The arrival in 1761 of men from Fraser's Highlanders Regiment at La Malbaie.They were amongst Canada's first Scottish settlers. (Courtesy Library and Archives Canada C-040583)




There are many misconceptions about Scottish emigration to Canada. Some commentators prefer the stereotype of the impoverished 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 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; 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 end 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 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. 




Peter Rindisbacher: 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 Maritimes.




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. 



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© Lucille and Geoff Campey, 2018