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
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
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
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.