Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

[Crest of clansfolk of Clan MacKay] Crest of Clansfolk of Clan MacKay

Clan MacKay Provided Distinguished Nova Scotians:

A Biography of Alexander Howard MacKay

                               - Gordon MacKay Haliburton

[Editor's note: In preparation for The International Gathering of the Clans will be held for the first time in Nova Scotia in 1979, Dr. Haliburton, who is a university professor and author, prepared a series of articles on Nova Scotia clansmen. This series was first published in the Chronicle Herald and Mail Star, and later as the excellent book, "Clansmen of Nova Scotia", by the same author. We reprint this article with the gracious permission of Dr. Haliburton.]

The Clan Morgan, or MacKay, is historically found living at the very top of Scotland, in Sutherland. Here they clustered along the valley known as Strathnaver, through which the River Naver flows from the loch of the same name northwards into the ocean. For centuries Strathnaver was the territorial appellation of the chiefs, until in the 17th century they were raised to the peerage with the title of Lord Reay.

The clan is deemed to be Celtic, and perhaps associated with the old royal house of Moray. Evidently the clan was one of those driven out by Malcolm IV in the 12th century when he was establishing the feudal system with the aid of his Norman friends. The name Morgan comes from a chief in the early 14th century; MacKay, from his grandson Aodh (Hugh). The war cry is Bratach Bhan Chiann Aoidh (The White Banner of MacKay) and was used with powerful effect in times gone by.

The Clan MacKay was zealous in the cause of the Reformation, which gave scope for their fighting spirit to be displayed. In 1626 the chief, Sir Donald MacKay, raised some 3,000 troops (including 36 pipers) to fight on the Protestant side in the Thirty Years' War. As a result, King Charles I raised .pn 2 him to the peerage as Lord Reay. The men wore Highland dress with kilts of dark green tartan, and were the first regularly organized military unit to wear the Highland garb as a uniform. Ultimately the regiment formed part of the army of Gustavus Adolphus; his death left Lord Reay in serious financial trouble.

There have been many distinguished members of the clan in Nova Scotia, but perhaps the most influential in forming our society has been A. H. MacKay, who directed the school system of the province and charted its educational course for a period of 35 years, spanning several generations of pupils.

Alexander Howard MacKay was born at Dalhousie Mountain, near the source of the River John in Pictou County, on May 19, 1848. He was the son of John and Barbara (MacLean). John MacKay, known as John MacKay 'turner', was born on the croft of Bratan Grudy in the Parish of Rogart, Sutherland. He came to Pictou County with his parents (Alexander and Margaret (MacKay) MacKay 'Bratten') in 1822.

Young A. H. MacKay grew up on the farm, then attended Pictou Academy, the Normal School (following which he taught a few years), then Dalhousie University, where he got his BA with honours in mathematics and physics in 1873. He found time while excelling in his studies to edit the Dalhousie Gazette. In 1880 he was awarded his B.Sc. (honours in biology) from the examining body, the short-lived University of Halifax.

The main thrust of A. H. MacKay's accomplishment was in the field of public education. At the time that he took his primary and secondary education, there was as yet not free school system in Nova Scotia (it was introduced in 1864) and at the time he began his teaching career, the new system was undergoing severe growing pains. It was his destiny to oversee the shaping and moulding of the system through the closing decade of the 19th century and the first two of the 20th century. His influence on the shape it took can hardly be over-estimated.

As soon as he had graduated he was appointed principal of the Annapolis County Academy, but in November of the same year (1873) he was called on to take charge of Pictou Academy. He inaugurated a veritable renaissance of that venerable institution, gathering to it a staff of brilliant teachers who made it a magnet for the youth of the Maritime Provinces and beyond, and renewed its impact on the educational life of the area. MacKay gave weight especially to the teaching of science, the wave of the future.

In 1889 MacKay was attracted to the principalship of Halifax Academy, but after a year he left it to lecture in the Dalhousie College and Medical School. Fortunately for the school system of the province, in 1891 he was appointed Superintendent of Education, a post he filled for the next 35 years.

Under his direction, the high schools were fitted into a system which formed an educational ladder, beginning at the primary level and extending up to university entrance. To the new high school program he gave an emphasis on science consistent with his own belief in its importance.

On the other hand, he believed in the training of practical skills, and introduced domestic science and manual training through the system. Finally, a firm believer in "mens sans in corpore sano", he insisted on systematic physical training in the schools, and in this Nova Scotia was the pioneer among Canadian provinces.

He was not afraid to advocate measures which his contemporaries found farfetched. For example, he published a paper advocating three great reforms: bringing weights and measures under the metric system, reforming English spelling, and instruction in shorthand (phonographic writing).

Politically speaking, he had some definite ideas. A sketch of him in 1912 said he believed in the more complete organization of the British Empire, in the future federation of English-speaking and governed people, and in the ultimate judicial organization and political confederation of the world.

At the time of his retirement in 1926, the Educational Review said: "When asked to estimate the general educational policy of his administration, we would suggest first and foremost the emphasis laid upon the formation in the young of a national and imperial temper. Nothing has been left undone by a central educational authority to inculcate into youth a sense of the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship. Of Scottish Highland stock, in its origin intently sectional, lisping in his cradle the language of the Gael, Dr. MacKay has nevertheless consented to submerge the special interests of race and language in the presence of a larger vision of United Canada."

A. H. MacKay contributed by his interest and his research to the Nova Scotia Institute of Science and to the Royal Society of Canada. He organized the Summer School of Science for the Atlantic provinces and was its president in 1887-8, was prominent in educational associations (such as the Imperial Council of Education, which met at intervals in London), and in scientific groupings (such as the British and American Association for the Advancement of Science). He was elected a Fellow of the Society in Canada in 1888.

In 1882 he married Maud Augusta, daughter of Dr. George Moir Johnstone, of Pictou. They had two children, Johnstone and Lois.

Dr. MacKay retired in 1926 and lived at his home in Dartmouth until his death in 1929 in "abounding good health and buoyant energy to the very end". His successor, Dr. Henry F. Munroe, eulogized him in these words:

"Deriving from a sturdy Highland stock, he exhibited throughout his long career tireless energy and a capacity for hard work which few known to me have ever attained and none surpassed ... even at 80 he continued his daily habit of unremitting study until long past midnight. Coupled with his strength of body and mind went an intellectual curiousity, which, in a special sense, seems to be a quality of the Scot."

"His career may be considered as fourfold - as headmaster, scientist, educational administrator, and citizen. In each capacity he was conspicuous, and, when all is considered, he stands forth as one of the notable Nova Scotians of our time."

Copyright (C) 1979; Gordon M. Haliburton
Published in: The Chronicle Herald - Mail Star: 21 April 1979
Also in book, "Clansmen of Nova Scotia", by Gordon M. Haliburton

{*} [MacKay Hall] {*} [Heritage Hall] {*} [Copyright (C) 1996] {*}




This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus