How Scot­tish set­tlers ar­rived and thrived in Nova Sco­tia’s Pic­tou County

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - By Kather­ine Lis­sitsa*

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.

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