Glengarry County, Ontario

A visitor's account in 1814

The first Highland emigration to Glengarry County, Ontario, was in 1785. The Highland character was soon stamped on the area as this report shows. A D MacPherson wrote to his friend, Dr MacDonald of Taunton, of a visit he made to the new Glengarry in 1814. The text is included in the The Catholic Highlands of Scotland by By Dom Odo Blundell, OSB, FSA (Scot), (a monk at the Benedictine Monsatery in Fort Augustus) published in Edinburgh in 1909

Chambly, Canada, NA 26th December 1814

My Dear Sir

Having just returned from a visit of a month to the new county of Glengarry, I cannot help endeavouring to give some account of it, as well as the present condition of many of our countrymen who were driven from their native land, and who directed their course to America in search of a better fortune.

The county is a square of 24 miles, all of which and the greater part of the next county (Stormont) are occupied by Highlanders, containing at this moment from 1100 to 1200 families, two thirds of them MacDonalds. More able fellows of that name could be mustered there in twenty-four hours, than Keppoch and Glengarry could have done at any time in the Mother country.

You might travel over the whole of the county and by far the greater part of Stormont, without hearing a word spoken but the good Gaelic. Every family, even of the lowest order, has a landed property of 200 acres; the average value of which, in its present state of cultivation, with the cattle, etc, upon it may be estimated at from 800 to 1000 pounds. However poor the family (but indeed there are none can be called so) they kill a bullock for the winter consumption; the farm or estate supplies them with abundance of butter, cheese, etc. Their houses are small but comfortable, having a ground floor and garret, with a regular chimney and glass windows.

The appearance of the people is at all times respectable, but I was delighted at seeing them at church on a Sunday; the men clothed in good English cloth, and many of the women wore the Highland plaid.

The chief object of my visit to Glengarry was to see an old acquaintance, Mr Alexander MacDonald, a priest, who has been resident in this country ten years. I believe you know him, or at least you know who he is.

A more worthy man is not in Canada; he is the mainstay of the Highlanders here; they apply to him for redress in all their grievances, and an able and willing advocate they find in him. He is well known from the poorest man to the Governor, and highly respected by all. Were he ambitious of enriching himself, he might ere now be possessed of immense property; but this appears not to be his object; his whole attention is devoted to the good of the settlement; and the great and numerous services which he has done, cannot well be calculated.

Colonel John MacDonald, of Aberchalder, died some years ago, and left one son and three daughters. The Colonel's sister, Mrs Wilkinson, died a few months since and left a son and three daughters. Mr MacDonald of Greenfield, who was married to the other sister, has a very considerable property here; he is Lieut-Colonel of the Second Regiment of Glengarry Militia. One of his sons, Donald, is also Lieut-Colonel; his second son is a Captain in the same corps. Mr MacDonald of Lundi died in this settlement some time since, but his brother, Allan, now upwards of ninety, is still alive and well. George MacDonald, son of Captain John MacDonald of Lulu, who died Captain of Invalids, at Berwick, recruited the Glengarry Regiment of Light Infantry, and is now Lieut-Colonel commanding in this district, and Inspecting Field Officer of Militia. The good conduct of the Glengarry Light Infantry, as well as the Militia Regiments of the county, has been so frequently noticed and thanked in public orders, that it is unnecessary for me to say anything in their praise. They have on every occasion, when placed before the enemy, supported the character of Highlanders.

The Emigrations of 1773, and subsequent years, left but few of the older families in Glengarry; and at the present time there is only too much truth in the lines of W. Allan (Celtic Mag, Oct 1885):

The glen of my fathers no longer is ours,

The castle is silent and roofless its towers,

The hamlets have vanished and grass growing green

Now covers the hillocks where once they had been;

The song of the stream rises sadly in vain,

No children are here to rejoice in the strain.

No voices are heard by loch Oich's lone shore,

Glengarry is here; but Glengarry no more.