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John Ramsay of Kildalton
By Freda Ramsay (1870)

Being an Account of his Life in Islay and including the Diary of his trip to Canada in 1870.


Rarely have I been privileged to read a story as impressive and touching as that recorded in the diary of John Ramsay, Esq., depicting the incidents of his journeyings in Canada in the year 1870, at which time he visited the new homes of those who had been his tenants on the Island of Islay, Argyllshire, and had later emigrated to the Province of Ontario where they settled and prospered in the counties of Ontario, Victoria, Simcoe, Grey and Bruce.

Several years earlier Mr. Ramsay, realizing that the land on the Island of Islay could not sustain its ever- increasing population, had the practical vision to see that those courageous and determined Scots, if given an opportunity in the New World, had the capacity, industry and determination for success to a degree which they themselves did not visualize. In order to facilitate their emigration he arranged with the steamship company for substantially reduced fares and in some cases paid the fares himself. In the years 1862-63 about four hundred Islay people settled in Canada.

History does not record, to the best of my knowledge, any other Scottish landlord who, in addition to following the course of adventure of his tenants in the New World, actually crossed the Atlantic to learn for himself the state of their progress. Happily he found that they, as a result of their unfaltering faith, invincible courage and unremitting toil, had built for themselves pleasant and comfortable homes, cleared much land which yielded bountiful crops, and were, on the whole, a happy and contented people. The warm welcome cordially given him by those who at one time were his tenants testifies to the ingratiating qualities which characterized this intrepid humanitarian.

Mr. Ramsay's concern for the welfare of Scottish emigrants generally is further evidenced in the early pages of his diary by his visit to those Highlanders from the island of Lewis who had settled in the vicinity of Stornoway and Lake Megantic in the Eastern Townships of the Province of Quebec.

Mrs. lain Ramsay, whose late husband was a grandson of the author of this diary, has written in concise and dignified style. With the hand of a master she portrays the privations and hardships which the tenants endured in Islay and the contribution made for their relief and eventual prosperity by John Ramsay, a man who added to his humanitarian interests those of an eminent scholar, a wise counsellor, an outstanding parliamentarian and a successful industrialist.

Mrs. Ramsay is now engaged in extensive historical research for the University of Glasgow in relation to the worldwide emigration from Scotland during the past centuries. Moreover, she is lending her fine literary talent to the publication of a history of Islay during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Mrs. Ramsay's daughter Janna, Mrs. Henry Best of Moffat, Ontario, is the fifth generation of the Ramsay family to come to Canada.

Those of Scottish birth or extraction, indeed all who are interested in Highland Scottish colonization in Canada, should be deeply indebted to Mrs. Ramsay for making this record available.

J. Keiller Mackay

Toronto, Ontario,
December. 14, 1968


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