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Woodstock, Ont. 1848
From "The Church The Gaels Built" by W. Stewart Lavell. Excerpt from pg. 4, "Beginnings".


Our thanks to Allan J. Gillies for sending this in...

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.


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