Scots Overseas – Settlement Pioneers in Canada

After the end of the American War of Independence in 1799, the British government was concerned for the security of its adjacent colony, Canada. Former residents of American colonies who had remained loyal to the British had been settled in townships bordering the St Lawrence river, and further inland, British soldiers who had served in the War had been allocated land. The Rideau valley, between the St Lawrence and Ottawa, remained undeveloped.

The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the growing industrialisation of the spinning and weaving trades resulted in high unemployment, particularly in Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire. The government saw emigration as the solution, and offered assisted passages to Canada in 1820-1821. Emigration Societies were set up, and the first group arrived in 1820.

GWSFHS member, Iain McKenzie, gave a presentation in April 2014 on the Lanark Settlement in the Ottawa forest of Upper Canada, using three local families to illustrate the pioneers’ journey. The settlement project was led by a Glasgow man, William Marshall, who between 1820 and 1830 helped several thousand pioneer families, many from the West of Scotland, make a new start in this wilderness area of colonial Canada. The three families chosen by Iain were the Curries of Strachur, the Gardners of Kilsyth and the Umpherstons from Glasgow and Cambuslang.

In our reference library we have a handsomely illustrated bound copy of Iain’s presentation slides, entitled “William Marshall and the Lanark Settlement Pioneers”. It shed light on a corner of Scottish history that I was completely unaware of, and I would recommend the book to anyone visiting our Research Centre in Mansfield Street.

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