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The Highlanders of Waipu
Chapter VIII - St. Ann's: A New Settlement

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 pioneering.

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 ills
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.


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 of 1825 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 29, 1826.

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 from him, 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.

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