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Article posted: April 16, 2001

From The Highland Clearances To Canada
By: Ryan Taylor, Biography and Archived Articles

Every year brings news of a people whose homeland has been taken from them. They flee to a neighbouring place, and some make their way to Canada, where they are welcomed.

Perhaps you did not know that this has been going on for a couple of centuries here. One of the oldest settlements in Ontario is in Glengarry and surrounding counties, on the Quebec border. The Scots who came there in the 1780s had been put out of their crofts in the Highlands to make way for larger pastures for sheep.

There have been rumblings in the new Scottish Parliament that the descendants of those emigrants should receive an apology, and an opportunity to come back to Scotland to be greeted with open arms.

A legislative group which cuts across party lines in the assembly suggested the expression of regret and the establishment of a Clearances Centre in the Highlands. The centre would provide information about the historical events known as the Clearances and would also become a genealogical clearinghouse.

The tenants of mid-eighteenth century Scotland usually worked very small pieces of land for a minimum of produce. There was little cash, so the landlords took their rents in kind. Then new economic ideas came into force, which put the focus on large flocks of sheep, which required more land for grazing. In addition, the landlords wanted to switch to cash rents.

These ideas were supported by the government, in which the landlords had an active part, and by the church. The Presbyterian Church of Scotland "told their flock it was God's will for them to leave their homes for the benefit of the great white sheep," according to John Farquar Munro, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Skye. There was also a movement to try to force the Roman Catholics in the Outer Hebrides to convert to Presbyterianism. They responded by moving to the new world.

The earliest emigrants went to the American colonies, but they were soon trying more northerly locations. There were groups bound for Prince Edward Island in 1771-1772, and Nova Scotia in 1773. Both provinces continued to receive immigrants, and the first settlers came to Glengarry in 1784.

Masses of people from one location in Scotland tended to settle together in the new colonies. This provided some sense of continuity and solidarity while trying to establish themselves. Life in pioneer locales was very difficult but the Highlanders were used to doing with very little. Eventually their determination and hard work helped them to flourish. Scottish Canadians were among the leaders of the drive for self-government in the 1830s, Confederation in the 1860s and the nation-building cross country railroad of the 1880s. Some historians have said that, at that time, the face of Canada was a Scottish face.

In the long-term, the Highland Clearances were beneficial for Canada, and the emigrants themselves found a better life here. However, at the time they were an outrage, creating refugees out of people who had inhabited their homes for hundreds of years merely to benefit the already rich.

If Scotland does build a Clearances Centre, there will be many Canadian visitors looking for information about their ancestors.

For more information about the clearances, read The People's Clearance 1770-1815, by J. M. Bumsted (University of Manitoba Press, 1982...out of print). The tale of one group has been graphically told in Scotland Farewell: The People of the Hector, by Donald McKay (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1980, new edition 1996) . There are many historical works on Glengarry including Marianne McLean's The People of Glengarry (McGill-Queen's, 1991). All these titles are available at the Kitchener Public Library.

To see exactly what was said in the Scottish Parliament, look at their website ( under the minutes of proceedings for 27 September, 2000.

Ryan's Heritage Notebook...

Ancestors from Pomerania?
A new website offers the chance to meet other genealogists researching in Pomerania, which is in eastern Germany and Poland, and submit your own data for others to see. You can find it at It is in English. A substantial German-language handbook on Pomeranian research is at

Thornbury Marriages - England
One of the publications which I found when I was in England for the FFHS conference last April was Thornbury Marriages missing from Phillimore’s Gloucestershire, vol. XV.

In the periods 1664-1670 and 1718-1728, Phillimore says there are no marriages for Thornbury. It appears that record books are missing or that something prevented the registry of marriages at these times.

However, E. A. Roe investigated the bishops transcripts and found that they were present for both periods and that there were a number of marriages, which he transcribed and made available in this little publication.

This might be of interest only to those with Thornbury ancestry, but might well serve to remind the rest of us that even so authoritative a source as Phillimore can be wrong. Since he relied solely on the parish registers and did not investigate the BTs , his published volumes may be incomplete.

We should remember that if a record is missing from the parish register, especially a published on, there may be alternatives to finding the information. Never say never.

Books By Ryan Taylor

Across The Waters, Ontario Immigrants Experiences 1820 - 1850 - by Frances Hoffman & Ryan Taylor, 1999. Riveting first-hand accounts of the immigration and settlement experience, taken from the diaries and letters of 150 immigrants.

Routes To Roots, The Best of Ryan Taylor's columns from the Kitchener Waterloo Record, by Ryan Taylor 1997

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Norway Bay United & Anglican Cemetery
(Pontiac County, Quebec)

The Merivale Cemeteries
(Protestant - Ottawa area)