St. Annís harbour is a spacious
well-sheltered bay on the north-east coast of Cape Breton, and not far
from the town of Sydney. In those early days there was very little
settlement on the island, so that homes had to be carved out of the
primeval forest. Then, too, the winters were long and cold, for the island
is much exposed to the fogs common to the Banks of Newfoundland and the
icebergs of the Arctic regions. When those Pictou migrants settled at St.
Annís, the country was so rough that it involved enormous labour ere they
converted patches of it into agricultural land. They, however, had nearly
two yearsí training in the art of log-cutting, and knew something of the
denizens of the Canadian woods. They had carried their bush tools and
simple agricultural implements with them, so they were enabled to start
home-making immediately upon landing. What stout hearts these people must
have had. No wonder if despair should occasionally seize
them and make them feel indifferent to their
fate. What discouragements, what sufferings, what heartburnings they must
have endured. Their circumstances, however, compelled them to make haste
in selecting their sections and begin the building of homes. They took up
blocks of land near the entrance to the harbour where Englishtown is now,
and thence up to the mouth of the North
River. Norman saw to it that each household had its own block of land with
suitable spots selected whereon to build their huts. They worked in gangs,
so that in a few months every family had a rude home to shelter them. When
all were settled Norman selected a block of land extending for about two
square miles at the head of the harbour called South Gut. Here he fixed
his home, and with the help of his people soon erected a spacious cabin.
While all this was going on some of the older men were busy fishing and
hunting. Fortunately there was an abundant supply of fish in the waters of
the harbour and various animals in the forest. These things and the few
stores they carried with them enabled them to eke out an existence. There
were no roads, no trade or commerce in the neighbourhood, so that they
were compelled to depend entirely upon their own efforts. One of their
first tasks was the building of a suitable sea boat wherewith they could
visit some trade centre and procure supplies. At this work Norman
excelled, and ere the summer had passed he constructed a model boat which
they called the "Mary" out of compliment to his wife. In her they traded
up and down the coast as the weather permitted and their requirements
demanded. How true it is that
"necessity is the mother of invention," and how by the stimulus of
this one man the new settlement of St.
Annís faced and overcame the many difficulties and hardships of Canadian
During the autumn and winter they
were busy preparing patches of land for the growing of potatoes and grain.
The virgin soil and forest sheltered country readily responded to any
attempts at cultivation. Lack of meal and a few groceries were their
greatest wants. They had learned at Pictou the art of curing skins, so
that they were well served with
various articles of fur clothing for the Winter season. Timber they had in
abundance, so that log fires never ceased burning. Immediately they had
settled down, Norman converted his cabin into a school-house and church.
It was decided that he should devote all his time to the teaching of
the children and the holding of
religious services; while the people attended to all his farm work. In the
summer of 1821 he convened a meeting of the people and proposed that a
suitable church and school be erected. To this proposal they readily
assented, so that ere another winter arrived they had a comfortable church
and school erected at Black Cove near to Normanís home. The patches of
land they had cultivated responded with excellent crops of potatoes, oats,
wheat, and vegetables. Every family ground its own meal with the steel
hand-mill. Many of them were familiar with the quern, or ancient Scottish
stone mill; but the steel mill was less cumbersome and more easily
manipulated. A few head of cattle were secured from new settlements
further up the coast. They had now practically surmounted their
preliminary difficulties, and some degree of comfort appeared in every
home. They were a very isolated community, who had to live almost entirely
upon their own resources. Of money they practically had none; but that was
of little consequence so long as food, clothing, and shelter could be
procured. They were accustomed to the helping of each other in their old
Highland homes, and this same custom continued in their new home. Indeed,
their position and circumstances in Canada cultivated in them an unusual
degree of Christian Socialism. They were indeed strangers in a strange
land. They had the advantage of one language, one race, one misfortune,
and one religion. All these things united them, so that they lived
practically as one family. Money had no attraction for them as they had no
means of spending it. Then, too, were they not the victims of money? Did
not their chiefs and landlords in Scotland cast them out to secure money?
Were they not sold for sheep and deer? How, then, could they look with
favour upon that which encompassed their trials and sorrows? Did not their
teacher and preacher often quote to them the words of the Greek poet
Sophocles regarding gold?ó
Gold is the worst of
That ever plagued mankind; it
wastes our cities,
Drives forth our natives to a foreign soil,
Taints the pure heart, and turns the virtuous mind
To basest deeds. Artificer of fraud
Supremeóand source of every wickedness.
These people suffered agonies, and
blamed the love of money as the source and font of all their miseries. It
is possible their reasoning faculties may have been unhinged, and hence
the vials of their wrath would naturally be poured out upon the avowed
cause of their misfortunes.
FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN CAPE
Norman and his people were the first
to establish a Presbyterian Church in Cape Breton. Their church, however,
was independent of the Presbyterian Church of Canada. Norman, though fully
trained as a minister, had never been licensed as a clergyman. He was
still a "stickit minister," and so could not legally perform any of the
rites of the Scottish Presbyterian Church. This probably was a stumbling
block, and the reason of their standing aloof from the Canadian Church.
Norman had proved himself such a friend to them and so helpful a companion
that they would not part with his services. The new settlement made rapid
progress, and ere 1825 arrived all the people were comfortably situated.
They had abundance of food, clothing, and shelter. Domestic animals were
procured, large trading boats were built, and their pioneering
difficulties were being successfully overcome.
The success of the St. Annís
experiment soon spread abroad, with the result that new settlers began to
occupy vacant land around them. Most of them were refugees from various
parts of the Highlands of Scotland. The process of eviction and
expatriation had not ceased, so that large numbers of people still poured
into the various parts of Canada and the United States. As the
neighbouring settlements advanced, they secured their own clergymen. The
original settlement had no licensed clergyman, while the younger
settlements around them were fully supplied. It is probable that Norman
and his people felt this disadvantage and decided to try and remedy it. He
had a Presbyterian clergyman friend in the person of the Rev. Alex. Denoon,
of Genesee, New York, and so he decided to visit that city. In the summer
he left St. Annís to visit Mr. Denoon. The latter
introduced him to the Presbytery of Genesee with a request that he be
taken under its care with a view to his licensure to preach the Gospel.
This request was granted, and Norman remained in New York for twelve
months undergoing a process of training, while at the same time he was
engaged in missionary work. In due time he submitted to examination, and
the following is an extract from the records of the Genesee Presbytery :ó
Sheldon, New York,First Church, August
Norman McLeod, of St. Annís, in the
Island of Cape Breton, was introduced to the Presbytery by the Rev.
Alexander Denoon, and made a request to be taken under its care with a
view to licensure to preach the Gospel. Mr. McLeod produced satisfactory
testimonials of his church membership, his moral character, and his
attention to literary pursuits.
The Presbytery adjourned until the
following morning, when it resolved to take Mr. McLeod under its care, and
it proceeded to examine him.
September 12, 1826.
Norman McLeod exhibited to the
Presbytery a written lecture on Romans VII, vv.
9, 10, 11,
and 12:ó" And I was alive apart from the law once; but when the
commandment came sin revived, and I died, and the commandment which was
unto life, this I found to be unto death, for sin finding occasion through
the commandment beguiled me, and through it slew me. So that the law is
holy, and the commandment holy, and righteous, and good."
In addition he delivered a popular
discourse as part of his trial for license. Thereafter it was unanimously
resolved that the Presbytery are satisfied with his trials, and that he be
licensed in the prescribed form to preach the Gospel.
The Presbytery did and do hereby
license him, the said Norman McLeod, to preach the Gospel of Christ as a
probationer for the Holy Mlinistry within the bounds of the
Presbytery or wherever else he shall be orderly called.
A request from Norman McLeod, a
licenciate of this Presbytery, was received asking that he be ordained to
the work of the Gospel Ministry.
The Presbytery heard a discourse
which was sustained as an additional part of his trials.
Whereas it has been made fully to
appear before the Presbytery that the people among whom he has laboured
for ten months past express the most entire confidence in his piety and
usefulness, concur with him in the request for his Ordination; therefore
resolved that his request be granted, and that the Presbytery proceed to
his Ordination this afternoon.
The Ordination took place
accordingly that afternoon, and Norman McLeodís name was entered on the
roll of the Presbytery of Genesee.