Canada at this period was a sparsely
populated and poorly developed country. The winters were long and cold,
and the summers short and uncertain. Land there was in abundance, but
mostly under heavy timber. The labour involved
converting this forest country into agricultural land was immense. It
required men and women of stout hearts and great physique to begin
home-making in these forests. Of capital they had very little, and of
tools none. The land was freehold, and sold at one, two, or three dollars
per acre according to quality and accessibility. All the "Frances Ann"
people found land on the Middle River, between Alma and Gairloch, nearby
Pictou. They could purchase as much as their funds permitted. The terms
were one year free, provided a suitable hut was erected and a certain
amount of land cleared. Some distance from them were numbers of other
refugees from Sutherland, Ross, Inverness, and the Hebrides. These people
initiated them into the mysteries of log-chopping and cabin-building.
As winter was approaching all of
them made some effort to build themselves the prescribed log cabins.
Norman decided to cast in his lot with the people, and being an adept with
tools and measurements he superintended the erection of most of their
huts. This work was very strenuous, while their food supplies were of the
scantiest. As the autumn advanced snow began to fall, and with
the old folks were driven indoors. This enforced idleness induced
introspection and nostalgia. With this they began to croon such Gaelic
songs as they remembered, and more especially those that referred to
the heather hills of Scotia. Oftentimes
one could hear a group of old people crooning away at the song :—
"C’arson d-gfagta me
Oh, why left I my hame, why did I
cross the deep?
Oh, why left I the land where my forefathers
I sigh for Scotia’s shore, as I
gaze across the deep,
But I canna get a glimpse of my ain country.
Old people are like old plants: they
have performed their functions
in the scale of Nature, and hence are not very readily transplanted.
Nostalgia, or homesickness, is a universal disease, and one to which the
Highland people are very prone. The Englishman sings of "Merrie England,"
the Irishman of " Erin Go Bragh," and the Scotsman of "Bonnie Scotland."
All this sighing is a pardonable, indeed, a very natural expression of
love of country. What with nostalgia, the brooding over their wrongs, the
scarcity of food, the intense cold, the unsuitable clothing, and the
unnatural transplantation, many of the old folks passed away or, in their
own familiar tongue, d-falbh a dachaidh—" went
home "—ere Nature again bedecked herself or heard the
voice of Spring.
NORMAN BEGINS PREACHING.
When the cabin-building was
finished Norman began to preach in his own
shack. Soon he collected a large congregation. He also
made preaching excursions into the neighbouring settlements. Most of the
people in these settlements were his fellow-countrymen. He was an eloquent
Gaelic preacher, and this appealed very much to the people. So large was
his following towards the end of his first year that the Rev. Duncan Ross,
the minister of the neighbouring parish relinquished his church to him.
to the testimony of the Rev. Dr. McGregor, the
minister of East River, Pictou, Norman proved himself to be an
extraordinary man: He says :— "So great was the fame of Norman as a
preacher that the people would go much further to. hear him than any other
Then, again, the Rev. Dr. George
Patterson, in his history of the county of Pictou, says of him:—
"He took up his residence at Middle
River amongst the party whom he accompanied from Scotland. The people of
the upper part of Middle River,
Laing, and neighbourhood, who had hitherto been under the ministry of the
Rev. Duncan Ross, generally followed Norman, so that Dr. Ross relinquished
to him the church of Middle River. His influence extended to every part of
the county, and by his followers he was regarded with unbounded devotion.
Those who heard him preach at the time described his preaching as abusive
of the Church of Scotland, the landlords, and the government; but though
he was so fanatical he was a man of immense power, and gained such an
influence over a large portion of the Highlandcrs that no
other man in the county possessed. Such
was his vogue that those who were opposed to him dubbed his followers as ‘Normanites.’"
No doubt Norman had what he
considered a just grievance, and so mercilessly lashed the individuals and
agencies of his misfortunes with all the vituperation at his command. This
probably suited the mood of the people, for they, too, had their
grievances, and so Norman became the hero of the hour.
In his second year at Middle River
he was joined by his wife and family from Assynt. It
was thought now he would relinquish preaching
and begin stumping and cultivating his section. His people, however, were
so proud of him as a preacher that they offered to do all his farm work
and so leave him free for church duties. The neighbouring settlers were
also desirous that he should devote himself to ministerial duties. They
probably knew he was an unlicensed preacher, but so popular had he become
that it was Norman or nothing. The settlements were new and their
organization so defective that qualifications were not much considered. In
those circumstances Norman filled the gap admirably. He was an all round
capable man, always ready to lend a helping hand at any job; he sought no
money, was a good linguist and speaker, and full of sympathy with the
disappointed, homesick people. In short the two parties were
beautifully sympathetic, as the old
proverb hath it, "a fellow feeling makes us wondrous kind."