of Inverness County, Nova Scotia
Chapter V -
Religion in Inverness County
We regard religion as the greatest and best
factor in our civilisation. We may be, ourselves, we are in fact,
sometimes erratic in the practice of religion; we cannot deny its
elevating influence over the lives of men all around us. Hence it is that
we approach this subject with great diffidence, for more reasons than one.
Those who first settled along our shores from
the district of Port Hastings to Cheticamp were nearly all Catholics.
Although the most of them were quite illiterate, yet all of them had been
instructed in the essentials of their faith. This faith, strong, simple
and sincere, was their most highly valued possession.
At that time all the Catholics of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Cape Breton
and Prince Edward Island were under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the
Bishops of Quebec. It goes without saying that, at that period,
communication between Quebec and Cape, Breton was most difficult and
irregular. Unlike their co-religionists in Prince Edward Island the
Catholic immigrants to Inverness County were not accompanied by any
clergymen. Our pioneer Catholics were, in this respect, in evil case for
Among the early priests who came from Scotland
to Prince Edward Island was Reverend Angus Bernard MacEachern, a man of
noble character and very liberal education. He was born at Kinloch,
Moidart, Scotland, on the 8th of February, 1759. When his father and
mother with six other children, emigrated to St. John's Island, the oldest
sister who was then married, and this youngest son, Angus Bernard, were
left behind, the latter in charge of Bishop Hugh MacDonald, Vicar
Apostolic of the Highland District. The next four years were spent by this
young man in the Catholic College of Samlaman. In August 1777 he went to
Spain where he studied for ten year in the Royal Scots College at
Valladolid. He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Moreno of
Valladolid on the 20th day of August, 1787.
Returning to Scotland, he assumed charge of a
mission in the Western Highlands where he labored for three years with
much success, under Bishop Alexander MacDonald. He knew the spiritual
desolation of his friends in America and yearned to be with them. He asked
and received permission to go to his friends in the New World. On the eve
of his departure for the field of his choice he was given the following
letter of introduction from the Bishop of the Highlands to the Bishop of
July 6th, 1790.
Mr. Angus MacEachern will have the honor to deliver this letter to you,
whom I take the liberty to recommend to your kind offices, as a deserving
young clergyman full of zeal, piety, and for abilities, both natural and
acquired, equal to the due discharge of his respective functions. It is,
considering my own situation, with the greatest reluctance I find myself
obliged to part with a person of the above description. In the Island of
St. John's there are, upwards of six hundred of the Roman Catholic
persuasion, half French half emigrants, who went from these parts a long
time ago. About seven years past (?) they had the misfortune to be
deprived of the truly worthy churchman who had accompanied the latter from
Scotland; and have since been without the assistance of a pastor, and have
never ceased to make application and importune me for a clergyman. To the
above entreaties were lately added the petitions, and I may say the
insurmountable supplications of a very numerous emigration from these
countries to said Island, so that I find myself unable to resist any
longer, notwithstanding my difficulties at home for want of laborers.
I am willing to believe that your Lordship has
been all along in the dark with regard to the distressed situation of the
worthy Catholics in St. John's Island, otherwise you would have fallen
upon some effectual plan, which in time coming must necessarily be the
Yours most respectfully,
(Sgd.) X. Alex. MacDonald."
For full thirty years Father McEachern labored
assiduously as an ordinary priest. During that time he paid many visits to
the Catholics of Pictou, Antigonish and Inverness. He had a brother and
three sisters in Judique whom he was wont to visit unawares. The brother
was Ewen McEachern of Judique, and the sisters were Mrs. Robert McInnis
(Mason), Mrs. Michael MacDonald, and Mrs. Allan MacDonnell (Ban), all
familiar figures in the Judique of the long past.
On the 17th of June, 1821 Father McEachern
received episcopal consecration at the lands of Bishop Plessis of Quebec,
amid imposing ceremonies. There were present, besides the consecrating
prelate, Rt. Rev. Bernard Claude Panet, Right Revd. Alexander MacDonnell,
and Rev. Father Bruneau. It was the first occasion on which four Bishops
were seen together in one Church in Canada. It was the church of St. Roch.
In 1823 Bishop MacEachern made his first
episcopal visit to Cape Breton. While on this official visit he wrote from
Sydney the following letter to Bishop Plessis, whose suffragan he was:
"My Lord: Sydney, Sept. 8th, 1823.
"Just as I was getting away to Low Point, a
Brig with passengers from the Highlands came into this Harbor, and as the
vessel proceeds to Quebec, I gladly do myself the pleasure of writing to
I passed over to Broad Cove, about 12 miles S.
of Margrie on the 29th of July, where I met by appointment Mr. Fraser and
Mr. Mac - Donnell. My intention was to have passed to Mag-de-lenes, and
thence to Cheticamp early in July, but owing to the sickly state of our
people I was prevented from so doing till then.
Reverend Mr. MacDonald was to the W. and Mr.
Fitzgerald, who arrived some days previous to my departure is at
Charlottetown. He takes charge of his countrymen about said great capital,
also, of the Scots of the W. River and round to Point Prim. Mr. MacDonald
has all from Rustico to the N. Cape. I am sorry to say the poor French of
Tagnish and Cascompeque are, as yet, uncertain of their situation. The
demands of the proprietors are so exorbitant, that the people cannot pay
the rents. The Rustico French are generally very much involved in debt for
their lands. Five families of them passed to this Island last May. They
have choice lands within eight or nine miles of this town, and about five
from the head of the Bras D'Or Lake. They also are near Fr. Village. I got
a grant of 200 acres of excellent land last winter from Sir James Kempt,
at the head of the E. arm 13 miles from this, where a snug church is
built. Mr. Dollard wintered at said place. There is another going on at
the Narrows, on land which the people l brought for the incumbent. If Mr.
Fraser will be left with us, or if we can get another to take his place, I
think the best disposition would be to re-annex L'Ardoise and River
Bourgeois to Arichat, and let him be stationed between Bradeque, Narrows,
East Arm, Red Island, W. Arm and Indians. In that event Mr. McKeagney
might take charge of Lewisburg, Manadou, Catalonia, Cow Bay (?) Lingan,
Low Point, this town and the French Village.
Mr. Fraser, who is strong and healthy, well
used in his new country to mixed missions, much respected, preaches every
day, and has made many conversions. He does not mind where he is employed,
but will most effectually do his duty wherever he is. People in these
places think nothing of any church service without some homily on the
All the country from Cheticamp by Margrie, and
five miles in the interior to a large Lake 13 miles long and six wide,
stretching towards Mabou, Just-au-Corps in the rear of Judique to River
Inhabitants is taken up and mostly settled with our people. But no one to
attend but Mr. Blanchette and Mr. Alexander MacDonnell. Here are no roads
fit for horses in the most of said districts, except on the Judique shore.
There is a church in Broad Cove, one in Mabou, one in Judique one on River
Inhabitant, and the Catholics of Port Hood talk of erecting one with
stones. It would be desirable that some person could be got to take some
part of Mr. MacDonnell's labors off his hands."
The Mr. Fraser referred to in the above letter
was the valiant priest and sturdy Scotsman, Reverend William Fraser, who,
on the 24th of June 1827 was consecrated Bishop, and became the second
Vicar Apostolic of Nova Scotia, succeeding the venerable Bishop Burke.
Later on, and after the new diocese of Arichat had been created, he became
the first Bishop of that new See, residing in the town of Antigonish.
We also see by the foregoing letter of Bishop
MacEachern that in 1823 there were only two resident priests in the County
of Inverness, namely, Father Alexander McDonnell of Judique, and Father
Blanchette of Cheticamp.
The condition was not much better in respect
of resident priests, when the gallant Bishop Fraser took hold of this
Diocese. His first care was to see if there were suitable young men among
his people who could be induced to study for the church. A young man by
the name of Colin Francis MacKinnon was among the first to be selected by
him. This young man afterwards became the succesor of Bishop Fraser,
himself, as administrator of the diocese of Arichat. Of good, clever and
pious MacKinnon, and of his eminent successor, "the learned Cameron" we
shall have something special to say further on.
Bishop Fraser ruled this diocese for several
years. He was a powerful man in mind and body. It was a saying among the
people that "no man could stand Bishop Fraser's eye." His heart was ever
with the poor; but he insisted on giving to Caesar what was Ceasar's. In
the presence of evil doing, he did not know the poor from the rich, nor
the rich from the poor. With him there was no compromising of offences
against God and His laws. It was a spectacle for men and angels to see
that dauntless soldier of the cross, single-handed and alone, storming the
Vimy Ridges of sin and bad habits.
REVEREND ALEXANDER MacDONALD OF ARISAIG.
The above named clergyman was the first
regular and permanent Catholic priest in Eastern Nova Scotia. He came from
Scotland in 1802, after spending twenty years on the Scottish missions of
the homeland. He was born at Glenspean, near Lochaber, and was of the
MacDonalds of Keppoch. He was a man of great zeal and engaging
personality. Bishop Plessis refers to him as "a large man of fine
presence." His jurisdiction extended in territory from Merigomish on the
West to Margaree Harbor on the East. No priest could be more beloved of
his people. All denominations esteemed him highly. His actual home and
residence were at Arisaig in the county of Antigonish, but his care and
influence went far beyond that. Besides serving his own flock spiritually,
he was "a guide philosopher and friend," for all the pioneer settlers of
Owing to his lofty character, wise counsel,
and great weight among the people, his opinion was sought and appreciated
by the civil administrators of the province at Halifax. On the occasion of
his annual interview with the Government in 1816 he was taken ill at
Halifax, and died there on the 15th of April of that year. The Governor
and the Admiral offered to send a Frigate with his remains to Arisaig, but
it was found that, on account of ice in the Strait of Canso, no ship could
pass through. But the devoted men of Arisaig found a way of bringing home
the remains of their admired pastor. Alexander MacDonald (Loddy) and
Alexander Mor MacDonald both of Arisaig, with Alexander Mor MacPherson of
Cape George, rigged up a powerful horse and a rough wood-sled, and
proceeded to Halifax to convey back home all that was mortal of the priest
they loved. Such was the depth of snow on the roads that these brave trio
of Highlanders were obliged to carry the casket on their shoulders for
long stretches, but they did not flinch or fail. Up beyond New Glasgow
they were met by nearly all the male parishioners of Arisaig - all on
foot. Good old people! Their love for their erstwhile leader was great and
grand. Obedient to him in life, they were true to him in death. No, human
incident could teach a finer lesson. May we all remember that lesson unto
FATHER JOHN CHISHOLM.
The first regular resident priest of Broad
Cove was Fr. John Chisholm, son of Donald Chisholm, of North side
Antigonish Harbor. Many of our readers have heard of his wonderful
brother, Alexander Mor Chisholm, the inventor of a Mathematical Scale
which aroused much interest in our early days. Father John was educated
for the priesthood in Quebec, and ordained in February 1825. He came to
Broad Cove in the summer of 1826, remaining about a year. From Broad Cove
he returned to Antigonish where his stay was but short, going thence to
St. Andrews. His last charge was at Arichat where, in 1833, he assisted in
founding the Arichat Academy. He was after wards lost at sea, with all
aboard, in a vessel going from Arichat to Newfoundland.
His successor at Broad Cove and the Margarees
was a rugged missionary priest by the name of Reverend Simon Lawlor, a
native of Cloren, Ireland, who had been raised to the priesthood on the
12th of July 1824. We think Fr. Lawlor visited Mabou in 1825. Later on he
served Broad Cove and the Margarees as well as Mabou. We have read a
letter written in 1827 by Fr. John Chisholm to an old gentleman near
Margaree Forks, asking the Catholics there to pay to Reverend Simon Lawlor
several little bills due to Father Chisholm.
Father Lawlor was an able, active man who was
well liked. His difficulty among the Scottish people was that he could not
very conveniently understand their language, nor they his. He died in
Guysboro in December 1839.
OUR PRESBYTERIAN BRETHREN.
The great majority of the Protestants of
Inverness County at the present time, belong to the Presbyterian
denomination. There are some good Methodists and Baptists, but their
number is not large. In the early days nearly all the non-Catholics of the
County were honest, rugged Presbyterians. As a matter of course, their
clergymen came from Scotland, and were usually zealous and devoted men of
The first resident Presbyterian Minister in
the Island of Cape Breton was the Reverend William Miller who labored in
Mabou for forty years, and died there in November 1861. He was a native of
Ayreshire, Scotland, ordained in Pictou in 1821. He lived in a difficult
period, but was a loyal Scot and carried on to the end. He worked hard,
and died with his armour on.
The spiritual needs of the Presbyterians here
were recognized in Scotland. A lady by the name of Mrs. MacKay of
Rockfield, Sutherlandshire, formed a society called "The Edinburgh Ladies'
Association," for the purpose of getting ministers for the desolate fields
of Cape Breton. Through the instrumentality of this Association, five men
were chosen and sent to this Island,- five men still fondly remembered by
all creeds and classes in these parts. Their names were as follows:
Reverend Alexander Farquharson, late of Middle River in the County of
Victoria; Reverend John Stewart who was stationed at St. Georges Channel
in the County of Richmond and later at Whycocomagh; Reverend James Fraser
late of Boulardarie in the County of Cape Breton; Reverend Peter McLean,
who worked for a while in Whycocomagh, and subsequently returned to
Scotland; and the Reverend John Gunn, late of Strathlorne in the. County
Mr. Gunn lived and labored in our County for
thirty years. He came in 1840, and died in 1870. If any man ever gave
himself wholly to his work, Mr. Gunn did. For him there seemed to be
nothing in this life except his duty to God and man; and, as he was given
to see that duty, he performed it with supreme fidelity. No earthly
rewards. for him. He was not only unselfish, he was self-sacrificing to
the last degree. No sooner would one member of his congregation pay him
his moderate stipend than he would give it away to another member whom he
knew to be in need. He lived on a farm with his wife and family of four
sons and two daughters. At a certain special meeting it would seem that
his congregation felt ashamed of the small remuneration which the pastor
was receiving. They resolved unanimously to pay him henceforth a fixed
salary of sixty pounds a year. A messenger was sent to apprize the
Minister of the Resolution which had just been passed. The reply of the
good man was: "I shall not accept £60; and I shall not accept £50; but I
will take £40, if they will allow me to go to the region of Cape North for
six weeks every summer, to help the poor people who have no one to give
them the consolations of the gospel."
Mr. Gunn was a gentleman and a scholar. Like
many other old country clergymen, he was reputed to be particularly
proficient in mathematics and the classics. Several young men, Catholic
and Protestant, who intended to study for the church took private courses
in Latin with Mr. Gunn. He took a strong interest in the cause of'
education, and was punctual in his attendance at the meetings of School
Commissioners. In addition to his other scholastic attainments it is said
that he was, what is very rare in this country, a good Gaelic scholar.
Some people might find Mr. Gunn peculiar in his social ways. That was
because he was a genius. His charity knew no bounds, and the County of
Inverness is distinctly the better of his, having lived here.
Another noted Presbyterian Minister in Cape
Breton was the Reverend Mr. Stewart who lived at Whycocomagh for fourteen
years. The Rev. Murdoch Stewart was born at Contin in Rosshire, Scotland,
in 1809, and was a graduate with honours of the University of Aberdeen. He
came to Cape Breton as a minister of the Free Church of Scotland. One of
the reasons for his coming to Cape Breton was his ability to preach in
Gaelic. He was called to the charge of the Presbyterian congregation of
West Bay (St. George's Channel) in 1843. He was probably the first
Presbyterian minister to be ordained in Cape Breton.
In 1846 he returned to Scotland for a year and
while there married Catharine, daughter of James McGregor, Auchallater,
Braemar. He returned to West Bay in 1847 and neither Mrs. Stewart nor he
was ever able to revisit their native land.
His work was arduous. Few now living can know
of the difficulties of travel in the country in those days when there were
no carriage roads. Much of his visiting was done on horse back or in
boats, and a tour of duty often took him from home for three weeks at a
time. He remained in West Bay for twenty four years, and then resigning
his charge, went to Cow Bay, now Port Morien, where he organized the
present Presbyterian congregation there. In 1868 he was called to
Whycocomagh where he labored for fourteen years. In 1882 he demitted his
charge, retired "from active service" and removed with his family to
Pictou where two of his sons had settled, and there, in July 1884 he
entered into rest.
Mr. Stewart was a scholar of unusually high
classical and mathematical attainments and kept up his interest in these
studies all his life long. Both in Richmond and in Inverness he served on
the Board of School Commissioners, and took a deep interest in education.
Earnest and untiring in the discharge of his solemn duties as a pastor, he
was of a cheerful and lively disposition and always loved the society of
young people. His favourite recreation, for which however he had but
little time, was angling, at which he was an expert. The late Rev. John
Chisholm of Margaree who was his colleague as a school commissioner in
Inverness County, was also an enthusiastic angler, and a comrade with rod
Like every cultivated Highlander, Mr. Stewart
was, under his own roof, the soul of hospitality. There was a community of
Indians on a Reserve near Mr. Stewart's home in Whycocomagh. They were
chiefly Catholics, but got acquainted with the Minister who always treated
them kindly. When they heard that he was going away, they gathered at the
house one day, and cried like little children over the pending separation.
THE LATE BISHOP MACKINNON.
Bishop MacKinnon's father, John MacKinnon,
came to America from Eigg, Scotland, in 1791. He settled first in Pictou
County, but subsequently moved from there to Parrsboro, in the County of
Cumberland, where he spent ten years. While at Parrsboro he was married to
Eunice MacLeod, daughter of Neil MacLeod and his wife, Mary Campbell,- the
latter a native of the Isle of Skye and a convert to the Catholic faith.
Owing to the lack of facilities for the practice of his religion at
Parrsboro, Mr. MacKinnon moved thence to the County of Antigonish, and
located at William's Point. At William's Point in the County of Antigonish,
on the 20th day of July A D., 1810, Colin Francis MacKinnon, a future
Bishop of Arichat was born.
In 1824 Rev. William B. MacLeod was sent by
Bishop MacEachern to the mission at Grand Narrows, Cape Breton. Father
MacLeod took with him from the County of Antigonish four boys whom he
wished to study for the church. These boys whom he took with him were Neil
MacLeod, Alexander MacLeod, Colin Francis MacKinnon and John Grant. All
four were afterwards raised to the priesthood, and became prominent
pillars of the Catholic Church. At Grand Narrows those boys were taught at
first by good Father William himself. Later on they were placed under the
tutorship of Malcolm MacLellan, a Scotland scholar of repute, and a
teacher of clear vision whom Providence had sent into "the forest
primeval" at the psychological call of time.
Colin Francis MacKinnon made his theological
studies in Rome, where he was ordained priest by Cardinal Fransoni on the
1st day of January, 1837. He came back home that year and was immediately
designated by Bishop Fraser for the mission of St. Andrew's, on the South
River of Antigonish County. He continued to be the live and devoted parish
priest of St. Andrew's till he was raised to the episcopal office by
Bishop Walsh of Halifax on February 21st, 1853. He even remained in his
beloved parish for more than a year after his consecration, and before
going to Arichat, the then seat of the Diocese. He resigned his See in
1877 and died on the 23rd of August, 1879.
Bishop MacKinnon did incalculable service for
the Eastern counties of Nova Scotia. Everything was in the formative stage
when he came upon the scene. Scarcely anything was then organized or
developed into a healthy going concern. He drew order out of chaos,
established schools and parishes, and did wonders to make his projects
effective. His soul was set to the work of getting suitable candidates for
the priesthood. In our buoyant boyhood we met him at his own house, and
cannot forget how his first salutation nearly knocked us down:- "My dear
young man, I hope you'll study for the church." For his sake and our own,
we grieve to think that this generous hope of his went sadly awry. But the
fault was ours, not, his.
He was full of zeal and piety, and literally
consumed with the wish to help the people, as regarded both temporal and
spiritual things. That he was a patron of education in, the best sense,
his Grammar School at St. Andrew's, his Academy in Arichat, and his old
College at Antigonish, have long since proved. He was an achieving leader
of the sane sort. His last enduring work was the building and completing
of that solid and stately Cathedral which looks down upon the modest town
of Antigonish, attesting for all time the love and loyalty of sheep and
So long as there is one good man in the
diocese of Antigonish, so, long shall the good will and works of Bishop
MacKinnon be remembered and revered.
John Cameron was born in 1826 at the South
River of Antigonish County. His father was John Cameron (Red), a
well-to-do farmer of that district, with a large family of whom this son
was the youngest. All the other sons having taken to farming as a life
pursuit, this Benjamin of the family was left free to choose his own
His elementary education was received in the
Grammar School of St: Andrew's, an institution of high repute at that time
in Antigonish. Even at that early period he was noticed for his mental and
physical activities. He was a sprightly youth, with all the pluck and
ambition of the normal boy, well bred.
While yet in his teens, his father offered to
send him for a full course, to any of the Universities of America, or to
Rome if he wished. We heard himself, in his old age, telling the answer he
made to his father:-"I shall go to Rome or nowhere." To Rome he went; and
there he studied for eleven consecutive years in the world-recognized
College of the Propaganda. He took the doctorates of Philosophy and
Divinity, and was considered "learned" in at least seven languages. In
later years, among the heirarchy of Canada, it was a custom to refer to
him as "the learned Cameron."
After his return from Rome he was appointed
Parish Priest of St. Ninian's, Antigonish, and became Professor of
Philosophy in St. Francis Xavier's College. He was always an ardent
educationist. Not only did he make an uncommon course in college: he
continued all his life to be a hard and regular student. Everything about
him, his manner, his taste, his habits, his mode of address, aye, the
classic plainness of his apartments, all proclaimed him the serious
student of the Propaganda. For that reason, perhaps, some people found him
too cold and dignified. All men are liable to be cold and dignified
sometimes, to some people.
It required close acquaintance to know Bishop
Cameron. He was a man who knew the ways of the world. Therefore, he lived
in strict conformity to ecclesiastical rules. These rules he observed at
all times, in all places, under all circumstances. He had no two codes.
But that does not mean that he lacked the social virtues. He could be as
kind and pleasant as a sister of charity to the honest, humble man who
knew but little; but probably a very lion to the flippant man who "knew it
all." Any man who got well acquainted with him could not help discovering
that, underneath that apparently cold exterior, there throbbed a heart
ablaze with charity.
After years of excellent work as pastor of St.
Ninian and Professor of Saint F. X. College, he was transferred to the
then important parish of Arichat, originally the seat of the diocese.
While in Arichat he was consecrated coadjutor Bishop in 1869. These
coadjutor bishops are appointed with the title in partibus infidelium.
Bishop Cameron's title in 1869 was "Bishop of Titopolus." He was raised to
full episcopal jurisdiction over the diocese of Arichat in 1877. In 1882
the name of this diocese was changed from Arichat to Antigonish, and in
the town of the latter name Bishop Cameron resided for the remaining years
of his life. His active aid and long continued interest in the up-building
of St. F. X. College and other educational institutions will be long
remembered in this diocese.
Bishop Cameron was a good administrator. A
great deal of organization and construction work was accomplished in his
regime. He had compassion for the people, and never wished to see them,
oppressed. At the same time, when he saw that it was necessary to do
something which the people were able to do, he would take no excuse for
inaction. That thing must be done. Like the careful man that he was, he
was slow to decide. He would weigh and sift the pros and cons but his
final conclusions were irrevocable. His priests obeyed him proudly; and
the people on their part were equally docile in the hands of their local
pastors. These conditions were ideal. But, to say that Bishop Cameron had
no troubles, were to say what is not true of any Bishop.
We can recall a few snags, which he
encountered in different parts of the diocese. They were perplexing, but
he found a way out. At this distance after the events, it is easier to see
that he, also, found the right way out. He was always well respected, at
home and abroad. It is known that his word and worth had special
influence, even in the Courts of the Vatican. On several occasions he was
formally commissioned by Rome to investigate disputes which had arisen
within the jurisdiction of other Canadian Bishops; and, in all such cases,
his decision and report were accepted as the last word on the subject by
all the parties in interest.
As a rule, he made a confirmation tour through
the County of Inverness once every three years of his incumbency.
Everybody liked to see him. His first visits were made when he was
practically in the prime of life. Those of us who heard him then cannot
easily forget that strong, clear and supplicating voice, ringing out from
the altar of love and sacrifice. On his last two visits his once erect and
commanding form showed evident signs of Time's tragedy. In his own palace
in the town of Antigonish, - Death ended a lengthened earthly career which
had been fine and fruitful. Immediately followed the spontaneous
lamentations of a bowed multitude of priests and people.
REV. WILLIAM MILLER.
The Reverend William Miller was a lowland
Scottish Presbyterian Minister, and the first resident Minister of
Hillsborough, Mabou. He was the only representative of the Presbyterian
Church in Cape Breton, when he came to Hillsborough in 1821. At
Hillsborough he remained until his death on the 16th of November 1861. The
good man saw and suffered the dark beginning of things in Inverness
County. After finishing his course of studies in the homeland, he heard
and heeded the urgent appeals for clergymen, sent to Scotland from Nova
Scotia. In the autumn of 1821 he was ordained at West River, Pictou
County, and forthwith entered upon his work at Mabou. He was a classical
scholar, but an exceedingly quiet and unassuming man. His library was
small, his associates were unlettered, he never wrote a sermon, and was
literally the student of one book. He worked hard and constantly under
great difficulties. He resigned his charge in 1851, but continued his
labors till the coming of his successor, Reverend James MacLean, D. D.,
three years later. In fact, he may be said to have died with his armour
on. The Sunday preceding his death, though infirm and ill, he preached to
his people from the text - "And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where
shall the ungodly and the sinner appear." Where indeed?
Mr. Miller was a plain, frugal, careful man
who had a holy fear of debt. He was married in Mabou to a lady by the name
The Call to Rev. Mr. Miller.
Mabou and Port Hood, Aug. 24th, 1821.
To the Moderator and other members of the
The want of the dispensations of the Gospel in
this place is very great, and is particularly felt by a number who have
long been desirous to enjoy it, and as hope deferred maketh the heart sick
so our hearts have long been in a languid state. But now in the good
providence of God they begin to revive by having the prospect of a
Minister soon placed among us, and we beg and earnestly entreat that you
will do what is in your power that our expectations may not be
disappointed, and we promise all due Obedience, respect and support, in
the Lord, and should it please the Presbytery to send us the Reverend
William Miller, who is now with us, they would crown our most Sanguine
wishes, and for his support we would pay him yearly according to our
annexed subscription list.
That the cause of religion may prosper among
us in the Church is the fervent prayer of every one who subscribes this
call, and shall be our endeavour, through Grace strengthening us, to
Lewis L. Smith
John B. Riley (?)
David F. Curtin
William Dien (?)
REV. JAMES McGREGOR.
Rev. James McGregor was the first of the
Pioneer Presbyterian ministers who helped to lay the foundation of
Presbyterianism in the Island of Cape Breton. He made his first visit in
1798. That visit did not include the County of Inverness. There were only
about twenty Presbyterian families in all Cape Breton at that time and
none of them from the Highlands of Scotland, and none speaking the Gaelic
language. Eight or nine of them were at Mabou and Port Hood, eight or nine
at Upper North Sydney, and two on the Sydney River Geo. Sutherland and
Alex. Cantley. Mrs. Sutherland had sent for Mr. McGregor a distance of two
hundred miles to pay them a visit and. to baptize Charles, her third son.
The indefatigable McGregor gladly responded, and was soon back in Pictou
Four years later, in 1802, "a stream of
Presbyterian immigrants from the Scottish Highlands and Islands began to
flow into our valleys, settle along our bays and shores and even climb our
hillsides. This living" stream of expatriated men, women and children
continued to flow into Cape Breton during the next 40 years. In the year
1842 this stream ceased to flow, but by that time, from ten to twelve
thousand Presbyterians were landed on the shores of this island."
Rev. James McGregor made his second visit in
1818. This time he spent about six weeks in what is now Inverness County.
Having hired a boat at Antigonish, he sailed across St. George's Bay,
Port Hood, and then proceeded to Mabou on horseback. He found five or six
Presbyterian families at Port Hood and ten or twelve at Mabou. He spent
two weeks between these two places, visiting and holding religious
exercises in every family. This was the first Protestant preaching that
had ever been enjoyed there; and the young people, even those arrived at
the age of manhood had never heard a sermon. His visit made a deep
impression upon many.
"From Mabou and Port Hood he came to Plaster
Cove on the Strait of Canso; and from there he went to River Inhabitants
and West Bay. There were a number of Presbyterians scattered along the
Strait at that time. A considerable number at River Inhabitants, and about
twenty families at West Bay." Dr. Patterson writes in his Memoir,-"Most of
them had come thither by way of Pictou, having resided there for longer or
shorter periods, during which they had been under the ministry of Mr.
McGregor. From the time of their settlement they had not heard a sermon
till he visited them."
Dr. McGregor is a more familiar designation of
the man than Mr. McGregor. The degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred
upon him by the University of Glasgow in 1822, four years after his second
visit to Cape Breton. This visit was no doubt due to the presence of
parties, in both Mabou and West Bay, who met him in Pictou and who desired
to see and hear him in Cape Breton.
There was Captain Benjamin Worth, who brought
the doctor from Charlottetown to Pictou, in his schooner, in the year
1791, some twenty seven years earlier, when Dr. McGregor was returning
from his first missionary journey to Prince Edward Island. There was also
Mr. William McKeen, who came to Mabou in 1812. Mr. McKeen was born in
Truro, but he lived some time in New Glasgow, and met Dr. McGregor there.
Some of the settlers of West Bay had actually been parishioners of his
during their temporary stay in Pictou County. To quote Dr. Patterson
again, - "He spent one Sabbath at River Inhabitants, and preached in a
barn belonging to Mr. Adam McPherson, both in English and Gaelic. Some of
the people of West Bay came through to hear him. On Tuesday following, he
went to West Bay and preached again in both English and Gaelic, in a barn
belonging to one McIntosh. This second visit of Dr. McGregor to Cape
Breton resulted in the formation of a congregation at Mabou and Port Hood
when, three years later, these two places united in a call to the Rev.
William Millar, a licentiate of the Associate Church of Scotland, and
forwarded the call to the Presbytery of Pictou, for presentation to Mr.
Millar on his arrival from the Old Country. This call was in due season
presented and accepted, and Mr. Millar was subsequently settled in Mabou,
and Port Hood as the first minister of that congregation. No doubt Dr.
McGregor was the moving and guiding spirit in this whole transaction.
Dr. McGregor was more than a self-sacrificing
missionary. He was a man of good literary attainments and of scholarly
tastes. He was also a poet of no mean order as his published English and
Gaelic poems abundantly testify. His Gaelic hymns were highly esteemed and
very generally sung by a former generation not only in Nova Scotia but in
Scotland as well. Mothers sang them at their spinning wheels to drink in
of their spirit and at the same time to convey delightful spiritual
messages to the little ones round about them, messages which are bearing
fruit in our own day.
REV. DUGALD McKICHAN.
The Rev. Dugald McKichan was minister of the
Presbyterian Church at River Inhabitants and the surrounding country from
the end of 1831 to the autumn of 1840. His charge embraced River Dennis,
River Inhabitants and the Strait of Canso from Port Malcolm to Troy with
all the intervening country. He was minister at Barneys River and
Merigomish, N. S., from 1829 to 1831, and again from 1840 to 1844 when he
returned to Scotland. He died there as parish minister of Daviot in the
Mr. McKichan was born and educated in
Scotland, licensed and ordained by the Presbytery of Lorne on the 12th of
March 1829, sailed from Greenock in the brig Thetis on the 25th of March,
and landed at Arichat, N. S., on the 28th of April, leaving the ship a
hopeless wreck on the coast near by. The Thetis had been caught in heavy
ice and thrust upon the rocks.
Mr. McKichan made his home at River
Inhabitants while he was minister in Cape Breton, and from there as a
centre he preached in all the surrounding Presbyterian settlements,
including West Bay, River Dennis, Malagawatch, Grand River, Loch Lomond,
and the Strait of Canso.
The first Presbyterian Church built at the
Strait of Canso was built in the early part of Mr. McKichan's ministry,
probably in 1832. It stood by the highway to Port Hood and a little north
of Plaster Cove, now Port Hastings. The cemetry on the north west side of
the Long Stretch Road marks the site of that first church. All trace of it
has now disappeared. This was the church in which the Rev. John Stewart
preached his first sermon on this side of the Atlantic on August the 24th,
1834, and the church in which the Rev. Alexander Farquharson preached his
first sermon after his ordination by the Presbytery of Miramichi on the
16th of September of the preceding year.
Mr. McKichan was at River Inhabitants when the
Presbytery of Cape Breton, the first formed Presbytery on the island, was
organized in 1836. This Presbytery took charge of all Presbyterian work in
Cape Breton, except St. Anne's. Mr. McKichan's name appears on its roll in
1837. Shortly afterwards he became its clerk, and so continued until he
left the island in 1840. His laborious and arduous ministry was greatly
appreciated by his parishioners and by the other settlements which he was
able to visit. He nobly helped to lay a good foundation for the time to
REV. WM. G. FORBES.
The Rev. Wm. G. Forbes was ordained and
inducted by the Free Church Presbytery of Cape Breton as minister of
Plaster Cove, River Inhabitants and River Denys in the month of August,
1852. He made his home at Plaster Cove, now Port Hastings, and spent his
ministerial life as minister of this extensive parish. He resigned his
charge on account of age and infirmity on the 30th of June, 1881, and
lived on comfortably and happily in his own home with his son, Henry, his
son's wife (Sarah McKeen) and his grandchildren, William, Harry, and Mary
(now Mrs. Aubrey Lawrence, Toronto), till the hour of his departure
arrived on the 20th day of September 1886, in the 86th year of his age and
the thirty fourth year of his ministry.
Mr. Forbes was educated partly in Scotland and
partly at the Free Church College, Halifax, N. S. He was one of the first
students of the Free Church College to be licensed and ordained. He was
licensed by the Free Church Presbytery of Halifax in June 1851. In October
1859 he was chosen Moderator of the Synod of the Free Church, and was
Moderator in Oct. 1860 when the Synod met in Pictou, and the Free Church
of Nova Scotia and the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia entered into
union and formed the Presbyterian Church of the Lower Provinces of British
Mr. Forbes was born at North Ronaldshay, one
of the Orkney Islands, in the year 1800. In early life he was for a number
of years a school teacher, and taught not only in the Orkneys, but also in
Sutherlandshire and Edinburgh. He came to Halifax in 1847, and studied for
the ministry of the Presbyterian Church from 1848 until 1851 when he
finished his course and was duly licensed to preach the gospel. The
following year he became pastor of Plaster Cove, (now Port Hastings),
River Inhabitants and River Denys.
The older people of this charge were nearly
all from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and the dear, old
mellifluous Gaelic was on almost every tongue. Among them Mr. Forbes was
perfectly at home.
They had been longing for such a minister, and
now they had him - the man of their own choice. Mr. Forbes was a good
preacher in English and Gaelic, and a man of broad sympathies. He stood
for cordial relationship with all churches in so far as their principles
were unmistakably Christian. He was very deeply interested in temperance
and the common schools and in all that contributed to the moral, social
and spiritual welfare of the people as a whole. In these respects he did
much to give a strong healthy tone to the public and private life of all
the people within his sphere of influence, and to this day his name is
deservedly held in very high esteem.
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