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Dr. Thomas McCulloch


In November 1803, a ship arrived at Pictou from Scotland. Among its passengers were Reverend Thomas McCulloch D.D., his wife and their children, all bound for Prince Edward Island, where McCulloch was to minister a Presbyterian congregation. Their arrival stirred some excitement; the supply of books in McCulloch's possession impressed the Pictonians with the fact that he was a learned man. They convinced him that he and his family should winter in Pictou, since it was already late in the season and a voyage to Prince Edward Island would be difficult. Their aim was to secure him permanently as a minister for a Pictou congregation.

A man of Thomas McCulloch's sort was much needed in Pictou in 1803. He was born in Renfrewshire, Scotland, in 1776, educated at Glasgow University where he took a course in medicine, as well as in arts, studied theology at Whitburn, was ordained a minister in Ayrshire, and offered his services as a missionary to the colonies. In an age of illiteracy and superstition, here was a man of learning in a settlement tied strongly to Presbyterianism, here was a qualified minister, a man of vision, and yet a tolerant man who understood the physical trials and demands of the pioneers. At a time when immigrants were flowing in, many of them sick and diseased, here was a man with medical training. In those early years he walked many miles making medical calls with no expectation of payment.

On June 6th, 1804 he was inducted as minister of the "Harbour" congregation of Prince Street Church, thus committing himself to remaining in Pictou for awhile.

By 1805, McCulloch, depressed by the general lack of education and religion among his people, had developed a dream of a college which would be open to students of all creeds. This desire for a non-secretarian Pictou College thrust him deeply into a religious and political controversy which was to strain the relations between Pictou and the Provincial Government for years to come.

While this bitter dispute dragged on, McCulloch began to teach students in a log house which stood near his property. This school was burned down one night by a person or persons obviously unsympathetic to McCulloch's liberal ideas.

Finally, in 1816, his dream became a reality. Pictou Academy was incorporated. McCulloch was named principal of the Academy, and the first students met in 1817, a regular academic curriculum being combined with training for selected divinity students.

Thomas McCulloch is remembered primarily as the father of a liberalized education system in Nova Scotia. But the man had much broader interests than his pedagogical ones alone. His scientific collections were admired by the foremost naturalists on the continent. The famous J.J. Audubon visited McCulloch at "Sherbrooke Cottage" in 1833 to study his work, and pronounced his collection the finest collection of its kind in North America.

McCulloch's contributions to the educational and spiritual development of the area inspired admiration and respect; his "Letters of Mephibosheth Stepsure" written about early life in the Pictou area created affection for McCulloch as a man and revealed his wit, warmth and tolerance.

In 1838 he became the first president of Dalhousie College, a position which he held until his death in 1843.

McCulloch house was built c. 1806 for Thomas McCulloch. Constructed of bricks from Scotland, it is commonly referred to as being of "Scottish domestic" design.

McCulloch called his home "Sherbrooke Cottage" as a tribute to Sir John Sherbrooke, Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia who had been sympathetic to the development of Pictou Academy.


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