How Scottish settlers arrived and thrived in Nova Scotia’s Pictou County
The Scottish settlers of Pictou, N.S.
FFRASERS CAME, as did Camerons. Mackays made the journey, too, along with Mackenzies, Macdonalds, Munros, Sutherlands, Grants and a host of others. But it wasn’t easy getting to this new place called Pictou, Nova Scotia — especially in 1773, when the trans-atlantic journey could take months, not days. But then these 189 men, women and children, who represented the first significant wave of Scottish migration to Canada, knew about hardship. Nearly 30 years earlier, their family fortunes had begun to wane with the English victory at the Battle of Culloden, a conflict that eventually led to the infamous Highland Clearances, which saw the Scots evicted to make way for sheep farms. Still, the voyage was probably a trial unlike anything they’d ever experienced. The ship, Hector, was falling apart, the passengers able to “pick the rotten wood out of her sides,” as George Patterson writes in A History of the County of Pictou, Nova
Scotia. They were ill, too, battling smallpox and dysentery, not to mention nearly out of food when they reached Pictou on Sept. 15, 1773, an event depicted on a stamp ( right) Canada Post issued to mark the 200th anniversary of their arrival. The Scots had left home with next to nothing, and so were looking forward to the New World bounty they’d been promised by John Ross, the recruiting agent who’d persuaded them to come to Nova Scotia by offering free passage and a farm lot with a year’s worth of provisions. But when they arrived in Pictou, what they saw wasn’t what they expected. Instead of an oceanfront farmland, they were faced with “a world of trees from sea to sky,” as Neil Oliver recounts in his BBC television documentary The Hector: From Scotland to Nova Scotia. The promised provisions were nowhere to be found, either, and it turned out the land they’d beeen promised was amid wilderness located almost five kilometres inland. Deceived and disappointed, many of the Scots left Pictou, but others remained to eke out an existence. This group survived the harsh winter, cleared forest, learned to hunt moose and began farming. By the time Charles Morris, the surveyor general of Nova Scotia, created this map of the lots at Pictou and Merigumish in 1785, the area had been transformed. As Morris notes on the map, “The lands about the Harbours of Pictou and Merigumish, particularly on the Rivers that empty into Pictou Harbour, are exceeding good arable lands” — an achievement that can be attributed to some of those who had stepped off Hector and into the unknown just 12 years earlier.
*with files from Erika Reinhardt, archivist, Library and Archives Canada
Read more stories about the maps in Library and Archives Canada’s collection at cangeo.ca/topic/map-archive.