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Welcome to Skye to McCrimmon Bay


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McCrimmon photo

The family of Donald MacCrimmon and Isobell MacLeod arrived in Ontario Canada in 1864 and eventually settled at MacCrimmons Bay which is part of Sharbot Lake Ontario.

Written by Earl Lytle.

 In the spring of 1864 Donald McCrimmon stood on the docks of Glasgow with his family.  They had left their home in Glendale on the Isle of Skye several days ago from the Dunvegan jetty. They had planned to join Donald's older brother John who had immigrated to Australia. Shortly before boarding his 4 year old daughter Flora had become lost and in the frantic search for her they were too late to catch the Australia bound ship.  They held a family meeting and decided to take a ship that was leaving the next day bound for Quebec City in Quebec, Canada. They would then proceed to Ontario, Canada where they were informed they would be welcome and could apply for a land grant.

 Donald was 39 years of age at this time. With Donald was his wife Isabella Macleod aged 33 and their children Duncan aged 7, Norman aged 5, Catherine aged 9, Flora aged 4 and John aged 9 months. His mother Marion McQuien aged 68 was also with them. Another daughter Mary aged 8 had remained behind with Isabella's parents, Norman MacLeod aged 66 and Catherine MacKinnon aged 66 in Holmisdale Glendale. It was here Donald and Isabella had lived after their marriage on the 4th of March 1851.

  Before leaving they had bid farewell to Isabella's parents and her siblings Marion Campbell, Janet, Dorothy, Gormalina as well as John and his wife Mary. They had assembled at Normans' cottage or shieling in Homisdale where they talked about old times as they sat near the peat fire and seal oil lamp. The cottage was made of stone with a thatched roof situated on the banks of the Hamara River about a mile from the sea.  Donald had been a fisherman and crofter and he and the others spoke Gaelic and a little English. They spoke of the many friends who had sailed for North America and Australia and others who planned to do so. Most of them had been tenant farmers forced off their land by the laird MacLeod of Macleod to make way for sheep farming. This tragedy of forced evictions took place in many Highland communities over a period of approximately 100 years and was referred to as the Highland Clearances.

 The McCrimmon ancestral holdings, as well as many others, had been reduced in size and the rents increased to force them away. Donald also recounted the curse placed on the McCrimmons by a young McCrimmon woman, named Annag, who had been severely punished by the removal of several fingers for giving piping secrets to her lover a MacPherson. She foretold that they would cease to be the official pipers to the MacLeods of Dunvegan and would leave the Isle of Skye forever. All this came to pass as Donald’s' grandfather had been the last chief piper and most had already left the Isle. The famous piping college at Borreraig had closed in the previous century.

  Before leaving they also bid farewell to Donald’s' sister Mary, uncle John, aunt Euphemia, uncle Peter and his family as well as his mother's sisters including Ann Douglas. Donald also took his sons Duncan and Norman to Dunvegan castle, home of the MacLeods. At the castle they were shown the famous bagpipes that had first played McCrimmons Lament. This lament was composed by Padruig Mor McCrimmon after the loss of his seven fine sons to fever in one year.

 Donald’s' father Duncan had served with the 42nd Highlanders (Black Watch) and died in the 1830's. Donald's grandfather was Iain Dubh also called Donull Dubh McCrimmon. Iain was the last of the hereditary professors of pipe music and piper to MacLeod of MacLeod. He was the 7th hereditary piper and the principal of the McCrimmon College. He renounced these offices for himself and his descendents in1767 after a portion of their endowment was withdrawn. He died in 1822 at the age of 91. Iain Dubh had lived at Borreraig on land long held in the family by virtue of their office as hereditary pipers. Their house was called Oil-thigh. Iain Dubh’s first wife was a MacAskill and they had 8 children. His second wife was Ann Campbell and they had 4 children which included Duncan, Donald’s father.

  The McCrimmons of Skye are proudly associated with the music of the bagpipes. They were the outstanding composers, teachers and players of piping music and their mastery of the pipes was known far and wide. They composed martial music which inspired many Highland regiments as well as laments and classical pieces. McCrimmons everywhere are proud of this heritage.

  Although the earliest history has grown as misty as the weather in many parts of the islands various attempts have been made to establish their history.

  The lineage of Iain Dubh may be traced back as follows:

  The name MacCrimmon is from the Gaelic MacCruimein, derived in turn from Old Norse, Hromund, famed protector. The McCrimmons are thought to have come to Skye from the Outer Hebrides. There were McCrimmons on the island group of St. Kilda from early times to as late as 1930. The present spellings of the name, MacCrimmon and McCrimmon, appear to be interchangeable as members of the same family, in some cases, use both spellings.

  The McCrimmons were a part of the Highland Scottish clan system. They were part of the McCrimmon clan which in turn was part of the MacLeod of MacLeod clan. This clan was a branch of the larger MacLeod clan. The MacLeod of MacLeod headquarters was located at Dunvegan castle on the Isle of Skye which has been their home since ancient times. The present laird of MacLeod of Macleod still resides at Dunvegan castle. Over the centuries many legends have emerged concerning the castle and the surrounding clans. The tales are both colorful and dashing and at times rather bloody. Reading them one can hear the bagpipes, see the distinctive kilts and hear the clash of swords. The tale of the fairy flag, on display at the castle, starts with the bringing of the flag from the middle-east during the Crusades. The flag on two occasions saved the clan at crucial moments in its history. Legend has it that it still has the power to save them one more time if the occasion arises.

  Returning to Donald and Isabella, they boarded the ship and after a crossing of the Atlantic they disembarked at Quebec City, Quebec in early June 1864. All were no doubt anxious to begin their new life in Canada. They proceeded to Kingston Ontario where they were registered as emigrants at the Port of Kingston on July 4th 1864. Also registered that day were four other families from the Isle of Skye and three from Glasgow. On the same day about 550 German families stopped on their way to the Western States.

  Donald and his family made their way to Camden Township, near Napanee, Ontario. The Federal census of 1871 in Camden Township records the family. Donald is listed as a laborer and their religion as Presbyterian. A son Donald (Dan) aged one year is the newest family member while the oldest is Donald's mother, Mary, listed as 103 years of age. Mary died in July 1871 and the informant on the death certificate was her son Donald who recorded her age again as 103. The census of 1861 in Scotland however recorded her age as 65 which would determine her age as 75 rather than 103 in 1871. The reason for the age discrepancy of 28 years remains a mystery to this day.

  The family next moved to a farm in Hartington, Ontario about 20 miles north of Kingston shortly thereafter. They then settled on crown land by the shores of Sharbot Lake, Ontario approximately 45 miles north of Kingston. Their farm was at the foot of a beautiful bay which was eventually christened McCrimmons Bay. The farm was lot 5, 2nd concession 2 of Oso Township. On June 2nd, 1908 they were officially granted the holding of 88.5 acres. The land was, agriculturally speaking, suitable for subsistence farming. The rough rolling hills and the proximity of the water reminded them of their former home in Scotland. In addition to the living derived from livestock and field crops the woods were full of game especially deer and rabbits. The large bay provided them with land-locked salmon, large northern pike and bass.

  The census of 1881 records the family at McCrimmons Bay. By this time there are two additional children; William aged 7 and a second son John at the age of two years. William died soon after of typhoid fever. John, aged 16 in 1881 perhaps perished by the same disease as there is no record of him after this period.

          Isabella and Donald followed the ancient naming pattern for their children:

 The first son was named after the father's father. i.e. Duncan.

  The second son after the mother's father. i.e. Norman.

  The first daughter after the mother's mother. i.e. Catherine.

  The second daughter after the father's mother. i.e. Mary.

  During the years the family lived on McCrimmons Bay they corresponded with the relatives they left behind on the Isle of Skye and the relatives who settled in Australia. Some of the letters have survived and the following is a sampling of their contents.

  Norman MacLeod writes in1873 to his granddaughter Catherine that they had not received the barrel of flour she sent them. He had just checked with the boat that had arrived in Dunvegan from Glasgow.

  Isabella's parents, Norman and Catherine MacLeod, inform them in 1874 that Mary is living in Glasgow, fails to keep in touch and that they are worried about her welfare.

  We learn that Norman MacLeod passed away about 1875 after a period of poor health. In addition we learn that Isabella's brother John broke his back in 1878 and as a result they were unable to take part in the bountiful herring catch the following year.

  Isabella's mother states on several occasions that she dearly hopes that one or more of them will return to the Isle of Skye to live with them once again. Isabella could have one-half the lot and they would pay the passage. She tells them that another family who left for America is returning in the spring. She also states that good paying jobs were available in Glasgow in 1876 and they had had an excellent potato harvest that year.

  It appears that in 1909, John Ellsworth, Catherine's son, visited Scotland and met many relatives including Alex McLeod the grandson of Norman. Alex was in poor health and was sent money over the years by Catherine in Canada.

  Two letters are sent from Australia to Canada in 1914 and 1915 by Duncan McCrimmon aged 54 the son of John McCrimmon, Donald's brother. He was living in Romsey in the state of Victoria. He says that Australia is doing its part, as well as Canada, to assist the mother country in the First World War. The first Expedition from Australia and New Zealand is in Egypt while a second Expedition is being formed with recruits signing up in Victoria alone at the rate of 1000 per week. He states that his brother Hector has two sons who have already left for the front.

  Duncan was also truly sorry to hear that Catherine's daughter Mary lost her only child and died of consumption soon afterwards. Other misfortunes were referred to in that cousin Duncan was injured in a railroad smash and that cousin John was killed in a mine explosion at the age of 34. In addition we learn that their aunt Mary, Donald's sister, died a few years ago.

  Duncan refers to a photo exchange with his cousin Catherine and his photo has survived.

  Fragments of an earlier letter from Romsey in 1874 indicates that John is writing to his brother Donald and asks when their mother died and if their sister Mary is still living.

  Elvie Jarvis, a neighbor of the McCrimmon family, paints an idyllic scene of the family at MacCrimmons Bay in her poem "MacCrimmons" describing a scene from about 1925 of which two stanzas follow:

There stands the sturdy grey log house

With the small milk house nearby

Where Mary kept her pans of milk

And cooled her berry pie

I see Inez and Annie watching      

While Hector is hoeing the corn

And little Kate, by the garden gate

Holds a kitten just new born

There's John and Norman with hay rakes

The sweat running down their backs

And Dan working hard with hammer and nail

Fixing the broken hay racks

I see Arnold in the flat bottom boat

He is rowing hard for shore

He's been to Donnelly's Blacksmith Shop

And the H.J. Thompson store

 Donald's and Isabella's son Duncan remained on the homestead at McCrimmons Bay while the other children settled in the area. Norman lived in Mountain Grove, Ontario; Donald (Dan) lived near Madoc, Ontario; Catherine near St. George's Lake, Ontario; Flora lived in Kingston, Ontario; John also lived in the area while Mary left Scotland and lived in Dallas, Texas.

  All members of the family who left the Isle of Skye in 1864 no doubt were very nostalgic when they thought of the Highlands and the family they left behind forever. Some of them probably thought they would return to the Isle of Skye for at least a visit however there is no record of them returning. It was left to future generations to make the pilgrimage.

  The following works published in the 1930's are recommended for further information on the McCrimmon Clan of the Isle of Skye:

These latter books concentrate on the origins and the genealogy of the MacCrimmons.

Author: Earl Lytle

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