Clan Donald Magazine No 9 (1981) Online
The Story of Canadian Settlements by the late Father Andrew MacDonell.
There has been some reference lately to the emigration of Hebrideans from Scotland and their settlement in Canada in the early twenties. It constituted the tenth migration to Canada from the Isles of the Hebrideans and it had in point more financial assistance from the British Government than other migration of the kind up to that period.
The migration from the Isles in its families and unmarried men and women amounted in all to about 900 souls more or less.
There were for some time and especially after the 1st Great War, many who were anxious to get to Canada where they knew of other Scottish Highlanders having settled there in former times.
Some of the clergy were anxious that such a movement should take place, in fact one leading Catholic priest asked his Bishop to allow him to lead a contingent of the people to Canada - he told me of his action and sent a paragraph or two to the Press anonymously explaining his action - I saw the paragraph and recognised it. He had told why he had acted - he feared that I was late in coming and had given up the idea. He led me to several places where it was evident that the need was urgent.
I had been studying the project for some years and I realised that for some emigrants the beginning of the land settlement would be a real difficulty - conditions were so different from those at home, so I went to the Commissioner of Colonisation of the Canadian Pacific Railway and told him that I was in touch with quite a number of people who had declared themselves ready to migrate to Canada. I knew well that they had little conception of life in Canada, so suggested to the CPR that it might be a good idea if a small delegation were brought over from the Hebrides. That was agreed to and a delegation of four came, headed by Father Donald Macintyre. I led them over parts of Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
Alberta was selected as the Province offering the best opportunity for the settlement of families. Red Deer was to be the Centre. A former Indian School, with good buildings and a farm of 1,100 acres, was available at a distance of about five miles from town.
It was agreed that a party of eighteen families would be enough to begin settlement with. That each family should have $1,000.00 or at least $750.00 capital, for the purchase of a farm and to provide certain equipment.
The delegation then returned to Scotland. They were to explain to their neighbours what they had seen and their own ideas as to the
opportunities for settlement. Meantime, I got busy making advance arrangements. I got thirty-five farms appraised by an officer of the SSB and declared suitable for people with their limited capital. The farms were in one area and the present owners were Letts. They were ready to sell, as they were anxious to return to Russia, where they looked for a new Paradise.
The delegation arrived in Scotland in the fall, but I did not hear a word from any one of them for several months. However, as a bolt from the blue, I had a cable from Colonel Dennis of the CPR, in the spring, saying that fifty families of Hebrideans had sold out and were ready to sail for Canada - half of them with no money.
This was certainly an unexpected denouement, but the situation had to be faced. Those families had given up their homes. Later I learned that the delegation, with the exception of Father Macintyre, had said nothing of Canada, or of our purpose of preparing for only eighteen families and these with a considerable sum of money. The delegates were really secretive. Father Macintyre had written to certain heads of families who had spoken to him of their intentions of going to Canada and had explained to them all that the delegation and I had agreed on, but others had asked no questions of him and got no information from the other delegates ... Norman MacLeod, one of them, had said, "You will see what I shall do myself", and no more. Then on a certain Sunday, Norman's bill of sale of his farm stock, etc., was stuck on the Church door-and then the race began.
Meantime, I was alone with the problem on my hands. What was I to do? I had the thirty-five farms ready if they were acceptable to the newcomers. However, these farms would be of no good to the families who had no money. So I made up my mind that I must provide homes and farm work for them for a year or two, so that they would learn the farming methods of the country and make a little money.
I was anxious to find homes and farm work near the Edmonton and Calgary line, so as to keep the families more or less in the same
I consulted officers of the SSP in regard to homes that might be available on certain farms. I called on Premier Greenfield of Alberta. He was keenly interested and considered the finding of such farm homes and farm work for settlers to be the ideal way of starting newcomers into the ways of the country.
He called in his Minister of Agriculture and asked him to set his Department on to the job of finding work and homes as explained. Farmers would be glad to employ them. The Minister took me to his office and we continued the discussion there. He asked me to return the following week, as he was very busy. I did so and he still
was busy, and would I return next week. I replied that I could not, as the people were already on the ocean on their way to Canada. Would he be kind enough to wire to me at Ottawa and state what he was able to do?
At Ottawa Mr Blair, of the Colonisation Department, was not convinced that I could find homes and work for twenty moneyless families in Alberta, and strongly advised that I divide them up thus- 5 in Manitoba, 10 in Saskatchewan and 5 in Alberta.
I did not get a wire from the Alberta Minister of Agriculture as agreed, so I wired him and asked him to notify me at St John, New Brunswick, what he was able to do.
Whilst standing on the docks at St John, watching the ship with
the immigrants being tied up, I had two telegrams, one from Mr Blair again urging me to divide up the families with no money from the others as he had suggested and the second telegram was from the Minister in Alberta, saying "Regrets this Government unable to settle any one of your families".
The families landed - about three hundred souls. They were to travel in two parties to the West - one by CNR and one by CPR. The party travelling by CPR was halted at McAdam Station in New Brunswick by floods. Bridges were swept away ahead of us, and when we backed up, bridges had been taken away in like manner, so that we could not return to St John. We had to spend four days at McAdam. We were well cared for and well fed by the railway. The CNR party arrived at Winnipeg some three days ahead of us.
When the two parties eventually foregathered at Winnipeg, I had to inform them of the Government's decision to divide the families with no money into three parties and place these parties one in each of the three Prairie Provinces.
We were in Winnipeg over Sunday. I had them all at Mass in the Church of the Immaculate Conception and spoke to them in Gaelic and explained the whole situation to them. I gave them in detail what arrangements had been come to by the delegation of the year before. I had prepared for eighteen families who were to have a
stated sum of money - I had thirty-five farms appraised and ready for sale, giving them a selection to choose from. With no money we could not even make a down payment on a farm and stake a claim. It was a difficult situation.
Later in the day I interviewed privately the head of each family, so as to learn who had money and who had not, notifying the latter that Government officials would look after them and place them where they would have a home and get work.
The following day, I moved off to Alberta with thirty families. Of these, ten were ex-servicemen and they were to go into farm training under the SSB.
We were met at Wetaskiwin by Mr D. Conroy, who pulled Father Joe Gillies and myself off the train.
We arrived at Red Deer at 10.45 and received a great welcome from the citizens. A Piper was playing and the whole town turned out. Speeches of welcome were given by the Mayor, Mr Welliver. The second party (Canadian National) came in at 5.00 p.m. and the welcome was repeated.
The Red Deer people sent the new arrivals out to the School in their cars, thus saving much expense. They were really good and generous. A good dinner awaited them and they all found nice clean beds prepared for them at the School. We fed and housed them for the best part of two months.
It is interesting, however, to remark that within two or three weeks we were joined by fifteen of the twenty families who had been placed in work by Government officials. Furthermore, our numbers were added to by the advent of six or eight of the families that had come out to Ontario over a year before and had not been settled because of unforeseen conditions. Thus we had again over fifty families to deal with. I had several helpers by this time. Mr D. Conroy, already mentioned, was appointed to help me by the Archbishop. I had D.D. MacDonell looking after the buildings - he had prepared them for the accommodation of the people and had arranged for the cooking of meals and all other domestic arrangements. He also cared for the horses that we bought and for the various implements to be used in giving a short training in Canadian farm methods to the men, as long as they were to be with us at the School.
The farms that had been appraised were West of Red Deer at Eckville and that neighbourhood. Some of the people were taken there to look over these farms, but the down payments scared them and not one of the farms was taken.
The morning after our arrival I left for Edmonton to go to see the Birch Lake Ranch near Innisfree. This fine Ranch was in the bankruptcy court and it was thought that we could get it at a fair price. It would have given good farms to about twenty-five of our families. The snag, however, in the matter was that we would need to go to the Banks for the money to buy and also the wherewithal to build houses and barns and stock and implements. I was scared of it. Fortunately the Judge would not let it out of Court at the price that the SSB officers appraised it at. It took us at least ten days to be clear of that. The ten days' respite, however, was useful to me; I was enabled to study the situation.
I went to Mr H. Gordon, Superintendent of the SSB at Edmonton. I asked him how many farms they had on their hands in his area. He said about three hundred. "I want a number of them for my people." "But your people have no money." "That does not matter; you put a price on the farms, on the stock and equipment - and the people will pay for them in time."
After some demur he agreed, and then work began. Every day we took two or three heads of families in cars to inspect farms and say whether they would accept or reject. This went on for about six weeks. No one was obliged to accept any particular farm. He had his choice of several.
The most successful were about eight or ten families that we placed in the Westlock area. With one exception, they did well. We took several heads of families along there and left them with a car and a driver and they carefully examined the farms available. After two days we returned. To the amazement of officers and others a brisk conversation in Gaelic took place between the settlers and myself. Each had chosen his place. With my blessing, I told them to go ahead and that very thing they did, and with eventual success. One Barra man, with four sons, I saw on a half-section (320 acres).
I remember well how dubious I felt about his success, because of his utter inexperience in farming. Three or four years ago, he sold out at $23,000.00 and after paying his debts he had some $15,000.00 to the good.
In about two months' time from their arrival we had placed nearly fifty families on farms, which was quite an achievement. Some were not initially as successful as the Westlock crowd. We placed five families near Chaten.
There were about fourteen farms quite close together near Chaten. These were rawland farms for Canadian Soldiers. The soldiers did not stay more than a year or two. They, however, during their stay broke some land and then all of them arranged, it appears, to leave about the same time. There was quite a story, but it did not concern us.
When I heard of fourteen farms in one small area, I thought it would be ideal for a group of our settlers. However on close inspection it was evident that some of the farms were not up to
much, so we made a selection of about six or eight out of fourteen. The cottages were slimly built; and when we arrived they had not been lived in for some little time. They were, though built and paid for by the Government, not up to much. We had had a very dry spring.
On the second day or night after our five settlers arrived, there came down a terrific rain storm, which drove through the dried roofs and walls of the cottages. That was enough. Next day four of our settlers left, two going to Edmonton and two returning to Red Deer.
The advent of the two disappointed settlers became known in Edmonton and the Minister of Agriculture got them to his office. His purpose was not prompted by generosity or kindliness. He was
the same who sent me the wire that I got at St John, NB: "Regret this Government unable to settle any of your families".
Despite his telegram
he had come to Red Deer from Edmonton, 100 miles to see the crowd of 346 souls that were under my care at the School. I was away. We were at that time awaiting the Judge's decision about the Birch Lake Ranch. The Minister was met by Rev. John MacMillan, who took him around the buildings and the yards where the people were congregated. After looking them over and talking with some and learning that they and we were negotiating to buy farms, he got the people together and spoke to them. "Such a fine class of settlers must not expend their hard earned money in buying land, they must be provided with Free Dominion land." He would undertake to see them thus provided for and he would send men out with them to show them how to build their own houses, to build a school and a bigger and better house for the Father (Rev. J. MacMillan).
All this address created quite a stir and Rev. MacMillan did nothing at all to allay the same. There was no doubt about it, no matter how well intentioned Father MacMillan was, he did not know the score.
When I returned to Red Deer a day or so later I was confronted with a distinctly new attitude and told that the Minister was a "Gentleman" and knew what he was talking about. Father MacMillan made himself the interpreter. I asked if the Minister had told them of the location of this Free Dominion land. He did not - no one knew, but of course the Minister was a "Gentleman" and knew what he was talking about. I said, "It is too late to call him now, but I shall get him on the 'phone in the morning."
About 10 a.m. I called the Minister's office and got him on the 'phone. As soon as I mentioned who I was, he at once gave me the same line that he had given the people about the Free Dominion land, etc. As soon as I could get a word in I asked where is the "Free Dominion land"? He replied, "It is about 30 miles from the end of steel. The end of steel (railway) is at a little town called after me." I asked, "Is that land just west and northwest of Pidgeon Lake?" "That is it exactly.'' I replied, "I know that land, it is good but it won't do. It is one dense forest - good land, but it needs to be brushed and cleared. Do you realise that many of these people have never seen a tree until they left their own Islands? It would take about two years' work to get fields that would support them. What is to happen to the wives and children during these two years?'' "You take care of them.'' "Thanks", I said somewhat sarcastically, "But generally a man finds it quite enough to care for one wife and family, but to care for fifty wives and families for two years!"
This was the man who got the two settlers who had left their farms to his office. He put leading questions to them and got a stenographer to take down the conversations and next morning there appeared a column and a half in one of the local newspapers condemning the bringing of people into the country with no adequate preparation, etc.
On the following day I took a lawyer with me to interview the manager of the newspaper and asked what he meant by publishing a screed of inaccuracies - the least he could do was to hear both sides. He explained that they were interested in news. I asked why not accurate news? He talked volubly for quite a time and then added "We certainly have great respect for the people from the New Hebrides". I stared at that. He repeated it and then I laughed and made a sign to the lawyer and we left. What was the good? The people of the New Hebrides - Polynesians!
From the attack in the Edmonton paper started a campaign in
Press that went on for two months with as much sense and knowledge as shown by the reference to the New Hebrides. I said nothing but went ahead with the help of officers of the SSB, steadily placing our families by one or two or three families every second day until we got all those who came to Red Deer arranged for and at that time the campaign against us was shifted by the Press to the House of Commons in Ottawa. The Member for Red Deer moved the adjournment of the House to consider a grave situation that existed in his constituency. The debate went on for three or four hours. It was reported that evening in the Edmonton newspapers.
Next morning I wired to the Minister of Colonisation and I understand my wire was read to the House: "All fifty families now settled on farms with the exception of six who are under training by SSB and will be settled in due course. All were well housed and well fed during their stay at Red Deer."
The violent adverse campaign stopped in a day. Unfortunately about this time the press of Great Britain got it, but I doubt if they ever got the gist of my telegram to the Minister. I think that it should be mentioned here that one of the two who left their farms at Chaten came to me later to beg my pardon for all that he had been made to say. In his cooler moments he realised that much had been said that did not ring true - as he spoke to me he wept - it was all genuine. He was a very fine man and a great friend of mine. I did not get to know of the press campaign in the UK until months later when I visited Scotland, but apparently, it did not affect the minds of prospective settlers, for I was made aware of the fact that quite a number still wished to migrate from the Hebrides. I arranged a trip back there for Father MacMillan so that he, a Hebridean, could explain conditions to the people at home. More about this later.
Five families who were placed in Saskatchewan by Canadian officials on first arrival made good there and declined to come to take over farms when Father Macintyre went to visit them and invite them to come to the Clandonald Colony if they wanted to. As soon as the settlement was complete, I was determined not to be alone, or nearly so, in future. I resolved to incorporate a society and thus have others to share the burden.
I organised the Scottish Immigrant Aid Society and incorporated it under the Laws of the Dominion on a non-profit sharing basis (1923).
Among my Directors there were three millionaires; General Stewart of Vancouver was my President and Colonel J.S. Dennis, Chief Commissioner of Colonisation CPR, was my Vice-president. I was elected Managing Director.
At one of our very first meetings I made a proposition to my Directors. I explained the lack of houses for farm labour throughout our area of Alberta. I proposed that we should build fourteen cottages between Edmonton and Red Deer, each on a two-acre plot. The prospective settler, who would take up farm labour first, would thus have a home and would be free to take service with any farmer in the neighbourhood. Each cottage would cost $750.00. Four of my Directors agreed right away to make up the amount that I needed - a sum of over $11,000.00 or $2,750.00 each.
I filled these cottages when the next batch of settlers arrived and their work and the experience they picked up were of immense value to them when they got on farms of their own.
The Canadian Colonisation Department was much taken with these cottages and when next I went to London one of the chief officials of the Colonisation Department backed up my appeal to the Overseas Settlement Office and they agreed to build 100 cottages and I was given the job of supervising the erection of the same. However, when we had built fifty-four of them, I put stop to further work on them, because I realised that conditions were rapidly changing - farmers would not be in a position to employ outside help; particularly would they be unable to hire men for a year-round work.
Meantime, however, other colonising organisations had taken up the idea and many cottages were built in different parts of Canada. But the beginnings of the depression were here and many of the cottages were never employed for their original purpose.
There was word from the Hebrides that more wished to migrate. I had arranged, as stated above, that Father MacMillan should return home to tell them what had taken place.
In the month of February 1924 1 was in Glasgow. There I met Archbishop Macintosh and Archbishop O'Leary of Edmonton and Bishop Martin of Argyll and the Isles. The talk was of emigration and Archbishop Macintosh was anxious to help in any way he could and he passed a remark that Bishop Martin should lead all his Hebrideans to Canada.
It might not be out of place to mention here that some few years before this date another well known priest of the Isles, having heard a story of Highlanders long established in Canada and considering apparently that I was long in coming, went to his Bishop and asked to lead some of the people across the seas. The Bishop apparently did not see eye to eye with him at the time, but the priest thought so well of the project that he published in a newspaper, without giving his name, that he had approached his Bishop but did not obtain consent. It was subsequent to my meeting the Archbishops and Bishop in Glasgow, mentioned above, that at the instance of Archbishop O'Leary I asked the CPR if a trip to Western Canada could be arranged for Bishop Martin, so that he could see how his former subjects were settled. This was speedily arranged and in a few months' time Bishop Martin arrived in Edmonton and from there was taken round to see nearly all the Hebridean settlers.
Later he wrote a letter to Archbishop O'Leary, in which he stated that he was very well pleased with all that had been done for both their spiritual and material welfare. From Edmonton Bishop Martin went to the U.S.A. and did nor return to Scotland for quite a time.
After the Glasgow meeting I went to the Hebrides and there I found that Father MacMillan had been truly eloquent in extolling Canada and all that had been done for the settlers, and urged the people to emigrate. I found, moreover, that he had said a little too much, i.e. he stated, I was told, that there were farms awaiting every family that would emigrate.
This had to be corrected right away, so I made my way from island to island and interviewed every individual who had given his or her name as intending immigrants. I stated emphatically to each and all that there were no farms awaiting them, but that there would be a house, cottage or some dwelling place and farm labour. We had fourteen Society cottages and the officers of the SSB had about this time located some 160 dwellings in the neighbourhood of the Edmonton-Calgary line, a telling commentary on the cooperative spirit of the Alberta Minister whose department could not find any such in the Province, according to his telegram to me the previous year.
I told the people, however, that I was in good hopes that if they worked well for a year or two years we might in that time have farms for them all.
Some fifty or sixty families were ready to come to Canada, but
some I advised not to go as the head of the family was too old. Eventually forty-eight families sailed.
The Cottage Scheme then came into its own and the families who worked out for over a year, when eventually placed on farms of their own, forged right ahead.
On March 28th 1924, 1 got on board the CPR liner "Marloch" at Glasgow. It was planned that the liner should sail to the Hebrides and pick up the whole of our forty-eight families of about 280 or 300 souls.
There were forty-one newspaper correspondents on board. They were anxious to see the migration and I suppose there were others anxious to publicise. I was asked to speak to the newspaper men. I did so after dinner, telling them of what had been done for the 1923 party. Mr Seton Gordon was on board and he played the Pipes for me in his private cabin for about an hour. Later he gave me a very interesting story in regard to the sailing of the 1923 party.
The "Marloch" liner had sailed to Lochboisdale to pick up the party of 300 souls that left there in that year; he was present and stood on the bridge of the SS "Hebrides" watching the liner get into position to sail out on the Atlantic. Just as her engines started, two ravens flew out from the mountain above Lochboisdale, in the direction of the "Marloch" - circled the liner twice and then headed out for the West, flying on until they were lost to sight.
I was intensely interested and if omens are worth regarding, this was a good omen for my work. The raven is on the Crest of the MacDonells of Glengarry, "Creagan an Fhithich", and when the Vikings of old fared out on conquest bent, they flew the Raven, the Viking Flag.
Several years later I told this story in Gaelic to the people at a St Andrew's night Concert in the Rail at St Andrew's in the Clandonald Colony. There were various comments, most of them in half scared tones "Saoil thu an e an fhirinn a th'aige?"-"Is it the truth that he has?". The Raven or Viking Flag was frequently an enemy in the Hebrides, in the days of old, but it did not so appeal to me.
We arrived off Lochboisdale shortly after 10 a.m. The SS "Hebrides" brought the Barra immigrants to Lochboisdale, where later in the day she took on board the South Uist and Benbecula folk and proceeded to the liner that was anchored about a mile off shore. A gangway was put out from the "Marloch" and all emigrants boarded. The newspaper correspondents left the liner by the "Hebrides" and would sail for Glasgow later in the evening.
Speaking of newspaper men - a reporter of, I believe, the "Daily Express", was greatly disappointed at the orderly fashion in which all had been completed, so he tried an up-to-date scoop - and invented the story of a furious scrap as having taken place on Lochboisdale pier when the emigrants were leaving. When
we landed some seven days later at St John, NB, there was a bunch of Canadian newspaper men asking, "What about the fight?", "What fight?" We had not seen or heard of any free for all.
Some time later I got the story of the fake fight and also I was told what happened to the too enterprising reporter. There were several prominent journalists in the company on board the "Marloch" when she sailed to the Hebrides - they had seen the embarkation and they were very angry when the "Daily Express" came out next morning with the fake story. Neil Munro, Sir John Lorne MacLeod and other leading journalists who were on board took the matter up by wire with the paper and the reporter had his walking papers that day; he was dismissed on the spot.
As stated above, the Hebridean immigration of 1924 consisted of forty-eight families and they were mostly settled in cottages for the purposes of farm work. One Hebridean, with a fine family of sons, fully expected to get a farm on arrival, despite my warning him personally before he left the Isles that there was no farm awaiting them and when he was put into a nice cottage and farm work found for him he was furious and composed a song in Gaelic on the lines of "A choille ghruamach". It was, I believe, very bitter and I figured in it not in any complimentary fashion. The author and I were very good friends later, when I placed him in due time on a very good farm, but I never could get from him a copy of the song; he would not recite it for me. I think he regretted it and I fear it is gone into oblivion. He composed several songs later on, but none in dispraise.
It was about this time that the Canadian Government, through the Director of the Soldier Settlement Board, was led to organise with the British Government what came to be known as the 3,000 Family Scheme. This Scheme was founded on what the Edmonton Superintendent of the SSB and I had done in settling some fifty families on farms that had been left or abandoned by Canadian Soldiers.
It is interesting to recollect that the Director of the SSB was at first rather alarmed by our action and wrote to me from Ottawa, saying, "This is not the Scheme of settlement that you explained to us''. (An officer of the SSB had appraised the 35 farms that we had ready for sale to our Hebrideans in 1923). I replied, "Circumstances alter cases, will you please follow the example of Nelson at Copenhagen and put your telescope to your blind eye until we are finished". I heard no more at the time, but now they were ready to follow our example and repeat the accomplishment on a bigger scale. The Director and I had several conversations on the subject. The upshot was that the Canadian Government
undertook to find 3,000 farms at a price, for British settlers if the British Government would provide $1,500.00 per family selected.
Later on some 54 settlers of ours were settled under the 3,000 Family Scheme - they were very favourably settled and not on abandoned farms. I had some little time before, induced the SSB to buy from the Indian Department some 18,000 acres of land to be settled by British ex-service men of my selection. No sooner was this tract of land bought in the Saddle Lake Indian Reserve for the purpose mentioned, than some French-Canadians in the neighbourhood of St Paul "Des metis" got very excited; this can be said more particularly of the Reverend clergy; and a Priest left Alberta and arrived at Ottawa and remained there for some three months trying to induce certain French-Canadian members of the Government to get a share of the 18,000 acres for the settlement of French-Canadians. I was asked by the Director of SSB for peace's sake to relinquish one half of the tract, i.e., they would get 9,000 acres and this would be divided into farm units, each unit to be taken up by an individual family. As it turned out, however, their 9,000 acres tract was divided into units right enough, but lawyers and real estate men got busy, I am told and names were given to units but in most cases they remained names and the lawyers and real estate men were the purchasers and they subsequently made their own terms and today very few French-Canadians are on any of those units. As I understand it, the whole incident had in it the features of a scandal.
My fifty-four settlers filled the units of our 9,000 acres left us and formed the Colony of St Bride. As stated above, they came under the 3,000 Family Scheme. It was suggested to me that I might let these fifty-four farms go into the Family Scheme. That suited me. The Canadian Government built cottages and barns, etc. and the usual $1,500.00 from the British Government per family was provided for stock and equipment. A church dedicated to St Bride was built and later a priest's house and a Convent. The Sister of St Joseph teach in the School. This, however, is anticipating.
It was now time to think of the permanent settlement of the forty-eight Hebridean families who were in cottages and at farm work.
There were many other families in Scotland, England and Ireland asking to come to Canada.
Several times within the year 1925 1 had been told of a tract of land for sale North of Vermilion, Alberta. It consisted of thirty-two thousand acres of raw land. It was held by a Belgian Syndicate with offices in Winnipeg. I learned that it was held cheaply as the Syndicate wanted to sell and moreover the Belgian franc at the time was cheap. It was a good change; so I went to Winnipeg and interviewed the representatives of the Syndicate. As soon as I got the price I set off to Montreal and obtained an interview with the President of the CPR. This interview was arranged by the Chief
Commissioner of Colonisation of the CPR. He was also, as stated above, my Vice-president; and he accompanied me to the President.
I explained that this tract of land was just forty miles west of the present end of steel of the Cutknife branch of their line. In a few weeks the line would be through this tract and the railway would be the better of a colony placed astride it. Less than five minutes talk got us the loan of $100,000.00. This was the price. Having thus transacted business with the CPR, I next had to tackle the British Government under terms of Empire Settlement Act. The Act provided that the Overseas Settlement Department (OSD) would pay to our Society, or similar organisation, dollar for dollar, up to any ordinary amount that they would pay out for the settlement of British settlers on land in Canada.
We had bought 32,000 acres of land at $100,000.00 and so I asked the OSD for $100,000.00 to loan $1,000 worth of stock and equipment to each of 100 settlers. This they agreed to do, but they immediately asked what were we going to do for houses, barns, wells, etc. We had had an estimate made of the amount needed to build 100 four-roomed cottages and 100 barns to house four horses and six cows. The estimated amount was $88,000.00.
As the tract of land that we had bought was all raw land scattered over and in, an area of 22 miles by 22 miles, there was not a single house on any part of it. It was all new land. I told the OSD that we intended to find one half of the $88,000.00 if they would agree to pay the other half. They agreed to this, but they would need to know that we had our half before they could consider paying out their half.
This was fair enough and was in accordance with the Terms of the Empire Settlement Act, so I had to get busy. I had previously organised an Advisory Board in Great Britain consisting of Lord Lovat as Chairman, Colonel Hon. Angus MacDonald, Ron. James Stewart and Sir James Calder. I went to see Lord Lovat and he told me that I was in luck as he saw it. He, at the time, was busy in the matter of selling and realising on a training farm that he and others had set up some years before in South Africa, i.e., after the Boer War. It was no longer needed and he was engaged in returning monies after the sale, to certain gentlemen who had loaned sums to set up this training farm. He told me that he would state my need when writing to the gentlemen mentioned and suggest that perhaps they might place some of their money in this new Scheme of ours. In the course of a few days he had $10,000.00 for us. Colonel Hon. Angus MacDonald also approached some of his friends and in short order had $10,000.00 and I begged a third $l0,000.000 from
some generous friends. In three weeks we had $30,000.00. When I made this known to the OSD they generously regarded that as evidence that I could obtain somehow the balance of $14,000.000. We were thus enabled to cable to Alberta to set contractors going at building cottages and barns. We made one serious mistake in our building programme. Certain builders came to us with a Scheme to construct our cottages and barns of a stavelock arrangement. They guaranteed that the staves or planks would be of seasoned wood. They were not, as it turned out. However, neither Father MacIntyre nor I were in a position to judge of this method of building, so we got a master builder or building supervisor in the service of the CPR to pass on the Scheme. He approved - it was a mistake, as we found out later.
In about two months' time 100 cottages and 100 barns were built and in the late spring of 1926 the forty-eight Hebridean families, who were working on Canadian farms since 1924 at different points in the general area from Red Deer to Edmonton, were moved on to farms and took over cottages, etc., supervised by Father D. MacIntyre and Neville Robertson.
If you have any comments, additions or corrections to this article,
please post them in the forum as a new thread
here. Please make the title of your post the title of the
article and put a link back to the article in your post. You will
have to register to join the forum.