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The Highlanders of Waipu
Chapter VI - First Settlement in Nova Scotia


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 in 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 it 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 mo duthaich."

Oh, why left I my hame, why did I cross the deep?
Oh, why left I the land where my forefathers
sleep?
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.

According 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 minister."

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."


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