Visiting The Land Of Our Forefathers

The Ghosts of our Forefathers

If the ghosts of our forefathers were accompanying us they may be curious about our observations. Glengarry, where I was born and raised, was settled, beginning in 1783, by thousands of Highland Scots forced from their homeland in the aftermath of Culloden. They brought their Gaelic language and their lifestyle to Glengarry where they eventually flourished. Many to this day have an abiding nostalgic attachment to Bonnie Prince Charlie, a real loser, who caused such hardship after disastrously challenging the British crown. Scottish families to this day, drinks in hand at house parties, frequently toast the Young Pretender and sing songs in his honour. As a youngster I believed that he was a true Scottish hero.

About the same time, Britain, after losing the American Revolution in 1783, aggressively lobbied many American settlers to move north to Canada, conquered after a battle with France in 1759. Britain urgently needed settlers to tame the Glengarry wilderness and so it offered free land to many who had originally settled in the New York colony. These American pioneers, with many Scots among them, named United Empire Loyalists because they opted to remain loyal to Britain, flooded into Glengarry to take up land. It is mystifying why the Scots who came wished to remain loyal to a government that, not long before, had employed such draconian, punitive measures to destroy the Highlanders’ way of life and their future.

The Highland clans settling in Glengarry seemed very quick to forgive and forget their former adversaries. It may have been the offer of free land rather than loyalty or love of Britain that did the trick. Some favouritism did occur when allotting free land, but no feudal system took shape in their new country, as existed in Scotland. Strangely a form of it still exists in Scotland to this very day. Thousands of tenant farmers work the farms; while a tiny cohort of privileged estate elite reap the benefits, as they own 50 per cent of the private land.

The ghosts, if they were along for the ride, must surely have noticed how thrilled we were with the pastoral beauty of this ancient land-the land that our long-dead ancestors had once called home. I am relieved that the Romans did not conquer them as I like the distinctive Scottish accent. I am proud of our Scottish ancestors who came with nothing to a new land, and where they and/or their descendents flourished. I have some misgivings of ever pledging my loyalty to Britain, but I shall never again be proud to sing the praises of the Young Pretender, “Bonnie” Prince Charlie. As clearly illustrated at the Culloden Visitors’ Centre, this naïve dreamer came perilously close to wiping us out. It was a rare treat and a special privilege to be able to visit the land of our forefathers.

Dr. James F. McDonald is a retired elementary school principal who lives in Dundas, ON.
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