Earltown Heritage Sunday Update

Thanks to all who braved the heat and humidity to attend our function in the Church Cemetery this afternoon.  In addition to the locals, we had people from New Brunswick, (and formerly Quebec), Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and New England.

We raised approximately $400 to go towards the maintenance of the cemetery.


Gunn Cemetery Update

Good news!

A group of volunteers met in Earltown on June 24th to put in motion the Gunn Cemetery Association.  The cemetery has been kept in excellent shape by a number of interested individuals  over the past few decades.  However there has never been a board, bank account or resources to maintain stones and secure the site.

Last year’s tour raised over $600 towards starting a fund.  We will soon have a formal account and be in the position to accept donations.   Donations will be used to repair the oldest stone, improve signage and install an information box where there will be a guest book and information on the cemetery.   We are also obtaining a deed to the land so that it will properly registered.  The day may come were we should be paying for the upkeep of the grounds and repairs to the access.

Donations for the upkeep of the cemetery are gratefully accepted but we do not have charitable status so CRA tax receiptscannot be issued.
Cheques can be made out to the Gunn Cemetery and mailed to:
        Gunn Cemetery
        c/o Joyce Ferguson
        7787 Hwy 311, The Falls
        RR #5 Tatamagouche, NS
        B0K 1V0
For security reasons please do not leave cash or cheques in the mailbox
For information  on the history of the cemetery contact:  Glen Matheson 902-957-0532  gmmatheson@gmail.com




Earltown Heritage Sunday: In the Shadow of the Church

Earltown was a remarkable community in the 1800’s.  Its hills and valleys were thickly populated with over 1,000 highlanders and it also served as a trading center for nearby communities in Pictou and North Colchester thus extending its influence  over 2,000 souls.

And souls were of great import to these emigrants who arrived with little more than an axe and a bible.  They belonged exclusively to the Church of Scotland, (later evolving into the Free Church of Scotland), and worshipped in their native Gaelic tongue.  The clergy, elders and catechists commanded great respect and exerted considerable influence over all aspects of life in the area, whether it be religion, education, justice or social welfare.

In due course a church was erected in the geographic centre of the district. Like in their home parishes of Eastern Sutherland, a cemetery was established in near proximity.  A second church was erected in the late 1860’s to accommodate the growing congregation.  Like in many rural communities, the congregation dwindled and the building had to be removed in recent years.


This is the 8th in a series of annual presentations by Glen Matheson, local historian, on the social history of Earltown.  In addition to an overview of the history the Knox Presbyterian Church, there will be the customary tour of the adjacent cemetery with stories of the early settlers who chose to be buried in the shadow of the church.

The presentation will be Sunday July 29th at 3PM at the Earltown Church Cemetery,  Highway 326, two kilometers north of Earltown Village.   Scots will be pleased that there is no admission however donations towards the upkeep of the cemetery would be appreciated.

Earltown Church Cemetery

Colchester Heritage Award


Margaret Mulrooney, curator at the Colchester Historeum, presents an award to Glen Matheson, in appreciation for his work in researching, preserving the history of the Earltown area. He maintains an Earltown heritage blog. – Lynn Curwin

It was an honor to have been selected for this award.  When I started out on this journey in the 1970’s,  G.R. Sutherland’s “Rise and Decline of the Community of Earltown” (1) had yet to be written.  “The Historical and Genealogical Record of Colchester County” (2), aka The Miller Book was silent on the area.  The “History of Tatamagouche” (3) provided a footnote.  Isreal Longworth, in 1866, did provide a brief narrative in his “History of Colchester County” (4).   I was convinced that there must have been a richer history awaiting discovery.

I had the good fortune of being raised on a multi-generational farm and met many of my grandparents’ generation who would visit our home at Balfron.  The topic of conversation would often venture into family history and stories of people in the surrounding communities.  Three of my grandparents were descendants of the people who settled at Earltown and the sister communities of West Branch and Scotsburn.  The remaining grandparent was the descendant of the Montbeliard and Lowland settlers of Tatamagouche and New Annan.

My early research took me into the homes of the elderly of Earltown, The Falls, Balfron and Tatamagouche Mountain.  These people either remembered the child settlers or the first generation to be born in those hills.  Some thought genealogy was a waste of time as everyone in those parts were related.  That turned out to be nearly true so the question became not  to whom were we related but how were we related.  A couple of trips to Sutherlandshire brought a new dimension to the story and things evolved from there.

Two mentors come to mind.   Gladys Sutherland MacDonald had a treasure of information gathered over her lifetime which she shared without hesitation.   Margie MacKenzie Wilson offered great encouragement and freely gave me most of her intellectual property.  I also have to mention my great aunt, Reta Murray MacRae.  She had scrapbooks of old newspaper obituaries which I would pour over in the dim light of her kerosene lamp.

A book has always been a goal but finding time to work on one has been a challenge.  Consequently this blog was formed to share some of these stories and findings in case the book never happens.  Unfortunately the frequency of posts has not been to my satisfaction.  We do what we can.

In addition to connecting with some fine people of the Earltown diaspora throughout the continent, the blog has opened a few doors with historians in Scotland who are studying emigration from Sutherlandshire as well as matters of faith and gender.  This led to frequent correspondence with Professor James Hunter while he was writing “Set Adrift Upon the World – The Sutherland Clearances”,  during which we were able to connect the dramatic events in the clearance of Clyne with the settlement of The Falls and West Earltown.  Prof. Elizabeth Ritchie of the University of the Highlands and Islands in Dornoch has been a tremendous help in understanding the lifestyle and faith of our people at the time they emigrated.  I also have to mention Dr. Malcolm Bangor-Jones of Lochinver, long time correspondent, who saves me from myself when writing about things that I don’t fully understand.

It is my understanding that some regular followers of this blog submitted nominations.  Thank you !

The accompanying article has a couple of facts slightly off, (my fault), but otherwise correct.   Here is the link to the  Truro Daily News article.

(1) Sutherland, G.R., The Rise and Decline of the Community of Earltown, Colchester Historical Society, Truro, NS 1980
(2) Miller, Thomas, The Historical and Genealogical Record of Colchester County, A.W. McKinley, Halifax, NS 1873
(3) Patterson, Frank, History of Tatamagouche, Royal Print and Litho Co., Halifax, NS 1917
(4) Longworth, I., History of Colchester County, circa 1886

Earltown Farm Forum

Murray Baillie, formerly of Tatamagouche Mountain, has generously agreed to share his memories of the Earltown Farm Forum.  His article perfectly captures a time when rural communities made a concerted effort to expand their knowledge in a social setting – long before Facebook.   

I was the teacher in Earltown School in the village of Earltown, Nova Scotia from September, 1961 to June, 1962. I was all of 20 years old when I began teaching Grades Primary to 6 at the beginning  of the academic year.

At the beginning of the year, I was invited to attend the weekly  meetings of the Farm Forum held on Monday nights. Before going to Earltown, I had never heard of the National Farm Radio Forum. National Farm Radio Forum was sponsored by the Canadian Broadcasting Co-operation, the Canadian Federation Agriculture and the Canadian Association for Adult Education and founded in 1941.  The program was a one-half hour radio broadcast followed by discussion.

Other things, sometimes gossip, were discussed besides the topic of the evening. I remember that the subject of seat belts came up before the days when the law made them mandatory for use in cars and trucks when driving. Allister Murray had doubts about their usefulness.

There was a discussion on encouraging young people to farm. This was probably on February 5, 1962 when the topic was “Technical and Vocational Training for Young People”. Lawrence Sutherland said that there should be a compulsory agriculture course in high school. Of all the students in the North Colchester High School in Tatamagouche, very few, if any, became farmers. When I was a student there, we did not see that as a productive future.

Mary Murray, a high school teacher, said once that we can’t educate the masses. I disagreed because I thought we should consider the intellectually disabled, then called retarded. I heard later that Mary enjoyed our arguments and told a relative of mine, Jennie Mingo, that she would like to adopt me.

On one evening, James M. Minifie, was quoted on the radio. Mary said, “That sounds like Mr. Minifie”. I said, “It is.” I was used to hearing his commentaries on the CBC radio program, “Capital Report”. I was at ease with this group and did not mind expressing my opinion.

Howard Murray, a land surveyor, complained about government regulations making life difficult. Everyone agreed.  And this was in the early sixties when life was much less regulated than it is today.

The meetings rotated among different homes.  Every meeting had a published National Farm Radio Guide covering the topic for that week. There was information on the topic of the evening with discussion questions at the end. I was elected secretary so I submitted (i.e., mailed) a report for each session and discussion to Betty Campbell, the Farm Forum Provincial Secretary for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, in Truro. I don’t remember how this was done other than but I must have summarized the discussion on the questions asked on the back page of each Guide. I talked to Mrs. Campbell by phone on May 26, 2017 and asked her about this. She said that it was a long time ago and she did not remember how the reports were submitted nor whether they were preserved.

It is interesting that there were Farm Forum groups all over the province (79) and eight in New Brunswick. In the 1961-1962 Annual Report on Farm Forums, Earltown is listed along with my name and address as secretary.

What is interesting to me is that there were Farm Forums in Balfron, Tatamagouche Mountain and Four Mile in North Colchester. Although Tatamagouche Mountain was my home, I never heard about these Farm Forum meetings as I was growing up.

 Some people in the Department of Agriculture really promoted Farm Forum. Robert Murray, an Agricultural Representative (Ag Rep) attended many of the meetings in Cumberland County.

I still own two Guides from that period:

  1. Marketing by Teletype. Volume 19, No. 8, February 12, 1962. 8 pp.

The questions for discussion were:

  • What do you think about the use of the teletype system for marketing hogs?
  • Do you feel that the price of your commodity could be improved if all buyers had to bid competitively on all supplies of the commodity available for sale? Do they bid on all supplies now? Do you think the teletype marketing system could be applied to your commodity?
  • Do you feel that a national marketing system should be organized using teletype? Give reasons.
  1. Transportation and the Farmer. Volume 19, No. 9, February 19, 1962. 12 pp. Basically, this was a discussion on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Transportation (MacPherson Report) which reported in 1961.

The questions for discussion on this topic were:

  • Have you used your railway recently?

–for livestock?

–for passenger service?

–for the movement of grain?

  • What problems do you have with freight rates?
  • How will the recommendations affect you and your community if they are approved by the government?

As I remember, those who attended the Earltown Farm Forum in addition to myself were Rod and Barbara Murray, Allister Murray, Howard and Mary Murray, Lawrence and Helen Sutherland, John R.E. and Marion MacKay. As of 2017, I am the only member still living.

Only Rod, Barbara and Allister Murray were farmers. Every meeting closed with a delicious lunch.  Lunches were a rural custom that I enjoyed even though they did not help my weight problem.

Howard Murray commented that the Forum was a good way to keep social contact with neighbours at a time when community visiting was declining.

The National Farm Radio Forum broadcasts came to an end in 1965. For myself, I am happy that I had this social and educational experience since many hours were spent in the school and at home working on my teaching duties. I grew up on a farm so that may have helped me contribute. I am grateful to the people of Earltown for their contribution to my life; this was one of those ways.

Appendix A

Topics List – 1961 – 1962

The subjects for each broadcast were listed by date.

Appendix B

Annual Report : Farm Radio Forum

Nova Scotia; New Brunswick


The cover has the signature of Betty Campbell, Secretary.

Appendix C

Acknowledgement of Sources

  • Telephone Interviews with Betty Campbell (May 7, 2017), Dale Ells (May 7, 2014, May 26, 2017 and June 1, 2017) and Robert Murray (May 26, 2017).
  • Ells’ book: Shaped Through Service; An Illustrated History of the Nova Scotia Agricultural College. Truro, Agrarian Development Services Ltd., 1999. Pages 103-104.
  • Agricola collection (i.e. Archives) of the MacRae Library, Nova Scotia Agricultural College, Bible Hill, N. S.


The Grahams of North Earltown

In 1820 a substantial group left Strathbrora, Clyne, for Nova Scotia.  Many of the group, upon arrival in Pictou, were dispatched to Earltown with tickets of location. Among that group were John Graham, his wife Catherine Sutherland and young sons, William, James, John and George.  George was an infant and was born on the Atlantic Ocean as the ship approached Nova Scotia.  Also on board was John’s sister Catherine who was the widowed wife of Strathbrora miller, George Ferguson, and her six young children.

John was granted land stretching between the present Matheson Corner Road and the Church Road. It was a mix of side hills and a swampy basin which is the source of the Matheson Brook.  We are not sure which of the three subsequent Graham farms that John personally inhabited.  In addition to the main grant, additional surrounding land was acquired from grantees who didn’t improve their lots.

The three eldest sons all lived in what was known, unofficially, as Graham Settlement with all three homesteads accessed by a now unrecognizable trail known as “Toad Road”.  William’s homestead can be found in the brush beside the Corner Road, a patch of Tiger Lillies marking the perimeter of the old house.


Lloyd Graham of North Carolina on foundation of the house of his Great Great Grandparents, William Graham and Hannah Sutherland,  Matheson Corner Road.

 James lived on an adjoining clearing south of William while John had an upland farm on the opposite hill near MacKenzie Cemetery.   The fourth son, George, lived on the county line near West Branch, a fifth son Robert died young and the only known daughter, Catherine, married James Graham of Earltown Village.

William was married to Hannah Sutherland who came to Nova Scotia from Strathbrora in 1820 and settled with her family at Upper Barney’s River.  In the early 1830’s she came to Earltown as the bride of Hugh Sutherland “Nickie”.  They settled in a cabin beside the Waugh River on Campbell Road. Three days later Hugh drowned in the stream while fishing.  After an appropriate time, Hannah married William Graham.

James married Mary MacDonald.  She was one of the “Soldier” MacDonalds that settled on the Berrichan Road. There are many descendant of this couple in Earltown and surrounding communities, mostly under the name Sutherland.

John married Isabel Murray.  She was a native of Rogart.  Her parents moved from Rogart to Kildonan just in time for the clearances of 1813.  The family found sanctuary in Strath Halladale. Several of her siblings drifted into Earltown between 1819 and 1840.  Her parents settled late in life on Spiddle Hill.  John’s descendants are mostly found in Alberta and British Columbia.

Catherine married James Graham, son of another John Graham. His family came to Earltown in 1819 and settled behind the present stores in the village.  Catherine and James had three children before her early death.  James remarried to Dorothy Gunn and settled at Plainfield.  Of Catherine’s three children, only Mary returned to live at Earltown.

John and Catherine Graham are buried in the historic MacKenzie Cemetery alongside James Sutherland who believe to be Catherine’s father.


Lloyd Graham, North Carolina, beside the stone of Catherine Sutherland Graham and the stone of James Sutherland

2017 Heritage Talk – Gunn Cemetery

“We buried him darkly in the dead of night”

So goes a line of a poem penned by a local blacksmith commemorating the burial of a local farmer late at night in Gunn’s Cemetery, East Earltown.  The poem, a parody of “The Burial of Sir John Moore”,  that described this bizarre but pragmatic internment, was a dark secret in Earltown for a half century and only mentioned in privacy and confidence.  It was peppered with the nicknames of the local Scots, many considered offensive by the bearer, and dredged up some petty feuds.

This and other stories will be highlighted in our annual heritage talk at the historic cemetery.  Learn why the area was unofficially known as Spain and New Portugal, follow the adventurers of a one armed settler who fought in the Battle of New Orleans, and visit the grave of a lady widely believed to be the daughter of the Earl of Caithness. Many in this cemetery were removed from their Highland homes in the large scale Sutherland clearances.

The event will be taking place on Sunday, July 23rd at 3PM.  The cemetery is located on the Squire William MacKay Road, 2 kilometers from Highway 256.  Squire William MacKay Road is approximately 1 kilometer east of MacBain’s Corner heading towards Scotsburn.  If not familiar with area, you may check in at Sugar Moon Farm,  (www.sugarmoon.ca) before 2:30 and someone will be there to direct or escort you to the cemetery.

There is no admission charge.  Donations towards cemetery maintenance greatly appreciated.

Map – Squire William MacKay Rd