The following story was written by Rodrick T. MacDonald and presented at the L.C.H.S.A. meeting on November 7, 1950. Rodrick was one of seven children born to Angus A. MacDonald of Upper Leitches Creek and Mary MacDonald [Iain] of North Side East Bay. Rodrick never married and lived on the old MacDonald homestead at Upper Leitches Creek. Roderick also served for some years on the County Council and was well known in the area.
In his preface to Stephan Leacock's "Canada, The Foundations of its Future", Samual Bronfman, President of the House of Seagram starts out with : "The history of Canada is the sum total of biographies of all its citizens. In its unfolding, all have a share; from its narrative, all derive that pride which comes of participation". This statement is very much to the point now we are preparing a summary of the various addresses given on the meetings of our Home and School association during the past winter months. Thanks to the combined efforts of the participants in these discussions it was possible to revive many forgotten fact and last but not least, to repay our respects to the first settlers who, by enduring great hardships, paved the way for our present livelihood.
The story as it unfolds itself in the following pages is essentially a family history of the MacDonalds, the Beatons and the Johnsons, who left their homes in North Uist, Scotland for good reasons. They crossed the Atlantic on an emigrant ship - as Stephan Leacock calls it "the world's symbol of peace and progress". This peace was certainly not one of mind, What would have been the results of their efforts without careful planning?
One cannot be blind for the progress made since those early days when surveying the improvements achieved. Yet, we consider it to be very fortunate that the virgin beauty of our community has hardly been touched. As a relaxation center on the rim of the "Industrial Heart of the Maritimes" our "Whistle Stop" may gain importance when discovered by those people that, although city-bound for their daily duties, appreciate the fresh air and rest of the country for their off-hours.
A good many members of our Association have contributed to this narrative. In mentioning their names we would do injustice to scores of others that participated in one way or another. Yet, one of our main sources of information will never read these pages; Mr. Neal Beaton, who took a very active interest in the history of our community, passed away suddenly on the twenty-second of this March. His remains were returned to the soil on which he lived and which he tilled with all his heart. May he rest in peace.
This short sketch will deal with the history of the district of Leitches Creek from the present school house site westward to the township line, which crosses diagonally the farm now occupied by Mrs. Jardine.
In 1827, four MacDonald brothers (Donald, Archie, Ronald and John) left Benbecula in the Hebrides and after crossing the Atlantic, landed in Sydney, Nova Scotia. After being in quarantine for two weeks they spent some months searching for a suitable place to locate themselves. Some of them looked over the land at River Inhabitants. This site did not appeal to them. They spent the winter and most of the following year in cabins of some kind on what is now known as Gordons farm at Leitches Creek Station. All the land was occupied or applied for up to the Cross Roads. From the writers understanding the land now owned by Jas. Beaton's heirs as well as the Archibald and Lynk lots were taken up by the Archibalds of North Sydney. The MacDonalds took up the land on the north side of the present Upper Leitches Creek road and westward from the so-called Mountain Road to the township line. They took up six lots in all. One of the brothers spent some time at his trade of carpenter, and built a cabin on the farm now owned by John D. Beaton. Here they lived while they cleared the land on their six lots. Potatoes were planted in the ground where they had burnt the brush. They did not move onto their lots until two years later (1829). In that year two more of their brothers (Angus and Peter) joined them after emigrating from Benbecula in 1828 and spending one year in Loch Lomand, Cape Breton before finding their family at Leitches Creek. The cabins were built by that time and the lots were in condition for planting vegetables. On the south side of the road the land was settled in the following order: Edward Ross; John McCormack; John McIsaac; a Campbell family and the Morrisons.
In 1832 they were followed by the Beatons and Johnsons also from Benbecula. John (Iain) Beaton had Seven sons and two daughters. Five of the sons settled in this vicinity with four of them marrying sisters of Aonghas Tuairnear MacDonald. Neil Johnson had five sons, he was also accompanied by his brother James Johnson. Neil Johnson purchased a farm from Campbell. This farm is now owned by John C. and Alex McAullay. James Johnson settled in Upper Leitches Creek as did the Beatons. In later years James Johnson purchased the McCoy farm now owned by his grandson Sam Johnson.
In the early days the nearest Post office was at Ball's Creek. At that time you paid your postage when you received your mail. The first Post office in the district of which I am aware was in the home of Sam McDonald, now the Bartlett farm. Our first school was at or near the Upper Leitches Creek Church. This was a building of logs, a "log cabin" with an open fire place at one end of the room; a flattened log along each side of the building served as seats; a plank for a desk. The second school was near the cross roads. Pupils from Georges River, the Barrasois Glenn and Upper Leitches Creek attended this school. 90 years ago a Miss. McKenzie from Margaree had the school and taught sewing, crocheting and embroidering to the young girls.
The question has been asked why the original settlers left their homes in Scotland. The writer, from stories told to him, has only one answer to give: "Overcrowding, poor soil, harsh landlords, the wish to own land". The settlers were to be given 200 acres as a gift and would have lots of wood to burn in this new land. In the Hebrides they were often compelled by what we call hard times. They had to burn seaweed with driftwood to obtain the minerals in the ashes and to sell these in order to meet the yearly rent (or part of it) for the land. All these emigrants made preparations, some years in advance, to migrate to Canada. In many cases they had enough clothing and shoes to last them 10 years or more.
After the Napoleon wars the price of cattle rose to $80 or more. This enabled them to pay their passage which in many cases took 2 months. In many cases smallpox, the dread of the seaman, broke out on the voyage and caused much misery and hardship. In those early days shipbuilding was in full swing. Many vessels were built at Long Island, Cape Breton by a builder named Angus Young. One was built on the shore of Sam Beatons farm by his father. He learned his trade in Maine. Archibald and Co. had at most times 3 or 4 ships in building. These new settlers had at all times a good demand for timber, which supplied them with their everyday needs. Besides that we had a good trade in "ton timber", this was hardwood hewn square by hand, which sold on the English market.
At that time all our farms were occupied. Everyone was busy denuding our hills of its forest and as land was cleared they took to growing oats to supply the demand caused by our coal mines, which were developing. This was the beginning of our downfall. Our land became poverished. Our young men then went to work in the coal mines. Our trade at this time was with the United States. We sold our coal and bought our supplies in that market.
When Confederation came into effect that market was lost on account of an import tax. We had no further use for ships, the coal mines worked 6 months of the year, the young people and in many cases the old moved to the United States.
The question has been asked why they left the farms. I would like to ask why they not leave under conditions such as existed. Prime beef sold at times for $4.00 per cut, Pork for the same at times. You could not buy flour for butter, this had to be a cash sale. When the present C.N.R. line was extended into Cape Breton, laborers were paid at the rate of 90 cents per day. After the road was in operation the section hands were paid the same per day.
When the Land Settlement Board was organized in
1929-30 a man working for the board asked the question: "Where should we
buy land?". They were told: "Do not buy any land where the settler
can see the smoke of the Industrial centers". This proved all too true.
Very few of them remained on the land.
Rodrick T. MacDonald