Just how many Gaelic
Scots were in Woodstock at the time is difficult to know, but in 1848
a large group of them came to the community as emigrants - many
of them not knowing a word of English. We are indebted to Miss
Isabelle McLaren, secretary of Knox Church as this is being written,
for an interesting account of the arrival of one such group. It is
attributed to one D. McPherson and reads as follows:
"One fine morning in the spring of 1848 many families of emigrants
from South Uist (an island off the coast of Scotland) were driven upon
the Green. This spot of land was the five acres bounded on the south
by Dundas Street, on the north by Hunter Street, on the east by Graham
Street and on the west by Light Street. It sloped upwards toward the
old Court House and was covered with thick green sod, with a dirty,
stagnant pool of water at the south end.
"Eight or ten wagons were unloading human beings - old men and old
women, children of all ages, with literally nothing save the clothes
on their backs - nothing to eat and no money with which to buy food -
faces and hands dirty and their hair a mass of tangles - their clothes
smelling strongly of ship tar. Many of them men wore jackets of navy
blue with breeks to match, and bonnets, either Glengarry, Balmoral or
Tam O'Shanter. The women wore the regulation blue-black short fishing
skirt and a blouse. Many of them were bare footed, bare headed, or
perhaps a shawl thrown over their heads. Only one woman wore a mutch.
"Theses people had to put up with the poorest accommodation aboard
ship - the same on land, hustled and bustled through from the sea to
whatever part of the country the emigration officer thought fit to
send them. No person offered them water, soap or towels, and they had
not the wherewith to buy the necessities of life nor enough knowledge
of English to demand them. The emigration agents did not take the
trouble to inform the municipalities that emigrants were coming.
Newspapers were scarce and dear.
"These people were bundled off the wagons on the cold, frosty grass
with loud and eargrating oaths and curses. People of the village
turned out and looked on with a sort of dazed astonishment in their
eyes. The authorities took no action, but such men as Angus Campbell,
John Sutherland, Peter McLeod, James Barclay, William McKay (stone
cutter), Elder George Gunn and his three sons (Lauchlan, James and
Hugh), John Maxwell (printer), Donald MacPherson, an Elder in the
Kirk, and others just as good and true, formed themselves into an
emergency committee and went up to the Green.
"At the first word of Gaelic spoken the men came forth with their
bonnets in their left hand, their right hand outstretched for
the friendly grasp. Most of the women were sitting with their heads in
their hands, suffering from hunger and terrible loneliness, but when
they heard the Gaelic salutation "Peace be Here" (in Gaelic a loose
translation is "sith dhuibh"), they sprang to their feet, and fairly
covered the hands of their new friends with kisses. Highland people
do not deal much with kisses but when they do, their own soul is
stirred up with loving thankfulness.
"Soon bread, potatoes, milk, butter, teapots of hot tea and hot soup
were carried to them and the men built fires while others gleaned from
others their prospects.
"......The authorities had still taken no action and the day wore on.
Donald McPherson Campbell & Peter McLeod called on John Greig and
asked him for the key to Auld Kirk. John gave it up and the doors
were thrown wide pen and the new friends put these people there for
the night. Citizens came to Angus Campbell and gave him money to buy
food for the morrow."
The account concludes that some of these people were put in shanties
on farms in W. Zorra, others built shanties on vacant lots on Winniet
Street or wherever they could squat. But it adds that many never
learned to speak English and felt themselves in a strange land.