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Canadian History
Historical Essay on the Scots of the Upper St. Francis District of Quebec

The first Hebridean Scots to inhabit the Eastern Townships came in 1838 from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. They were probably unaware of the extreme hardships ahead of them. Their deplorable situation in Lewis, however, drove them to emigration--not the lure of Canada as "the Promised land." This first group of settlers from the Isle of Lewis came from the village of Mealista on the west side of Uig and were settled by the BALC in the township of Lingwick which was in the region known as the Upper St. Francis District. They arrived only "with the clothes they wore, sometimes a piece of furniture, the tools of their trade, and their beloved Bible" (McLeod, 1977:1).

Unfortunately, the BALC could not pay for the passage of these Hebridean immigrants. They had to pay for their tickets themselves, but the BALC sold the land to them cheaply and on very favorable terms of interest. They did not have to start paying the Company back until a year after their arrival. In return the settlers agreed to clear one-tenth of the land within four years and to clear a road 20 feet wide in front of their lots.

This arrangement attracted an increasing number of immigrants from the Isle of Lewis and Harris, with a sprinkling from other Hebridean islands like Skye and the two Uists.

Life is hard for the Scots in the early years.

When first settled, this part of the Eastern Townships had no road, was thickly forested with many swampy areas along the Salmon River which flowed through Lingwick. Some officials considered the area unfit for habitation. It apparently seemed so to some of the newcomers, some of whom went back to Lewis and others moved to other parts of Canada after a few years in Lingwick.

The first few years of the Lewis Scots in Lingwick were indeed difficult ones. The journalist L.S. Channell described the hardships in this way half a century later:

"The first eight families... all settled on the road between Bury and Gould, as close together as they could. This was always the main thought with the Scotch settlers in those days. ... They wanted to have a settlement of their own, where they could live like Highlanders, 'shoulder to shoulder.' None of them in those days thought of owning a larger farm than fifty acres.

"The cabins built by the settlers the first year were very small.... The cabins had no fire places or chimneys the first winter... A hole was made in the roof to let all the smoke out that was inclined to escape. The roof was generally so badly constructed that whenever it rained outside it rained inside also.

"The settlers lived the first year principally on oatmeal, advanced by the B.A.L. Company. They paid for this the following summer at the rate of $5 for one hundred pounds, by grubbing out a road from Bury to Gould." (Channell (1896:256-57)

Read the whole story here!

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