A Her­itage House and Its Sto­ries

In Those Days in Vic­to­ria County

The Victoria Standard - - Heritage - JIM ST. CLAIR


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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