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Then and Now
The Heritage of Inverness County by Jim St. Clair
From the Inverness Oran


Along the western shores of Lake Ainslie on a cold, blustery day shortly before Christmas, a young woman gave birth to her first child. The healthy baby boy was strong and eager for life; but the mother was weak and without courage. Within hours of the arrival of new life, the small strength of the mother waned until there was no more.

Amidst the sadness of the end of the life of the young wife and mother was the concern about how to find a woman who already was nursing a baby, for in those days before formulas, mother's milk was the needed sustenance. The child did draw some sustenance from a linen towel soaked in warm cow's milk, but more food was needed.

A distant relative of the family lived in a remote glen on the other side of the Mount Young. A small settlement of a half dozen houses lined a track from Port Hood to Whycocomagh. In one of those houses, Mary MacLean was nursing her month-old baby, and there was plenty of milk for two.

As the edge of night spread across the land and a strong northeast wind brought heavy flurries, it was decided by the young bereaved father that his newborn son should be brought to Mary Malcolm with all dispatch, for the young boy was clearly very hungry.

In the company of two neighbours, the group set out for the rear of Bridgend with all three men provided with lanterns. One of the party, Samuel, went ahead on horseback to alert the houses along the way of the travelling father and his young child.

Wrapped tightly in blankets with hot bricks placed in straw in several corners of the sleigh, John and his son and Andrew, the neighbour, set out in the face of a developing blizzard. The child's life was at stake, but the danger was also great heavy snow falling, a narrow road and darkness.

Samuel was able to find his way and stopped at every house, and people began to carry lighted lanterns to the edge of the trail and watched for the arrival of the horse and sleigh with the two men and a baby making a journey towards food and health in a fierce storm.

Each household, as it was able, provided warm bricks to replaced those which had lost their warmth; and hot soup was ready at the roadside. Women brought more blankets to ensure that the baby would be swaddled in as many layers as possible. Up over Mount Young and down the other side and across the small stream went the strange party a man on horseback with a lantern going on ahead, and then a horse and sleigh making slow progress through the developing drifts of new snow a conveyance carrying a young father and newborn child and a driver.

Lanterns flickered in the night, showing the location of the road; the baby cried, calling for food; and a father despaired that they would find their way and that Mary Maclean would be able to suckle his newborn child.

Wind and whiteness and darkness of night; trees providing some shelter from the worst of the gale as the strange procession found its way yard by yard up a mountainside and down into a secluded glen.

As John and Andrew came over the brow of the hill, for a moment the storm ceased there below them was a series of lanterns outlining the path descending the ridge; and there at the end of the valley a great bonfire burned in the night. Samuel had reached the MacLean farmstead. The blaze was a symbol and a goal.

The clouds seemed to part, and a star shone bright in the night as if to mirror the lanterns along the snow-filled roadway. With his heart heavy from grief, John felt a great surge of new hope. His son would survive a gift from his recently deceased wife.

Within the hour, they arrived in the dooryard of the MacLean; house and Mary Maclean, wrapped in a warm cloak with a great fire to be seen behind her in the large fireplace, stood in the doorway her arms outstretched to receive the precious bundle.

A new life would survive. Three men no wiser than you and I had made a treacherous journey to bring a child to nourishment and care. For many years, people recalled the event. The narrow path lined with lanterns was an image that came down through generations.

And today, our highways and byways are lined with clusters of bright lights, showing travellers the way and proclaiming that the darkness of December will give way to longer daylight and new joy. But no illumination is more welcome than those kerosene lanterns of long ago as a baby journeyed over mountain and valley in search of sustaining life. And the child did survive and grew strong and lived a long life. And people did what they could do to meet the needs of the weak and vulnerable an underlying and constant strength of Inverness County.


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