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The Emigrants Statue
Unveiling by the First Minister of Scotland 23rd July 2007.


Our thanks to Donald (Dennis) S. MacLeod for sending us a copy of the brochure produced for this event.

"Today's unveiling of this remarkable new presence in the Highland environment marks an important moment for Scotland. The impulse to create this statue came from a desire to remember, but also to reconcile; to reflect on the past, but to draw on it for the future's strength.

The clearances that took place across Scotland in the eighteenth century were most acutely felt here in the Highlands - and rarely with such severity as in the communities like those around Kildonan.

There is sadness of course in the recollection that this strath once played home to hundreds of families in dozens of small communities - a way of life that was transformed forever by the economic experiments of that period.

But we should take heart, and pride too, from the resilience of those that left this country and made their contribution, often a significant one, to the communities of other countries that showed generosity in receiving them.

Modern Scotland must learn from our history. Yes, we will continue to give our ideas and innovation and energy to the world, but we will recognise too that our people are our country's greatest resource and they must always be treated as such."

The Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP, First Minister of Scotland

The Legacy

The Emigrants Statue is a non-political national and international project. It is not just to commemorate the clearance of people from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, but also to celebrate the extraordinary contributions that Highlanders and their descendants have made to human progress throughout the world. It is hoped that the statue will become a focal point, to be visited by the descendants of the cleared people and also by all who are interested in this remarkable story of inhumanity, sorrow, courage and enterprise. It is also hoped that the statue, by commemorating the Clearances, will help heal the rifts of history.

In addition, by extending a hand of friendship and welcome beyond the shores of Scotland, the bonds of ancestry will undoubtedly be strengthened. This statue, therefore, belongs not just to today's Highlanders but as much, if not more, to all of Highland descent - be they from the Lowlands of Scotland, England, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Africa or elsewhere. It is hoped that all descendants will embrace and support this statue as their own.

International Impact

In the summer of 1813, more than 100 people, evicted that spring from homes near Helmsdale left Sutherland for the Red River district of what's now Manitoba. Because they travelled by way of Hudson Bay, where they had to overwinter in bitter cold, their journey took over a year. But in 1814 they reached their destination where they helped establish the community that's become the city of Winnipeg.

These folk were among hundreds of thousands who have emigrated from the Highlands and Islands - settling in countries like Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. From the perspective of such countries our emigrants were a huge gain - and it's right to commemorate, as Helmsdale's fine statue does so eloquently, what they achieved in their adopted homelands. From a Highland standpoint, however, it's impossible to do other than regret the loss of so much human talent - a loss made unavoidable by our inability to provide opportunities of the sort available overseas.

Today we're doing better. Today, for the first time in centuries, more people are moving into the Highlands and Islands than are leaving, and our area is at last on the way up. A key contributor to this process is UHI, the prospective University of the Highlands and Islands. It's my privilege to be involved with UHI and, in particular, with the UHI Centre for History, based here in Sutherland and about to launch the first ever honours degree in history to have the Highlands at its core. Like the statue we've gathered to celebrate the UHI Centre for History would not exist but for the generosity of Dennis MacLeod. As lots of other Highlanders have done, Dennis has spent much of his life overseas. It's our good fortune that he continues to be so supportive of the place he comes from.

Professor James Hunter CBE, Director, UHI Centre for History, Dornoch

Tha Carragh nan Eilthireach neo-phoileataigeach agus na proiseact niseanta agus eadar-niseanta. Chan ann a-mhin airson cuimhne a chumail air mar a chaidh daoine fhuadach bho Ghidhealtachd agus Eileanan na h-Alba a tha i,ach tha i cuideachd na comharradh air na rudan iongantach a chuir na Gidheil agus an sliochd ri adhartas daonna air feadh an t-saoghail. Thathar an dochas gum bi a' charragh na priomh ite-tadhail do shliochd nan daoine a chaidh fhuadach, agus cuideachd do gach neach aig a bheil uidh san sgeul shonraichte seo de mhi-dhaonnachd, bron, gaisgeachd agus iomairt. Thathar cuideachd an dochas gun cuidich a'charragh, le bhith a'comharrachadh nam Fuadaichean, gus lotan na h-eachdraidh a shlanachadh. A bharrachd air seo, le bhith a' cur failte air luchd-tadhail bho thaobh a-muigh cladaichean na h-Alba, theid ceangalan na sinnsearachd a nearfachadh. Mar sin, chan ann a-mhain le Gaidheil an latha an-diugh a tha a' charragh, ach neach a tha bho shliochd Ghaidhealach - co-dhiu a tha iad bho Ghalltachd na h-Alba, Sasainn, na Staitean Aonaichte, Canada, Sealain Nuadh, Astrailia, Afraga no aite eile. Thathar an dochas gun gabh gach neach bho shliochd Ghaidhealach ris a' charragh seo agus gun toir iad taic dhi seach gur ann leotha fhein a tha i.

Dennis MacLeod, Chairman, Clearances Centre Ltd

What Next? The Selkirk Settlers Monument in Canada, a full scale bronze replica of The Emigrants statue in Helmsdale, was erected at the beginning of July in central Winnipeg, a few yards from the Red River where the first Scots settlers arrived in 1814, many of them from Kildonan in Sutherland, one of the areas worst affected by the Clearances. The replica was commissioned by the St. Andrew's Society in Winnipeg and primarily sponsored by John Webster and Dennis MacLeod, directors of Clearances Centre Ltd. There are plans for replicas to be erected in other countries where Scots emigrants settled.

The Sculptor

I thought first of the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden. It is the archetype for displacement, for whatever reason, voluntary or involuntary. The sensations are loss, disorientation and anxiety. I have represented these emotions in the sculpture.

The man is tense, wary, anxious but determined. The boy is looking to his father for guidance, but at the same time he is ready for adventure. The Woman, holding her newborn child, looks back longingly at the familiar place she is leaving.

Apollinaire wrote:

"Perdre, mais perdre vraiment
Pour laisser place la trouvaille."

(Lose, but lose properly
To make room for discovery)

Change is fundamental to the human condition.
Nothing is permanent.
It has been so since that moment which we refer to as The Fall.

But change brings opportunity for growth.

Gerald Laing, 2007

"The Emigrants commemorates the people of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland who, in the face of great adversity, sought freedom, hope and justice beyond these shores. They and their descendants went forth and explored continents, built great countries and cities and gave their enterprise and culture to the world. This is their legacy. Their voices will echo forever thro the empty straths and glens of their homeland."

Inscription by Dennis MacLeod



These two pictures are of the Emigrants Statue in Winnipeg, Canada.

With John B. McMillan of the Scottish Studies Foundation

The Winnipeg statue, named the 'Selkirk Settlers', was unveiled by Lord James Douglas Hamilton (also Lord Selkirk) and Michael Russell, representing the Scottish government. Events were spread over two days and were a great success.


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