Strathglass Farewell very much a Pictou County story

Published on June 23, 2014
Lynn MacLean of New Glasgow's heritage committee and Duncan MacDonald, producer of Strathglass Farewell, compare notes on Chisholm pioneers while visiting Pioneer Cemetery. Rosalie MacEachern photo

Chisholm is a surname that will be recognized in a thematic concert at the deCoste Centre in July.

By Rosalie MacEachern

Special to The News

Chisholm is a surname that reaches far back into the history of Pictou County and the clan will be recognized in a thematic concert at the deCoste Centre in July.

Duncan MacDonald, producer of Strathglass Farewell, which depicts the clearance of the Chisholms from their ancestral territory, notes there was one Chisholm on the Ship Hector.

“We know there was one fellow named Chisholm and he appears to have been a single man. We know from the few passenger lists we have that quite a few by that name arrived in 1801. Some may have come willingly but we also know that between 1801 and 1810 a great many were cleared off the land,” said MacDonald.

When he toured New Glasgow Pioneer Cemetery with Lynn MacLean, who was a driving force in the restoration of the historical cemetery, they located a couple of Chisholm headstones.  One stone in particular drew their attention.

“We have a tall stone close to the riverbank. It is quite legible and it states that Angus Chisholm died in 1829 at the age of 41 and his daughter Margaret died at age 11 in 1840 while his wife Margaret lived until 1871,” said MacLean.

MacDonald points out this Chisholm is too young to have been on the Ship Hector so there is a good chance he came as a young man between 1801 and 1810.

“There is very little from this period that we know with certainty but thousands of Chisholms were cleared. Some went south to Glasgow and others went to Australia but the majority came to Nova Scotia and some are likely buried in this cemetery,” he said.

MacLean notes early references to New Glasgow mention a man known as Daddy Chisholm. He was, according to Dr. George Patterson’s “A History of the County of Pictou,” a married man with no children who obtained a grant of one and one-half acres on the bank of the East River near the location of the cemetery. Patterson states Chisholm and his wife were, for a time, New Glasgow’s only inhabitants.

“We know there were Chisholms among the early settlers in Pictou and New Glasgow and in various parts of the county so Strathglass Farewell is very much a Pictou County story,” said MacDonald who produced Ships of 1801 in 2012 and 2013.

The concert, which is set in the Scottish highlands and on board a ship bound for Pictou, features a dramatic falling out between a Chisholm family and their Fraser neighbours.

“The clearances affected more than Chisholms. There were Frasers, MacDonalds, MacIntoshes, Grants, MacRaes and likely others who were turned out by the Chisholm chief and his ambitious wife who believed the tenant farms would be more profitable as sheep pasture,” said MacDonald.

The betrayals and worries of the clansmen, as well as their hopes and dreams, are portrayed in song with accompaniment by fiddles, bagpipes and piano.

“It was music and storytelling that allowed the highlanders to preserve their culture so that is how we’ve chosen to present their stories,” said MacDonald.

Strathglass Farewell is being staged in conjunction with Antigonish Highland Games on July 12, at Strathspey Place in Inverness July 24 and at the deCoste Centre Sunday, July 27.