Guide to Scotland
   Gateway to the British Isles since 1996
A Brief History of Scotland

Presented by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D.

Chapter 17: Scots in Canada

We do not normally associate the province of Quebec with the achievements of Scots overseas. However when the Don de Dieu sailed up the St. Lawrence at the beginning of French Canada, it was piloted by a Scot, Abraham Martin (after whom the Heights of Abraham, scene of Wolfe's victory, are named). The first British governor of Quebec was also a Scot, General James Murray. He received the keys to the city gates from the French commander, Major de Ramezay, himself of Scotch descent. This is not surprising; when we remember "the Auld Alliance," during which the kingdoms of Scotland and France were allied for centuries and close links formed between the two countries.

Many of the kilted soldiers who conquered Quebec for Britain had been Jacobites and followers of Prince Charles Edward. It has been suggested that their victory at Quebec was sweet revenge for France's general indifference to and failure to help the Jacobite cause. It is with bitter irony that we learn that General James Wolfe, for whom the Scottish soldiers fought so well on the Heights of Abraham, had been an area commander during the military occupation of the Highlands following Culloden. The Fraser Highlanders undertook the main charge at Quebec, planting the British flag on the city ramparts. It was this same regiment that did so much to hold Canada for the Empire during the American Revolution.

A large group of Scots chiefly from Ross-shire arrived on the Nephton in 1802 to settle in the Quebec province. Many of their descendants have become prominent in the business, financial and religious activities of Montreal ever since. The great center of the Scottish Loyalists, however, was not in Quebec, but in Upper Canada the Glengarry Settlement, what is now Ontario. Many early settlers from Tryon County in New York State came here, in what was then wilderness. They were joined by many Highlanders during the Revolution, and after the War had ended, by a whole regiment of the "King's Royals."

The chief Scottish town in the Glengarry Settlement was Cornwall. It was reinforced in 1786, when the McDonald arrived at Quebec from Greenock with 520 new pioneers. Soon immigrants came from all parts of Scotland to make it one of the most important Scots-Canadian communities. The Glengarry clansmen managed to get away from their homelands before the British Government's embargo during the war with Napoleon. Many other retired officials from the Hudson's Bay Company joined the Glengarry Settlements.

Another famous Scottish area that came to exert great influence in Ontario was the Perth Settlement, another region of purely Scottish and military origin. Unemployment and suffering following the end of the Napoleonic Wars caused the British government to reverse its former policies and actively encouraged emigration. In 1815, three loaded transports set sail from Greenock for Upper Canada: the Atlas, the Baptiste Merchant and the Borothy. After the War of 1812 ended, many soldiers from the disbanded regiments joined them. In 1816, more arrivals from Ulster helped swell the Scottish element. Many Perth families became prominent in both state and national governments.

Other principal areas of Scottish immigration in Upper Canada during the 1820's included the Lanark Settlement, comprised mainly of people from the severely depressed area of Lanarkshire and the MacNab Settlement, mainly the idea of the Laird of the Clan. The city of Guelph was founded by the Scottish novelist John Galt and the Talbot and Middlesex Settlements. The first founded by Colonel Thomas Talbot, who sold his army commission to emigrate to his grant of 5,000 acres in 1800; the second by a group of Scots Presbyterians in the early 1830's.

In Western Ontario, Scotsmen were prominent in the founding of the Zora Settlement, where the Mackay brothers from Sutherland had set about building a home -- a little Scotland -- for many of their fellow Highlanders in 1820. Other Scottish settlements of note were the Huron and Bruce Settlements, both of which have given us many men and women of note in Canadian affairs.

Chapter 17: Scots in Canada continued