of Inverness County, Nova Scotia
It is a common failing of
our poor, human nature to keep putting off the doing of things. We'll do
these things tomorrow, the day after, or next Saturday. The result often
is that these things are not done at all. We should pray diligently and
devoutly to overcome that irritating failing or bad habit. It cannot be
cured by swearing at it; we tried that.
When the foregoing History
was in imminent process of construction, we besought our friends in the
various rural sections to supply us with suitable material — preferably
gratis. The good men responded with a will and a welcome, at the moment.
They were delightfully fervent and friendly while we were there; but they
kept putting off, putting off, until their belated contributions were
pronounced too late, — and barred by the printer's devil. The fine
district of River Inhabitants was a serious sufferer in this way.
It appears there were
several worthy old families in this district of whom we failed to get or
give any account at all during the regular period of compilation. One of
these was a certain MacVarish family. Very recently we received some notes
of this old family through the efforts of an enlightened citizen of this
county whose goodwill for Glendale will not fail while life lasts. By way
of introducing this MacVarish family we tender the following obituary
notice, taken from the Antigonish Casket of mid-February 1911:—
Died At River Dennis
Station, Cape Breton, on February 9th, 1911, a remarkable old lady, in the
person of Mrs. Alexander MacVarish, nee Stewart, daughter of George
Stewart of Mingarie Ard, Scotland. In 1843 she emigrated with her husband
to Cape Breton, landing at Ship Harbor, as Hawkesbury was then called. As
she was even then the mother of six children, she must certainly have
attained the age of 100 years. For the last eight years or so, this dear
old soul lived with her daughter, Maggie, the first child to be born to
her in the new country, who was married to Hugh MacLean. Sam, one of the
pioneer Catholics of River Dennis. The kindness and providence of God
stand forth in the fact that this younger daughter lived, apparently just
so long as the mother needed her on earth, for the two entered eternity
within twelve hours of each other. It was a touching sight to see mother
and daughter lying in the one room, and laid to rest side by side in the
graveyard at River Dennis, where they were the first to be buried.
It is thought that the late
Sister Flora MacDonald, rested quite near the lot when escaping from
Malagawatch to the Catholic Chisholms of Long Point. Mrs. MacVarnish had
14 children, 65 grand-children, 68 great grand children, and 2 great great
grand children, in all a progeny of 149. Two of the grand children are
Religeous — Sister Francis Xavier of the Community of St. Martha, and
Sister Mary Rose of the Sisters of Charity, Roxbury. What a pity those old
heroines are becoming so few! what a life and snap it would put into the
surroundings for the childless, loveless, jaded suffragette if she lived
closer to nature! One can easily picture Mrs. Mac-Varish repairing to the
burnt field carrying with her the last gift Heaven had sent them, to
nestle between the hills whilst she, stout and happy of heart, buried the
seed in the stubborn soil. Who can say what those noble pioneers endured
for God and duty? One of the sons, Angus, aged 72; who lived at Sydney
Mines, survived his mother and sister only three days.
Eternal rest give unto
them, 0 Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them."
The above named Mrs.
Alexander MacVarish came with her husband and four children from Mingarie
Ard, Scotland, to Cape Breton in 1843, landing at Ship Harbor, and
ultimately settling down at River Inhabitants, where eight more children
were born to them. The names of the children were as follows: John, Mary,
Angus, Donald (and two infant children who died), born in the old country;
Margaret, Marcella, Annie, Hugh, George, Christie, Mary and Jane (born at
This large family grew and
multiplied. Its several members were married as follows: John to Katie
MacNeil; Mary to Rory Mac-Innes; Angus to Margaret MacRae; Donald to Ellen
MacDonald; Margaret to Hugh MacLean (Sam); Marcella to James MacEachen;
Ann to Peter Kenny; Hugh to Jessie Gillis; George to Katie MacEachen,
Christie to John Smith; Mary to Alexander Cameron (son of Captain Duncan);
and Jane to Dougald MacCormick (son of Angus).
Alexander MacVarish, the
father of the above family; had three brothers, namely: Black Donald who
went to Australia, Hugh, who died in Scotland, and Angus, who came to
America, settled in the western part of Antigonish county, and changed his
name to "MacDonald". The brother Alexander at River Inhabitants went to
Antigonish to see this "Angus", and had great difficulty in tracing him
out owing to his change of name. We know a prominent MacDonald family in
Antigonish who are direct descendants of this Angus MacVarish; and we know
a large body of MacDonald's in Inverness County who have come down in
unbroken line from the great family of MacEachen.
It may be of interest to
note that the name of River Inhabitants comes from the French who, in
their own language, would spell it "Riviere des Habitants." Years before
the Scottish immigrants began to settle at River Inhabitants there was a
colony of Acadian French located on the lower part of this river, near and
around the Basin. The following extract is official and authentic.
"CENSUS BY THE SIEUR DE LA
in the Report on Canadian
Archives, 1905, vol. 11.
"We left on the 26th of
February (1752) and arrived at the harbour of Grand Nerichac the same day.
In order to travel from the
harbour of Petit Degrat to the great harbour of Nerichac one enters the
bush, the road is estimated as being half a league in length. The lands
are covered with timber of all kinds.
The harbour of Grand
Nerichac makes one of the finest posts that there is in the country. A
survey shows that it is well fitted for those carrying on the cod-fishery
by means of vessels.
It is enclosed by the lands
of Isles Madame, and an island called Isles Punot (Pichot), lying in the
open sea. The harbour has two entrances, that to the east being the
better. This entrance lies northeast and south-west, and is estimated to
be barely a quarter of a league in breadth. At this entrance to the
harbour, opposite the island are three reefs which are left to larboard by
boats going in. In order to pass clear of these reefs, which lie almost in
the middle of the entrance boats have to sail close to the land. The
second entrance, to the westward lies west-north-west and east-south-west,
and is about half a league in breadth. Only vessels from 40 to 50 tons
burden can use this entrance. The harbour is of great extent, running
inland to the north west for a good league. The lands are covered with
The harbour of Petit
Nerichac is entered as one leaves that of Grand Nerichac. Only small
vessels can make the entrance. Its great area is composed of a vast number
of creeks and barachois stretching inland, and covered with hard wood.
Then we hugged the shore as far as Cap Rouge, whence we passed through the
little channel in order to reach the riviere des Habitants. From the
harbour of Petit Nerichac to Cap Rouge the distance is estimated at a
quarter of a league, and from Cap Rouge to riviere aux Habitants is
counted as five leagues. From the time we left the channel we followed the
right bank of the channel until we arrived at the great basin of the
riviere aux Habitants. This river empties itself into the little channel
of Froncak. The entrance to the basin lies east and west, and has seven
fathoms of water at low tide. There is not the same depth of water in
every part of the basin. The area of the basin is one league in length,
running east-north-east, by a quarter of a league in breadth, and the
depth of the water, which is more in some places than in others, is
estimated as varying from nine to four fathoms.
There are three reefs in
the said basin, lying a quarter of a league to starboard outside the
riviere aux Habitants, but those entering the river by tacking, do not
consider them at all dangerous.
The settlers on this river
make most of their hay on the shores of the basin.
The riviere aux Habitants
runs about six leagues inland in a direction which is about
north-north-east by south-south-west, but making a zig-zag course. It is
estimated that Isle Brulée, which lies in the centre of the basin that
forms the rivière aux Habitants, is situated half a league from the mouth
of the river.
This island is the highest
point reached by vessels of sixty to seventy tons burden. It cannot be
said that they can ascend no higher up the river, but they would not know
how to navigate the river above the house of one Guillaume Benoist, and so
winding and narrow is the channel that one requires to be an experienced
pilot to succeed in taking a vessel so far up.
Although throughout the
channel there is water to the depth of three or four fathoms, yet, on
account of the rapids which are estimated to be about a league and a
quarter above the mouth of the river, sailors would not even know how to
take a boat higher up the stream than this island.
In this island le Sr.
Guillaume Benoist has constructed an ordinary saw mill. The banks on the
rest of the river are merely plateaux, where the settlers make hay, and
which might be turned into fine meadow land, if only the residents would
take the trouble. The country is covered with all kinds of hardwood and
fine fir trees, out of which the people make lumber for carpentry
purposes, and boards two inches thick, and 12 to 16 inches wide. The
government has no idea of making any outlay, or of inducing the settlers
to do so, in clearing the land, so that the residents could grow wheat, or
rye, or above all buck-wheat, oats or peas but they should be directed to
lay out meadow lands on the banks of the river, so that they could feed
General census of the
settlers on the riviere aux Habitants.
Joseph Landry, carpenter,
native of la Cadie, aged 36 years, married to Marie Brau, native of des
Mines, aged 35 years. They have three daughters:
Anne, aged 14 years;
Marguerite, aged 9 years;
The third aged three years is not named.
Alexis le Jeune, aged 18
years his nephew, lives with them.
In live stock they own, two
oxen, four cows; two heifers, a pig, and five fowls.
He has no dwelling place
and for that reason has made no clearing.
They are in the colony
since the 15th of last August, and are granted rations for one year.
Jean Bte Landry, ploughman,
native of la Cadie, aged 60 years married to Marie Bouherut (Gautrot),
native of Pepeguit, aged 59 years.
They have Jean Daigle,
their nephew, aged 20 years, and Marguerite Landry their niece, aged 18
years, natives of la Cadie, living with them.
In live stock they own two
oxen, two cows, one bull, one pig, and three fowls.
They have been in the
colony since—, and have been granted rations, as has Joseph Landry, their
Alexis Landry, ploughman,
native of la Cadie, aged 29 years. Married to Margueritte Aucoin, native
of la Cadie, aged 29 years. They have two sons;
Jean Baptiste, aged 3
Joseph, aged 2 years;
They have in live stock
four oxen, five cows, one calf, two pigs and three fowls. They are 18
months in the colony, and have been given rations for one year.
Jean Bte. Landry,
ploughman, native of la Cadie, aged 39 years. Married to Marie Joseph Le
Blanc, native of the same place, aged 32 years. They have four sons and
Jean, aged 13 years;
Joseph, aged 11 years;
Charles, aged 9 years;
Pierre, aged 4 years;
Marie, aged 7 years;
Margueritte, aged 2 years;
All natives of la Cadie.
Their live stock consists
of three oxen, two cows, two pigs and five fowls. They have been in the
colony eight months, and have been granted rations for one year.
Guillaume Benoist, builder,
and owner of a saw-mill, native of la Cadie, aged 46 years. Married to
Joseph Benoist, native of the same place, aged 50 years.
They have four sons and two
Pierre, aged 22 years;
Michel, aged 20 years;
Boniface, aged 15 years;
Simon, aged 13 years;
Judict, aged 15 years;
Genevieve, aged 9 years;
All natives of la Cadie.
They have been in the
colony three years, and have received rations for that period. They have
one ox, three cows, five heifers, one bull, three pigs, and five fowls in
This land which they have
improved is situated on the right bank of the riviere aux Habitants, but
they will not continue to cultivate it for any length of time on account
of the serious and frequent inundations of the river, caused by the
melting of the snows in the springtime. At these times, not only are they
prevented from working on the land, but they find it almost impossible to
prevent the mouth of the river from being closed by silt.
We left the riviere aux
Habitants on the 29th of February and returned to Port Toulouse that same
Extract from "THE SCOTSMAN
IN CANADA" by Wilfred Campbell, p. 111.
"During the years 1790,
1791, and 1792 many Roman Catholic Highlanders came to the Maritime
Provinces, and their numbers were added to year by year up to 1828. Those
in Nova Scotia settled chiefly in Antigonish County, Pictou, and Cape
Breton. They were principally Chisholms, Macdonalds, Camerons, and Frasers.
It is said that the chief of the Chisholms evicted many of his tenants to
establish sheep-walks on his estate of Strathglas. A great many left there
in 1801, and another party in 1803.
The first Highland
Catholics settled in the parish of Arisaig in Antigonish County. Bishop
Ronald Macdonald, in a dedication sermon, said: "In 1787 the first
Catholic Highlander, the pioneer of the faith, took up his solitary abode
in the 'forest primeval', which then wound in unbroken granduer on these
For years there was a
steady stream of immigration into Nova Scotia of people from Sutherland
and Lewis. All Antigonish was purely Scottish. Cap D'or in Cumberland
County was settled by Highlanders, and New Edinburgh in Annapolis and
Grenville Township were settled by Scotsmen. From the opening of the
nineteenth century the Scottish Highlanders flowed steadily into Cape
Breton. The late Edward Fraser aided much in the movement. At Grand Anse
there was a Scottish colony. Along the Strait of Canso the majority of the
inhabitants were descendants of Scottish Highlanders.
The principal immigration
into the province in the earlier days was from Inverness, Ross, and
Sutherland, and in later years from Argyllshire, Perth, and Caithness.
These were chiefly Macdonalds, Macdonnells, Frasers, MacKenzies, Mackays,
Camerons, MacLeods, Campbells, Grants, Robertsons, Stewarts, Macintoshes,
Malcolms, MacIntyres, MacNeills, MacNabs, Munroes, MacLeans, MacDougals,
Chisholms, MacPhersons, Sutherlands, MacKinnons, and MacQueens.
Extract from "CAPE BRETON"
by C. W. Vernon, p. 62. "Probably the first Scotch settlers to come to
Canada were a number of officers and men of Colonel Fraser's Highland
Regiment, who settled in Prince Edward Island (then known as St. John's
Island) in 1769. The first ship with Scottish emigrants on board to arrive
in Nova Scotia was the "Hector", which came to Pictou in 1773. With the
Scottish population of the province, to be descended from some one who
came over in the "Hector", is as great an honor as it is in New England to
be able to trace one's descent from some of those who came on the "May
flower". The "Hector" was followed by other emigrant ships in rapid
succession. It was in 1791 that two ships arrived at Pictou from the
Hebrides with emigrants of the Roman Catholic faith. These settled near
Antigonish, and some crossed over to Cape Breton, settling along the shore
of Inverness County, which was afterwards called after the county of the
same name in Scotland. (It was first called the district of Juste-au-corps.)
These were quickly followed by others, and soon some of these hardy
emigrants forced their way to the shores of the Bras d'Or Lakes. Later the
emigrant ships were sent direct to the Lakes. The first of these ships
arrived at Sydney on August 16th, 1802, with two hundred and ninety-nine
passengers. As it was late in the season the Council voted, by way of
loan, three pounds ten shillings to every married couple-one pound to each
child over, and fifteen shillings to each child under twelve years old.
The tide of emigration to Cape Breton continued until 1828 and it is
estimated that about 25,000 people of Scottish descent were thus brought
to the island."
The Scottish settlers
adopted and continued the name given to the river and region by the
French. The French evacuated after a while; the Scots never. The latter
were sturdy sons of the heather, as firm as the rocks of their Sireland.
They had, of course, the common hardships and experience of pioneer
colonists; but they suffered and survived them bravely. Big Sandy prepared
a load of his farm products for the markets of Arichat. He calculated on
leaving home at 4 a.m. the following morning expecting to return the
following night. He was a heavy sleeper and had no time piece. He brought
the rooster from the barn to sound reveille at the hour appointed. The
beautiful bird was placed under a tub by the bedside. At ten o'clock next
morning Big Sandy woke up. He wanted a hurried explanation from the bird.
The bird was dead. Big Sandy held it up, roaring: "Mhic a mhi fortain; bha
sinn ein cho math dhuit" — You son of misfortune; that was just as well
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