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Dr Margaret MacKellar
Chapter I - Childhood


IN the Island of Mull, set in the wild Atlantic Ocean off the West Coast of Scotland, Margaret MacKellar was born on October 23rd, 1861. Though she was but two years of age when her family emigrated to Canada, her fervent patriotism is of the true Highland type, and she has all the intensity and fire of her Celtic ancestry.

She was the second child of Peter MacKellar and Mary MacLeod. From her parents she received the foundations of her strong character. Her father was a quiet, God-fearing man. At an early age he took to sea and made long voyages to distant lands. He visited India a number of times, and little Margaret's first knowledge of the land to which she was destined to give her life came to her in the interesting form of stories told her by her older sister as she had heard them from her father.

Margaret's mother was the only daughter in a family of six. Her parents were godly folk, and an incident in the girl's early life gives a hint of the home-training she must have had. It was at the time of the Disruption of 1843, and Mary MacLeod was fourteen years old. The little church in Mull was to decide to which party it would adhere. Mary went to the meeting where this question was being discussed. She was so long in returning that her mother, becoming anxious, set out to meet her. A little way along the road she found her daughter kneeling behind a rock, engaged in prayer, seeking the guidance of God as to the stand she should take at this crisis in the history of her beloved Church.

As already indicated, Margaret was about two years of age when the lure of the new world drew the family West. In the old "Britannia" of the Allan Line they embarked: Mrs. MacKellar, the two children, Annie and Margaret, and the dear Grandmother MacLeod, with her youngest son, to join Mr. MacKellar, who was already in Canada. The other maternal uncles followed later and their presence contributed much to the home life in the new land. The first home was in St. Catharines, Ontario, but about a year after their arrival, Mr. MacKellar secured a hundred acres of farm land in the County of Bruce. At that time there were no clearings, and until the little log house was built for the temporary shelter of the family, they were kindly received into the house of a Scottish neighbor.

Margaret's first recollection is of a day when her grandmother took her in her arms to carry her over to the new home. On the way she sat down on a log with the child in her arms, and wept as though her heart would break. No doubt the contrast between the dear snug little home away in Mull and the rough log hut in the lonely forest overcame her, and she felt,

"O why, left I my hame,
Why did I cross the deep?
Oh, why left I the land Where my forefathers sleep?
Oh, here no Sabbath bell Awakes the Sabbath morn,
Nor song of reapers heard Among the yellow corn."

But soon the transforming touch of the mother was seen in and about the little home. Flowers—roses, sweet-william, rosemary, sweet briar—grew about the door, and within were pots and boxes of flowers, the lovely white chrysanthemums coming into bloom at Christmas time.

There was only a "but" and a "ben" and a loft, but the house was ever open to the passing guest. In the winter Captain Mac- Keller was at home with his family, but in the summer he was away on the Great Lakes commanding his own ship. Sometimes at night when the storms were raging round, Margaret's mother would rise from her bed and go out into the little garden to pray "for those in peril on the sea," while the grandmother, sharing her vigil, would sit up in bed and rock herself to and fro, pouring out her soul to God in Gaelic, her native tongue.

When Margaret was about five years of age she started to school—not because she was able to walk the two and a quarter miles to the schoolhouse, but because she was so eager to go that she would not stay at home. Her young uncle, who attended school in the winter, used to carry her on his back. If the weather was stormy she would often be left for the night at the MacGregors', near the school. It is interesting to note that the Rev. Donald MacGillivray, D.D., of our Canadian Presbyterian Mission in China, who is now connected with the Christian Literature Society of China, "learned his letters" at the same school at the same time. From the first, Margaret was fond of her lessons, and made good progress. At this school she formed a lasting friendship with Amelia Allen, and the two were special favourites of the teacher, James MacKinnon, who often overlooked their little pranks. Margaret was full of life and fond of fun.

The Sabbath was strictly kept in the home. Sometimes Margaret held a service and preached to her sister and brother. But one Sunday she was tempted to slide on the ice on the pond, near the house. Alas for her! She caught her new plaid dress on a snag and tore it. Parental discipline was exercised on the offender. She was a fearless climber and delighted to ride bareback on the horses, in fact, she was a real tomboy. She used to say that if she were a boy she would be either a sailor or a minister. Later she learned on her father's ship to do almost all that a sailor could, and as a missionary she has performed almost all the duties of a minister.

But the even tenor of her girlhood's days was to be sadly disturbed. One bright winter day in 1870 Capt. MacKellar drove his wife. to Port Elgin in the nice new cutter, intending to stay there for a visit. The children missed their mother but no one guessed what changes would soon take place. Margaret dreamed that night that the fence surrounding the flower-garden was removed and carried down the road to Port Elgin. The grandmother, perhaps with Highland premonition, interpreted the dream thus, that the mother, the one who held the home together was gone to Port Elgin. The interpretation proved true, for she never again made her home in the little log house, for while in Port Elgin, though still quite a young woman, she had a stroke of paralysis. As soon as arrangements could be made the children were removed to the town and a new home set up, but the grandmother and uncles remained on the farm. The seamstress of the family was engaged to look after the mother and children.

There are not many incidents during her mother's illness that stand out in Margaret's memory, but there is one. Margaret had won a prize at school, and on her return she knelt beside her mother's chair, and laid the book on tier lap. The mother laid her hand upon the child's head and wept. It seemed like a consecration, and no doubt the mother's heart cried out to God on behalf of the children whom she felt she was so soon to leave. And the God of motherless children heard her cry and in a peculiar way laid His hand on this daughter for His service.

In the autumn of 1872 Mrs. MacKellar was taken home. It was at the funeral service, when Mr. Tolmie, of Southampton, read from the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians, that, for the first time a word of Scripture seized hold of Margaret's mind, and the solemn words of verse 54, though scarcely understood, came with comfort to the child's heart.


 


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