Early Emigration from Scotland to Upper Canada
Glengarry County and Lanark County
January 27, 2009:
An examination of two articles
regarding early emigration from Scotland to Upper Canada
1. Peopling Glengarry County: The Scottish Origins of a Canadian Community, 1784-1815
by Marianne McLean
2. The Politics of Emigration: Scotland and Assisted Emigration to Upper Canada, 1815-1826
by Michael E. Vance
This paper examines two articles regarding Scottish emigration to Upper Canada between 1784
and 1826. The articles are "Peopling Glengarry County: The Scottish Origins of a Canadian
Community" by Marianne McLean and "The Politics of Emigration: Scotland and Assisted
Emigration to Upper Canada, 1815-1826" by Michael E. Vance. For the sake of brevity, these
articles will be referred to as "McLean" and "Vance" respectively.
These articles are of particular interest to historians in the Ottawa area. They provide
information regarding the two major Scottish pioneer settlements, Glengarry County (east of
Ottawa), and Lanark County (to the west of Ottawa). The following table summarizes the
context of the emigrations, as outlined by the authors:
Early Scottish Emigration to the Ottawa area
McLean's goal is to identify the precise geographical origins and the context of the
emigration of the Glengarry settlers. Her research finds that they came from Inverness and
the western islands of Scotland. Their lifestyle had been threatened as a result of the
defeat of the Jacobites in 1745 and subsequent clearances of tenants from their traditional
homesteads. Isolated and Gaelic-speaking, their social and economic structure still reflected
the influence of a clan-based society with a minimum of English "civilizing". Their society
existed during a time of mercantilist philosophy -- a nation's population was part of it's
capital stock and was an asset to be retained at home. Emigration was discouraged both at
the central government level and by local leaders such as Lord Glengarry and the Earl of
Breadalbane. However, small family-based groups of Highlanders sent representatives to
Greenock and Glasgow to charter ships and arranged to pick up emigrants from scattered
Vance emphasizes the political aspects of assisted emigrations after 1815. He describes
the emigration of Scottish artisans from the industrial neighbourhood of Glasgow. This region
had been profoundly affected by the depression which occurred at the end of the Napoleonic
wars. Mostly weavers, these disgruntled urban Lowlanders became active in early labour
politics and formed Emigrant Societies, as an extension of their craft guilds. Their home
environment was more advanced than the Highlanders and exhibited strong effects of English
culture, law and politics. This facilitated the creation of politically involved emigrant
societies who interacted with the local gentry and members of parliament to influence
emigration to Upper Canada. After 1815, the British government changed its attitude toward
domestic population levels and, instead of discouraging emigration, tried to direct it
towards places of strategic importance in the colonies. Earl Bathurst, the Secretary of
State for the Colonies, was a proponent of settling Lanark County in Upper Canada under the
aegis of the military and administrative centers at Perth and Lanark Villages. The townships
of the Bathurst District had already been surveyed and the settlers, in common with the
Highlanders at Glengarry, would supply a ready and loyal militia presence in Upper Canada
as well as furnish staple goods (particularly lumber) to the mother country in exchange for
British manufactured goods.
By 1815, the Glasgow and Edinburgh area was well served by roads and canals and the Clyde
River ports became the central point of embarkation for emigrants. The Navigation Acts had
been used as a tool to control emigration. In 1803 the price of transatlantic fares was
increased and higher on-board standards (e.g. medical supervision and improvements in
passenger rations) were implemented to deter emigration. These regulations were relaxed by
1820 when it became apparent that only the more desirable class of passengers, those
possessing capital and initiative, would emigrate.
Both authors have chosen the year 1815 as a demarcation point in their studies. The
combination of the two articles provides a useful study of Scottish emigration to the two
eastern Ontario communities - both a spatial and a temporal analysis. Vance remarks about
the radical (reform) politics which occurred in the Lanark settlement during the 1830's,
a continuation of the political protest of Scotland.
Glengarry County is flat and fertile, ideally suited for the traditional Highland cattle
farmers, supplemented by winter work in the logging industries across the Ottawa River in
Lower Canada. Lanark County is hilly, rocky and contains many rivers and lakes. This area,
building on the textile industry background of its settlers, became a center of Eastern
Ontario's textile industry. The rivers allowed the construction of mills at Carleton Place,
Lanark Village and Almonte. The Highlanders and Lowlanders were both able to continue their
economic traditions in their new country.
There were also political and religious differences between the two communities. The Lowland
emigrants came from an environment of a well-developed English political and legal system.
The earlier Glengarry Highlanders had far less exposure to English ways. There was less
religious tension in the Glengarry settlement. The common Scottish heritage of the highland
Catholics and Presbyterians, abetted by the friendly intercession of the Catholic Bishop
Alexander MacDonnell, superceded religious differences to a large degree (although
inter-denominational marriage was rare). In contrast, the Lanark settlers were already highly
politicized (Vance) on their arrival in Canada and settled close to many Irish and English
Protestants. There were incidents of armed conflict with nearby Irish Catholics (the
1823 Peter Robinson settlers) as early as 1824 (the Ballyghiblin Riots).
McLean emphasizes that the Glengarry immigrants were kinship-based, and a culturally
homogeneous group. This is reflected in the retention of Highland traditions in Canada.
Today, the Glengarry community has a much higher proportion of persons who speak Gaelic well,
are Presbyterians, send their children to Scottish dance classes and participate in Highland
Games. In contrast, among the Lanark County descendants of the Lowlanders, there are almost
no Gaelic speakers - their ancestors spoke English as their first language - and the Scottish
tradition has become closely integrated with their Anglican and Methodist neighbours.
The articles by Marianne McLean and Michael Vance provide well documented background allowing
readers to better understand the different types of early Scottish emigration to the Ottawa
||to Glengarry County ||to Lanark County
||Characteristics of Emigrants
||2,500 subsistence farmers from the Scottish
Highlands to Glengarry County before 1815
||4,000 weavers and artisans from the
Scottish Lowlands to Lanark County after
||No financial assistance, organized by
families, led by Highland patriarchs.
Catholic and Presbyterian
||Financially assisted, organized by emigrant
Presbyterian and Anglican
|Reasons for Emigration
||Defend traditional culture and lifestyle
||Economic opportunity for politicized
Bumsted, J.M., "Scottish Emigration to the Maritimes 1770-1815: A New Look at an old Theme",
Acadiensis X, no. 2 (Spring 1981): 65-85.
Cameron, James M., "The Role of Shipping from Scottish Ports in Emigration to the Canadas,
1815-1855", in D.H. Akenson, ed., Canadian Papers in Rural History II (1980): 135-154.
Hornsby, Stephen, "Patterns of Scottish Emigration to Canada, 1750-1850", Journal of Historical
Geography 18, no. 4 (1992): 397-416.
McLean, Marianne, "Peopling Glengarry County: The Scottish Origins of a Canadian County",
Canadian Historical Association Historical Papers (1982): 156-71.
Richards, Eric, "Leaving the Highlands: Colonial Destinations in Canada and Australia", in
Marjory Harper and Michael E. Vance, Myth, Migration and the Making of Memory (Halifax:
Fernwood Publishing, 1999), 105-26.
Richards, Eric, The Highland Clearances: People, Landlords and Rural Turmoil (Edinburgh:
Birlinn Ltd., 2000), 1-14, 310-30.
Vance, Michael E., "The Politics of Emigration: Scotland and Assisted Emigration to Upper
Canada, 1815-26", in T.M. Devine, ed., Scottish Emigration and Scottish Society (Edinburgh:
John Donald, 1992): 37-60.
March 2, 2011:
The Bytown or Bust Library now has a copy of The People of Glengarry, Highlanders in Transition, 1745-1820
by Marianne McLean, 285 pages.
E-mail Al Lewis
Back to Bytown or Bust - History and Genealogy in the Ottawa, Canada, area