A Heritage House and Its Stories
In Those Days in Victoria County
MACDONALD HOUSE, 1829
The Macdonald House, a significant heritage building at the Nova Scotia Highland Village has several stories to tell. The house with its large centre chimney was built in Stewartdale, Whycocomagh, in 1829 by Allan and Mary (Maclean) Macdonald and their sons John, Norman and James Edward. The Macdonalds were immigrants from North Uist, Scotland. The Board of Directors of the newly formed Highland Village Museum, brought the house to the site in Victoria County and thus saved it from destruction.
The house tells the story of its builders who had to learn the structure of a wooden house which was so different from the stone dwelling they left behind on the Hebridean Island. Joining posts and beams made from pine and hemlock trees using mortises and tenons was a technique new to the builders. The axe marks are still visible as are the holes for the wooden pegs in the beams visible upstairs.
The importance of large fireplaces in at least two rooms was another feature new to the builders. This architectural insight was brought to Nova Scotia by earlier immigrants from the New England States. The chimney stack not only preserved the heat from the hardwood logs but also provided stone supports for the upper level floor beams.
Macdonald House tells the story of the architectural development so necessary in the early years of settlement in Cape Breton. The building is still sturdy and well preserved after one hundred and eightyeight years. It is a treasure in the history of the development of domestic structures, as very few dwellings of the early style now remain in the Victoria County.
CHARLES JAMES CAMPBELL AND MACDONALD HOUSE
Born in Duntulum, Isle of Skye, in 1819, the future merchant and politician of Baddeck arrived in Cape Breton in 1830 with his mother, step-father and several siblings. After the murder of his mother, Isabella (Macrae) (Campbell) Macdonald, by her second husband in 1840, Charles James left the family home in Kempt Road, West Bay to seek his future. For a year, he resided with the family of Allan and Mary (Maclean) Macdonald in the house constructed in 1829.
Allan and his son James Edward Macdonald are listed as early public school teachers in Whycocomagh. It was tradition that Campbell not only learn both English reading and writing from the Macdonalds but also gain some of the necessary skills for keeping business records.
In 1842, Campbell arrived in Baddeck to take on the position of clerk in the store of James Anderson, the early merchant of Baddeck. He had found sanctuary and education with Allan Macdonald and family.
If the walls of the 1829 house now in Iona could speak, they would no doubt recall the many statements of grief and anger uttered by the young man who came to be one of the wealthiest people in 19th century Cape Breton. His name still remains attached to New Campbellton and his birthplace is recalled by Duntulum Street. Campbell’s face is incised over the doorway of the stone building, once the post office.
JAMES EDWARD MACDONALD AND THE 1829 HOUSE
One of Allan and Mary Macdonald’s sons was teacher James Edward Macdonald, born in 1805 in North Uist. He helped build the 1829 house and then one for himself and another for his brother John. After teaching for a time in Whycocomagh and then in Upper North Sydney, he came to Baddeck with his wife Mary (Campbell) and four children. Charles James Campbell had encouraged him to come to the developing community.
Following the departure of Reverend Norman Macleod and followers for Australia and New Zealand in 1851, James Edward occasionally conducted church services in Gaelic in the “big church” in St. Ann’s.
Encouraged by the people of the area and probably by Charles James Campbell, James Edward Macdonald left his wife and family in Baddeck and his brother and other family members in the 1829 house in Stewartdale to gain further education at the Presbyterian College in Halifax. It was expected he would become ordained and perhaps be called to the former congregation of Macleod. But in 1854, he died suddenly in Halifax where he is buried at Camp Hill Cemetery.
Much grief was experienced by the widow and children in Baddeck and by his brothers and sisters in Stewartdale, including his brother Norman who was living in the house James Edward had helped to build.
DR. ALLAN JAMES MACDONALD AND THE 1829 HOUSE
Born in the house built by his great grandparents and grandfather and uncles, Allan James Macdonald, a grand nephew of Charles James Macdonald, grew up in the 1829 house. In his teens, he left the childhood home and prosperous farm to live with his uncle, a dentist in North Sydney. Encouraged by his uncle and parents, he studied at Halifax and the U.S. before being certified as a dentist. Emigrating to Boston, he opened his office doors to patients in the area and particularly welcomed friends and relatives from Cape Breton.
Much interested in the establishment of the Gaelic College by AWR and Angie Mackenzie in 1938, Dr. Macdonald established the Boston Branch of the Gaelic College Foundation and served as its chair for some time. The Boston Branch held concerts at which the pipe band from Cape Breton and other musicians played. The proceeds assisted in funding the work of the new Victoria County educational and tourist facility in St. Ann’s.
If the sounds of a large family housed in the Macdonald dwelling which is now in Iona, Victoria County, could be heard again, the voice of the future Dr. Macdonald of Boston would be evident.
In the dooryard of the house now at the Highland Village, gatherings of relatives of Dr. Macdonald and of the builders of the house have taken place.
As well, Dr. Macdonald’s daughter has given to the museum a number of items which came from the family home in years past.
AN 1829 HOUSE, STORIES GALORE
Macdonald House carries within it much representation of the new techniques of architecture learned by its builders. Also to be found are recollections of people of the past and present with many connections to Victoria County. Indeed, the many joys and sorrows of these people are contained within the memories and traditions associated with this structure. They participate in telling the story of the Gaels of Scotland and Cape Breton.
When visiting the site, An Clachan Gaidlhealach, pause for a moment and recall the many voices which once were heard within and around it.
Macdonald House at Highland Village, Iona.