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From the Isle of Coll to Malagawatch, Inverness County: A Pioneer’s
Account

Mac-Talla: Volume III July 7th 1894
Number I

The Historical Account of Bartimeaus


At the end of July 1820, my father with eight of his family and
many others left the Isle of Coll to emigrate to America. The
vessel boarding the exiles lay in Tobarmory Harbor (Isle of Mull.)
It was a sad sight to see relations parting with little expectation
of meeting again.

The weather was clear as the sails were hoisted and the Dunlap of
Greenock
left Tobarmory under the command of John Brown, setting a
course from the west side of Barra for Cape Breton Island (although
the settlers were to be landed in Pictou.) We were fortunate as we
endured only one storm during the voyage. Five children were born
aboard the ship: John MacLean, Lachlan MacKenzie, Ebenezer
MacMillan, John Rankin and a MacNiven. All were of Coll stock.
Three came out to Cape Breton and two went on to Prince Edward
Island.

Five weeks after departure, at ten o'clock on a sunny morning, we
got our first glimpse of Cape Breton. Since there was a favourable
light breeze, every yard of sail cloth was unfurled and in a short
while we entered the Strait of Canso with the wind and current.
Settlers turned out to greet us from both sides of the strait and
before nightfall we reached Cape George (Antigonish County.)

Following that, a pilot was taken on board who guided us into
Pictou Harbour where the immigrants and their belongings were put
ashore. The passengers then dispersed: some going to Prince Edward
Island, some to Cape John and others to Cape Breton. The Dunlap of
Greenock
continued on to Richibucto (New Brunswick) picking up a
cargo of pine lumber for the return trip to the Old Country.

My father and a number of others chartered a small vessel from one
Angus MacDonald to bring us to Cape Breton. The weather was fair
leaving Pictou, but reaching Cape George we were overtaken by a
storm from the north-west. The boat was tossed to and fro until
the top rigging was destroyed by the fury of the waves. It was the
passengers opinion that if not for the presence of an adept
Barraman who knew how to handle everything, we wouldn't have made
port. As Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair said in his poem to Clan
Ranald's Galley, "The navigator called to the helmsman and another
took from her what was needed..." And so we safely reached the
Canso Strait where we were met by a kindly man from Long Point,
Judique. He advised us to spend the winter and five families
accepted the offer.

Over the winter we received much generosity from two men, a
MacDonald and a Chisholm, and also from the parish priest: the

Reverend Alexander MacDonald. When summer arrived, the charitable
folks of Long Point gave us seed and advised us to plant it on
their land so we would have it for the next winter.

My father heard a report about the great Bras d'Or Lake, and after
planting, a party of us went with a guide in a small boat to St.
Peters. There we hauled the boat over “The Crossing" and onto the
Bras d'Or where we were met by a magnificent sight on that calm,
sunny day. The south side of West Bay was already taken up by those
who came before us, but North Mountain (Marble Mountain) was
unoccupied. We passed many lovely islands and went through the Boom
Narrows to Malgawatch Lake - named by the Mi' kmaq and meaning
"Lake Full of Islands". Here were the headquarters of the Mi' kmaq
tribe and its chief, John Denny, from whom the River Denys derives
its name. He was a brave and benevolent man but very wild if angry.
The Mi' kmaq kept their territory here, and although few live in
the area today, a thousand acres of the best land was reserved for
them.

The River Denys empties into Malagawatch Lake. When we arrived in
1821, there wasn't a single European living on its shores. We began
to clear the forest where we intended to settle, everyone near
their neighbour. After that, we communally built moss-caulked log
houses thatched with tree bark. Straight, slender, adze hewn sticks
served as flooring.

At the end of a month's time, we all returned to Judique for the
winter. In the first month of summer 1822, we returned to
Malagawatch with seed from the previous summer's planting and made
our homes there. In the way we had learned from our Judique
friends, we made our first planting. Fences were unnecessary as
there were no animals to bother the crops other then bears that
came at night to chew on sprout tops. Squirrels were troublesome
after the harvest, stealing seed from the barns to store for
winter. (To be continued)

Mac-Talla: Volume III July 14th
1894 Number
I

The Historical Account of Bartimeaus (Part II)


When we acquired cattle, a cow would very often come home mangled
by a bear. When we got sheep, the women made all types of
clothing from their wool. Since we had potatoes, and the lake was
full of every kind of fish, we envied no one under the sun. These
were happy days, although modern folk think they were mindless. I
must confess, however, that the area was very much unenlightened,
lacking as it did a school and teacher inside the Bras d'Or
region. What’s more, there wasn't a doctor in the territory we now
call Inverness County. In 1823 one of my neighbour’s legs was
frozen, and it was necessary to take him sixty miles by small boat
to Dr. MacDonald in Antigonish.


Around 1824, Dr. Noble arrived. Many readers of Mac-Talla are

familiar with the song written for his wife by Bard MacLean. In the
year 1824 William Compton, from Prince Edward Island, built a saw
mill on the north side of Malagawatch Lake; something that was a
great service to the area's people. There wasn't a road from
Judique to River Denys around Malagawatch or to West Bay. A track
ran from West Bay through River Inhabitants to the Strait of Canso.
A person had to follow the shore going around every point and cove.
Fear of bears kept travellers out of the woods.

In 1825 John Lewis was commissioned by the government to establish
property boundaries for the settlers. He established the first
road running from Malagawatch through River Denys and Judique
Mountain on to Long Point. In the same year the Kavanaughs arrived
in St. Peters. They were in business on the Boom Strait (Alba)
getting lumber and shipping it to Europe. I remember once seeing
four, great three-masted schooners loading lumber at the same time,
and very often three.

In 1827 the ship called "James and Tom" - which I mentioned in
another issue of Mac-Talla - was built for a company out of
Liverpool, England. John MacNeil, one of our neighbors and a good
scholar, sailed aboard her to England. He obtained finances from
the Home Mission to open a school here which was done upon his
return in 1831. After a few years he relocated to Prince Edward
Island where he remained. By this time River Denys had become well
populated and was famous for its pine. (Stopped 2/2/06)

Donald MacDonald from Glengarry, Scotland was the first minister to
come out to Cape Breton. He served for two years between
Whycocomagh, West Bay and Malagawatch. From here he went to Prince
Edward Island where he died. In 1826 the Free Church of Scotland
sent the Reverend John MacLennan to Cape Breton as a missionary. He
advised the people of this area to build a church in which visiting
clergy could preach.

We began this work with a single-mindedness in 1828. The church’s
dimensions measured forty feet long and thirty feet wide with
three lofts: one at the end and one on both sides. Its capacity was
spacious, and it was the first Presbyterian Church built in Cape
Breton. Among those contributing to its building was a young lad
who made spruce shingles. I saw him preaching in that church after
he received an education from the Free Church in Edinburgh. The
church heard its first sermon in the summer of 1829: delivered by
the Reverend Dougal MacKeigan. In 1832 the Reverend John Stewart
was placed in West Bay. From him we received a service every fifth
Sunday. In 1837 the Reverend Peter MacLean was appointed to
Whycocomagh and the congregation was provided with a service by him
every fifth Sunday as well.
The Reverend Alexander provided us with some of his services
around the time he was located in Middle River. He experienced many
hardships while travelling from place to place as a missionary.
Boats weren’t as plentiful as they are today and very often Indians
would transport him in canoes of bark. I recently got proof that

it is true he went from Middle River to Miramachi in one of these
to be ordained, because that was the nearest Presbytery.

Many missionaries informed us in the following years. Among them, I
can name these: the reverends James Fraser, Adam MacKay and Murdock
Stewart. We also had the Reverend Angus MacMillan who was with us
for thirteen years. He is now in West Bay.

Great changes have occured since my first memories of coming to
Malagawatch. Fine homes have taken the place of humble shanties,
and the old church has been replaced by a new one including a manse
a few yards away. Regular schools and a Sunday school have been
established along with wide horse and coach travelled roads. The
mail is delivered regularly and there are many other improvements
which I needn’t waste time mentioning. True is the proverb that
says, "He who lives a long life will see many things." Bartemeus



Translation by Jim Watson
First appeared in Am Braighe, Spring 1994 issue.