The Emigration Story
arrival in 1761 of men from Fraser's Highlanders Regiment at La Malbaie.
first Scottish settlers.
Library and Archives Canada C-040583)
There are many misconceptions about
Scottish emigration to Canada. Some commentators prefer the stereotype of the
Scottish emigrants being forced to emigrate. They were always the helpless victims of economic destitution,
landlord oppression and government heartlessness. However, the reality was quite
different. Most emigrant Scots left of their own free will and actually financed
their crossing themselves. While there was some compulsion, particularly during
the period of the infamous Highland Clearances, the main driving force was
economic self-betterment. Far from being powerless victims, most emigrants planned
their departure carefully and were highly knowledgeable on the economic
advantages which Canada offered. Here is a summary of some of the key points:
The Scottish Perspective
Scots were particularly well
represented in the early phase of British immigration which began in the late
18th century. From the beginning, they were strongly associated with enterprise
and entrepreneurial activity, being in the forefront of the timber trade.
Although Scotland experienced unparalleled economic growth in the 19th
century, there was widespread destitution caused by the demise of traditional
jobs and the introduction of more modern farming methods. Faced with a choice
between a job in the manufacturing Lowlands and emigrating, many Scots opted for
a new life in Canada.
The Scottish influx to Canada grew slowly. Before 1816 emigration had been
seen as an unwelcome development and landlords and the British government,
fearing the loss of economic and military manpower, mobilised
anti-emigration campaigns in an attempt to minimise the exodus. However,
attitudes changed dramatically with the worsening economic conditions
which followed the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars in 1816. In this new
economic and political climate emigration was seen less as a threat and more as
a cure-all for the nation's social ills.
Because many Scots received financial assistance to emigrate, they are widely
perceived as having been coerced to leave Scotland rather than freely opting for
Canada. However, far from regarding themselves as hapless victims, they had a
remarkable knowledge of the opportunities which Canada had to offer and were
highly selective in their settlement choices.
Highlanders and Islanders were highly acclaimed as successful pioneers, being
ideally suited to the harsh conditions and privations which had to be endured by
the first wave of immigrants. Once established they generally attracted large
numbers of followers from their homeland regions.
Most Scots crossed the Atlantic in good ships under experienced sea captains.
The popular depiction of leaky and sub-standard vessels is simply not borne out
by the evidence.
Short stay among the Orkney Islands, June 3, 1821
(Courtesy Library and
Archives Canada C-001902)
The Canadian Perspective
In the eastern Maritimes the timber trade was the crucial factor which
determined where Scots would settle. Initially, Pictou, the Miramichi and
Charlottetown provided the focus of this trade. The fact that so many Scottish
Highlanders settled in the eastern Maritimes during the late 1700s and early
1800s is largely attributable to the relative ease with which they could be
collected by the many timber ships which were then leaving the Clyde for the
Steam ferry-boat and rafting timber on St. John River near Fredericton.
(Courtesy Library and Archives Canada Acc. No. 1985-3-70)
The British government's policy of encouraging loyal British settlers to
settle in boundary areas considered vulnerable to attack from the United States
helped to create the great concentrations of Scots in eastern Upper Canada. This
produced the remarkable Glengarry communities, which were founded by Loyalist
Scots from 1784, and the government-sponsored Rideau Valley settlements which
were founded in 1815. Upper Canada's good land and climate made it highly
desirable to Scottish immigrants who flocked to it in great numbers once
internal water and road communications were improved from the 1820s.
By 1816 Scots were crossing the border into Lower Canada in their search for
land, creating new communities on the north side of the Ottawa River and in the
Chateauguay Valley. Much earlier, Loyalist Scots had also settled in the Gaspé
peninsula, while the 1830s would see the beginning of the great influx of
Hebridean settlers to the Eastern Townships.
Scots had an enormous impact on Canada's early economic and political
development and should be regarded as a "founding people". Their influence was
immense despite being outnumbered by other ethnic groups.