MacGregors hail Flight of the Highlanders

Wayne MacGregor Parker writes in The Maple Leaf MacGregor . . . .

This is a good book for all Canadians of Scottish descent to read. What
sets this book apart from so many well documented accounts is that it goes
beyond the clearances, crosses the ocean, and follows the struggles of these
wretched souls as they overcome enormous challenges carving out a life and a
country here in Canada.

In many instances the author brings the story of their descendants
right into the present day. A word of caution though: it is deeply disturbing
to fully grasp the dire circumstances under which our ancestors and many others
came to Canada. I felt frustration and outright anger at the treatment of these
poor people.

The book is divided into three tracks. The first provides a good
overview of what was going on in Scotland that led up to the Clearances. The
debacle of the failed ’45 with Bonnie Prince Charlie and its ramifications is
well developed and sets the stage for the destruction of the clan system and
the complete corruption of a number of chiefs as they abdicated their duties of
protection and support in favour of material gain. This set the stage for the
Clearances. It was at this point in the book that my ire began to rise.

The second track deals directly with the forced evictions of poor
crofters who had lived for hundreds, if not thousands, of years subsisting on
these lands under the collective protection of clan. Heart rending after heart
rending account, well supported with direct quotes, tell the stories of
widespread brutality at the hands of absentee landlords wishing to improve the
financial returns on their lands by forcefully removing people to make room for
sheep. They were loaded onto coffins ships with nothing more than the shirt on
their backs and then off-loaded at unknown destinations without resources or
support. There is one particularly brutal account of the forced eviction of a
Gregor as witnessed by Donald Ross.

“Margaret McGregor, aged forty-seven years, was the wife of William
Ross, tenant, Greenyard. This poor woman met with savage treatment at the hands
of the police. She wanted to reason with the sheriff on the impropriety of is
conduct, because Mr. Munro, the tacksman, had denied all knowledge of the
warrants of his removal. The answer she got was a blow on the shoulder, and
then another on the left ear with a baton. That blow was so violent that it cut
up the gristle of the ear, breaking the skull and shattering the temporal and
sphenoid bones. Result: concussion and compression of the brain. The blow was
so forceful that it knocked the poor woman to the ground and caused blood to flow
copiously from both ears.

Even after she was on the ground, the police struck her with their
batons, and with their feet; and then left her with her head in a pool of
blood. Donald Ross could not see the smallest hope of recovery. She was the
mother of seven helpless children, and when he saw the poor little things going
backwards and forwards, “toddling” around her sick bed, looking with sorrow at
her death-like visage, he felt his heart break. The few sentences which the
poor woman managed to speak went clearly to show that she had been barbarously
treated. Ross’s firm conviction was that she was as cruelly murdered as if a
policeman had shot her on the links at Tain.”

At this point my blood, my Highland blood, began to boil. At the
outset, the author correctly draws attention to the fact that under the current
United Nations definition, these people were not immigrants; they were
refugees. In today’s terms, their treatment would indisputably be characterized
as ethnic cleansing.

The final track deals with what happened to these poor souls once they
landed in the new world. Unfortunately, in all too many cases, more of the same
in the form of poor treatment, exploitation, and abuse. Shamefully, the history
of mankind reveals a pattern of man’s inhumanity to man and the struggle of haves
and have-nots.

The Highlander refugee has to fight for every break against
overwhelming odds. McGoogan does a good job of taking the reader through a
number of the divisive and often abusive situations they had to work through to
get established here in the new world. The emphasis in this final section is
centered on how these resilient folks succeeded in stabilizing their lives
enough to begin to live again.

In this final section my mood at last transitioned from outright anger,
through pity, and on to hope. Eventually their fortunes start to improve as
homes and communities are established and institutions based on democratic
principles are upheld. It was here that hope blossomed into pride as one begins
to see the formation of Canada and the profound effect the mass of Scottish
refugees have had on the shaping of our country and its unique and very
Scottish form of government.

I highly recommend this book. While historically accurate and presented
in good taste, none the less the subject material is disturbing to consider in
human terms.
  It is interesting and well-written
and will directly appeal to Canadians of Scottish descent.

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