View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Clearances - a myth debunked

First published on Pentland Road

I quote from Wikipedia on the background to this statue, which was erected near Helmsdale in 2007:

[It] commemorates the people who were cleared from the area by landowners and left their homeland to begin new lives overseas. The statue, which depicts a family leaving their home, stands at the mouth of the Strath of Kildonan, and was funded by Dennis Macleod, a Canadian mining millionaire of Scottish descent. An identical 10 ft-high bronze "Exiles" statue has also been set up on the banks of the Red River at Winnipeg, the city founded by those who left Scotland for Canada.

Mr Macleod has said that the statues celebrate the achievements made by Scots who went to Canada. Well, I would be quite happy to acknowledge the fact that some of the Scots did go on to do great things. But those having departed Helmsdale, and that's what we're talking about, certainly did not do well. I am going through the Napier Commission's Report, which was sitting at Helmsdale on 6 October 1883. The answers to questions 38252 and 38253 actually serve to negate the reasoning for the erection of the statue.

38252. Then you stated that the expatriated people, some of them, found their way to America, where they experienced a worse fate. What ground have you for believing that the emigrants generally experienced a worse fate ?
—The fate of my great-grandfather's family. My great-grandfather's family, except himself, all went out in Lord Selkirk's expedition to the Red River. My grandfather was married before he went out, and I have seen in my grandfather's house and my father's house a pile of correspondence describing the vicissitudes they underwent. They were left exposed on the north coast, and they had to find their way from Hudson's Bay to the Red River settlement; and they were exposed to the rigours of a lengthened winter, and, to crown all, the Indians came in and killed some of them, and the rest fled over the winter's snow to Canada. Only seven or eight managed to survive and settle in Canada afterwards.

38253. Are there many evicted families from this part of the country who cast in their lot with Lord Selkirk's settlement ?
—Yes, and that accounts for the difference between those who settled here and those who were in Kildouan before.

38254. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Had Lord Selkirk a settlement called Kildonan?
—Yes, and it is called Kildonan to this day. It is near Winnipeg. Fort Garry was the principal town in the old Red River settlement, and it has now become Winnipeg. You will see an account of it in the book called The Great Lone Land, by General Butler.

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