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The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

“From the lone shieling of the misty island
Mountains divide us, and a waste of seas—
Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland,
And we in dreams behold the Hebrides:
Fair these broad meads—these hoary woods are grand;
But we are exiles from our fathers’ land.”

TO anyone who has ever felt the enchantment of Sir Walter Scott’s poetry and romance, the very word “Glengarry” calls up visions of chivalrous chieftains in waving tartans and plumed “bonnets,” and of their wild following of kilted clansmen, armed with dirk and claymore and almost drowning the skirling of the war-pipes with their fierce battle-cries. Their tongue to most of us may be unknown, yet, thanks to the “Great Magician’s” wondrous art, we know and love them as if they were our kin. Our hearts beat in sympathy with their passionate love for their deep glens and misty mountains, and we mourn with the exiles torn from their “own, their native land.” Many of us, I doubt not, in days when the romance-world was almost more real to us than the calmer life about us, have gone campaigning with "bonnie Prince Charlie,” that graceless, fascinating, most luckless of mortals, and, forgetful of due respect to our forbears, have all but learned to hate the Saxon —or let us say “the Sassenach.” We have looked on at many a hard-fought field, and so we approach the story of "Glengarry” in Canada in a mood inured to the clash of blades and shouts of men in deadly combat ; and it is well, for it was the tide of war which first swept the hot-hearted Celts into our now quiet land, and in a later struggle—the War of 1812—Glengarry men, gallantly defending the soil of their new country as they had defended the heathery mountains of their fatherland, again and again drank "delight of battle with their peers.”

It was after the suppression of the Jacobite rebellion of 174s that the Highlanders of old Glengarry in Scotland first emigrated to America, settling, at the invitation of Sir William Johnson (the friend of Brant and his Indians), in the Mohawk Valley. It was a beautiful and fruitful land, but not for long did the Highlanders give themselves to the quiet cultivation of their farms and orchards. The Revolutionary storm was brewing when they arrived, and when it broke many of the Gaelic clansmen took up arms to strike for the King. Soon the war was raging with peculiar fury along the banks of the Mohawk. Fire and sword turned the fruitful farms into blackened deserts; cruelty and rapine were repaid in kind and with interest, hundreds of wives became widows and thousands of children orphans. Men languished for years in prison, infants were snatched away by the Indians to grow up white savages, families starved while their bread-winners were with the army, and war, shorn of all glamour save that which through every horror clings to deathless courage, appeared as the grim, heart-breaking, evil thing it is.

From time to time, parties of the non-combatants, left behind in the Mohawk Valley, made their way to Canada. Once a large number of women and children were brought off by an armed band of their husbands and brothers, but others came, a few at a time, suffering many a hardship and adventure in their weary journey through the woods. One woman, it is told, undertook to carry two small children on her hack. On one occasion it occurred to her that her burden had become strangely lighter, and she discovered that she had actually dropped one little fellow by the way. Hurrying back along the track, she found the child, sleeping peacefully beside a decayed log over which she had had to climb. His hands were begrimed with earth, and to old age he was known by the nickname “Spogan Dubh,” or "Black Paws,” as his mother had exclaimed on finding him.

The war ended, many’ of the Highlanders settled in what are now the three counties of Glengarry, Stormont, and Dundas. As a rule, the heads of families made their way to New Johnstown (now Cornwall), where the Government land agent allotted lands to them by letting them draw from numbered slips of paper shaken together in a hat. Amongst the new-comers were a number of Highland gentlemen who had held commissions in the “Royal Highland Emigrants” and other regiments; and the halfpay received by these ex-officers was for some years the chief source of the very limited supply of cash which circulated in the settlements.

Sir John Johnson (son of Sir William, previously mentioned), who had lost an enormous amount of property, received some lands in Glengarry. He built a mill at Williamstown, named after his father, and later presented to the people twelve acres for “fair grounds" still in use under the name of the “Glengarry Agricultural Grounds.” Lord Dorchester recommended his appointment as the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, but the authorities at home thought it better not to choose a resident of the colony.

But in the history of the county, where the good old Scottish names of the early settlers still, abound, Macdonell is a greater name than Johnson. In the first Parliament of Upper Canada, two Macdonells, brothers, sat for Glengarry, and one of them was

Canadian Flags used in the War of 1812

elected Speaker. The famous Glengarry Regiment of Light Infantry, which so distinguished itself throughout the War of 1812, was raised chiefly through the exertions of two other men of the name; and a Macdonell shared the fate and the glory of Brock in the battle of Queenston Heights. Yet another Macdonell, a priest, Alexander, came from Inverness in 1786 with almost his whole parish of about five hundred souls, to found in the new Glengarry St. Raphael’s, the pioneer parish of his communion in Upper Canada. Here he built the first Roman Catholic church, known as the " Blue Chapel,’’ upon the site of which another priest of the same name, who became the first Roman Catholic Bishop in Upper Canada, erected a large and handsome church.

This last-mentioned Alexander Macdonell is a most interesting figure. Physically, almost a giant, he held, it is said, that every man of his race should either be a priest or a soldier, and, though his cloth forbade him to fight, it did not prevent his working with might and main to raise Highland regiments, first in Scotland and afterwards in Canada. It must be said, however, that his object, in the first instance, was to relieve the distress of his parishioners, who had been thrown out of employment by the war between England and France; and when the regiment was disbanded he was instrumental in bringing a large number of them to settle amongst their kinsmen in Upper Canada Later, when war with the United States was threatening, the future Bishop, actuated by patriotic motives, was "most active in rousing and recruiting the Glengarries.” “The fiery cross” had passed through the land and every clansman “ obeyed the summons," the more readily, no doubt, for the exhortation and example of the valiant chaplain. But by no means were all his energies devoted to military affairs. As a missionary, the sphere of his labours extended over a great part, of Upper Canada, and, as a pastor, he laboured for the temporal as well as the spiritual benefit of his flock. For instance, immediately after his arrival in Canada he made it his business to obtain legal patents for the lands held by the Highlanders—a matter of which few of them understood the importance.

Another Scot who had also been an army chaplain, the Rev. John Bethune, was for long the only minister in Upper Canada of the Kirk of Scotland. He settled at Williamstown, but ministered also to congregations at Martinlown, Lancaster, and Cornwall. One of his six sons, Alexander Neil Bethune, succeeded Dr. Strachan, whose pupil he had been, as Bishop of Toronto. It is a somewhat curious circumstance that these two earliest Bishops of the diocese should have begun life as Presbyterians and have passed some of their youthful years amongst the people of Glengarry.

The “Man from Glengarry,” however, has always had the reputation of being strong and forceful, and it has been said that the history of the county “is a proud record of most valuable services rendered to the country in early times, when the men of that county made its name famous in war and peace.”

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