twenty years at the theology school at Alloa.  His wife was Jannet Dochart (a MacGregor pseudonym) and a cousin.  Her parents were servants on an estate at nearby Duneira, now Dunira.    James senior  died on 8 January 1801, Jannet died in 1786, while in her mid 70s. 
At Glasgow University and the theology school at Alloa, Rev. James MacGregor had fully expected a call to preach in the Highlands of Scotland, as Gaelic was his native tongue, taught  from infancy.  He was  taught English by his father and Presbyterian minister.  He studied the origins of Gaelic in its different forms, of which he became an authority.  When the General Associate Synod of Scotland chose him to go to the wilderness of the new world, it surprised him, but he dutifully boarded the vessel 'Lilly' in Greenock and travelled with several other highlanders bound for Pictou.
Rev. James MacGregor first set foot in Pictou, Nova Scotia in 1786.  His first impression was of a Scottish loch, but the scarcity of houses and the immensity of the Spruce and Pine forest at first terrified him and caused him anxiety.  Fortunately he stayed and contributed more than anyone else in his lifetime to the well being and cohesiveness of the Highland Scots of Nova Scotia.

He was referred to as "MacGregor of the verses" for his keen mind and his poetic abilities.  He wrote a history of "The MacGregors of Roro" and he wrote a book of Gaelic poems, which he published in Scotland in 1818.  Many of his creations were sung in Gaelic by his congregations, (as most could not read or write in English).  He travelled constantly, often stopping only for a quick meal and a sermon.  He once preached 37 sermons in three weeks.  He was the only Protestant preacher in the Pictou area for twenty years.

His first marriage was to Anna MacKay of Inverness, who had come to Pictou on the Hector in 1773 as a baby.  She was born in 1772 and died on 6 November 1810, following the birth of her fourth son.  Premature death was not unusual among the wives of Pictou men.
Rev. James MacGregor remarried in 1812 to Janet Auld, a widow of Rev. Peter Gordon, who had served under MacGregor in P.E.I.  For over forty years, Rev. MacGregor plied his trade and kept exact records in his journals. He baptized more than 160 souls in the first few years of his ministry.  He was often the only person within hundreds of miles who could read or write. 

He is remembered as a great humanitarian, the regional chronicler, the one-man Presbyterian ministry in northern Nova Scotia, and a great many other honours with which only very exceptional men are so endowed.  He was undoubtedly the most powerful and influential person in his realm.  He pioneered the establishment of higher centres of learning in an effort to improve the lot of the largely illiterate Highlanders in his parish.  It is not an overstatement to say that he was the 'godfather' of the protestant Highlanders of northern Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and south-eastern New Brunswick during his lifetime with them.

Within the town of Pictou, there lies a beautiful cemetery called "The MacGregor Community Cemetery " in his honour.   Rev.  Dr. James MacGregor is now universally considered to be the most outstanding MacGregor ever to have emigrated from Scotland.  

World renowned Antigonish Highland Games.
Catholic Highlanders Populated Antigonish and Cape Breton

When the 'Highland Improvement Act' of 1803 came into force, many Highlanders chose to emigrate to the "New Scotland' over the seas.  They were unwilling to give up their pastoral way of life or to succumb to the English 'missionaries' who permeated the Highlands with their arrogance and overbearing attitudes toward the 'backward heathen' Scots, they  were bent on transforming into 'good decent Protestant Englishmen.'    Others were forced to leave, penniless, destitute, and starving.  These were the people who settled the more remote areas of mainland Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island.

Sword dancing at Pictou



Even today, most of the rural Cape Bretoners are Catholic.  For reasons of both temperament and geography, people in the remote areas of Cape Breton retained their Gaelic heritage and language as no others.  The world famous Cabot Trail is evocative of ScotlandWell into this century, Gaelic was still spoken in most of the homes of rural Cape Breton. Cape Bretoners are well known throughout Canada as being fun loving and 'rough and ready', similar to their Highland forebears.

The Presbyterians established Pictou Academy, which served as a foundation for many lawyers and professionals.  Catholic Highlanders in Antigonish established Saint Francis Xavier University.  But in Cape Breton, they wished to preserve the old ways of the Highlands, in this they were aided by their isolation.

New Glasgow Girls Pipe BandGirls pipe band at New Glasgow

They were not about to repeat the mistakes of their forebears.  Nova Scotia would be a land where no man would own a stretch of any of the rivers.  Anyone could have access to water, no matter his station in life.  Nova Scotia was, for a considerable time, the only province in Canada with this regulation. Nova Scotia   became shaped by these people, and they sought and attained political clout.    It is ironic that Nova Scotia has more prerogatives in its confederation than does Scotland in hers.  In Nova Scotia, being Scottish is serious business.Wartime recruiting poster in Nova Scotia

During both World Wars, Nova Scotians volunteered in great numbers.  Every village has its own memorial with all the names of the perished soldiers inscribed therein.  Most of those units were of the Highland order.  Canada's Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) was for years Atlantic Canada's army regiment, based in Aldershot, Kings county.  The active portion was disbanded in the 1960s as part of the Federal Government's rationalization and "de-Britishing" of the military.  A reserve component still exists in Montreal.  The North Nova Scotia Highlanders and the Cape Breton Highlanders were combined into one super Regiment, the Nova Scotia Highlanders. 

Nova Scotia's longest serving Premier, Angus. L. MacDonald was successful in establishing a Celtic Lodge in Ingonish and a Gaelic College at St. Ann.  He also was responsible for placing the Piper at the New Brunswick border.  When he visited Scotland, he met with the mayor of Edinburgh and immediately greeted him in flawless Gaelic. The mayor didn't have a clue what he was saying.

Today, two steel bridges span the Dartmouth/Halifax narrows, one is the Angus L. MacDonald bridge, the other is the A. Murray MacKay bridge.  (This is a small example of the grip the Scots have on politics in my native province, and I'm not complaining.)


A MacGregor Poem of Thanks for Nova Scotia

We thank thee lord for all your grace, your love and comfort too,
But most of all, we thank thee Lord for riches loaned by you,

Not riches as in gold and jewels, but this fine land of ours.
A wealth so great, our earth so strong, where Spruce and Pine trees tower.

Our province is the richest, but our country we hold dear,
This Northland is the place we walk when e'er we want you near.

We feel your strength from balsam, and we see your face in flowers,
Your tender arms are warm sweet fields, the animals your heart.

We hear your voice soft through the trees, and sense your heartbeat here,
We're calmed by utter trust and love to know and feel you're near.

Barb Greer