The early settlers had to endure many hardships. They were not accustomed to working in a forest, they were susceptible to injury, food was scarce while the land was being cleared and then there was the weather – hotter summers and colder winters. Solitude was another hardship as many of these Scots previously lived in a cluster of several families, whether in a well traveled area or in a remote glen.
Many of our first families came over as part of a group and settled as a group. Often they were able to pick land close to a relative or friend. However there were exceptions whereby a lone settler would enter the district and be given a location well removed from others.
The late Lawrence and Margie (MacKenzie) Wilson used to tell the story of one such settler in Earltown. His name has since been forgotten. The settler took a less travelled trail into the community and located his proposed grant deep in the forest at a considerable distance from the nearest settlement. He set about erecting a crude shelter and started to clear his land. After many days, potentially weeks, he was in despair with loneliness and homesickness. He was about to abandon his grant and seek another situation closer to Pictou.
Then early one morning he heard the echo of an axe biting into a tree. He followed the sound and in short order discovered not only another living soul but someone that he knew from the Old County.
The settler always claimed that the sweetest sound he ever heard was the bite of that axe.
PS Alex MacKay of Vancouver has recently provided notes of his late father, John A. MacKay, with a similar version of this story. The forlorn settler was his ancestor Donald MacKay of MacBain’s Corner. When investigating the sound of the axe, he discovered that his new neighbour was his half brother, Big William MacKay.
In a forgotten corner of West Earltown and The Falls, in the shadow of Spiddle Hill, lies Murray’s Cemetery. It is not visible to the travelling public nor are there any signs to lead one up a single track road along the Waugh River to this very tranquil and very historic spot.
This was the cemetery that served the above two communities from the 1830’s through to 1900. It is the resting place of a couple of generations that were, for the most part, evicted under duress from their ancestors’ homeland in Strath Brora, Sutherlandshire. They chose to emigrate to Pictou and reassembled as a Strath Brora community in exile, clearing the heavily forested slopes in the northwest corner of Earltown.
On Sunday, August 2nd, we will be conducting a guided walk among the monuments of these exiles, remembering their past, their struggles and their contribution to their new community. We will see the stone of Rev. William Sutherland, a settler and farmer, who was never called but served the area nonetheless. Nearby is the memorial to Catechist Baillie, one of the “Men of Sutherland” who was revered and feared in the days before the ministers. Then there are the two Eliza’s, one the legendary “Scotch Lady” who was lured from Glasgow to marry a cousin, (spoiler alert – she died single!), and the other Eliza who was “done wrong” in every sense. These are just some of the colourful characters that will be featured.
This event is part of the annual Earltown Gathering centered at Sugar Moon Farm. People may assemble at Sugar Moon prior to 10 AM at which time they will be guided to the cemetery. For those who know the way and wish to go there directly, access is currently off the Gil Sutherland Road and through the Edwin Cameron farm. It is highly recommended that you park at the far end of the farmstead, (near the old bridge), and we will provide transportation for the remainder of the way. The road is single lane and there is only parking for three vehicles at the site.
There is no admission fee for this event but donations will be accepted, if you are so inclined, towards the maintenance of the cemetery.
UPDATE: The Cameron family has indicated that people may park in a pasture immediately past the cemetery. The road is in good shape but one should proceed with caution. For those with low vehicles, we will still arrange for lift from the farmyard. It is also a pleasant 10 minute stroll.