Vimy Ridge – April 17, 1917


Canadian Attack under heavy shelling at Vimy Ridge, France


2017 marks two defining moments in the history of Canada.  It is the 150th anniversary of Canada’s birth as a self governing nation.  It also marks the 100th anniversary of a famous World War I battle in which Canada fought as a unified force on the world stage.

The German forces occupied a 7 kilometer ridge that gave them a distinct advantage over the combined allied forces.  In the weeks and months leading up to April 9th, France had over 100,000 casualties while trying to capture the ridge.   Meanwhile Canadian forces were going through detailed training exercises and preparing the field for battle.  Prior to this, Canada’s regiments were assigned to various allied forces.  This was the first time they  were under common command.

At 5:30 AM, under protective fire from British and Canadian artillery, 15,000 Canadian troops charged overtaking Germans in the front line trenches. They continued up the ridge and, in small and isolated groups, captured machine gun nests along the ridge and eventually captured the main hill.  The fighting would continue through to April 12th and resulted in a victory which marked a turning point in the fortunes of the Allied Forces.

It might be described as a bittersweet victory.  With 3,598 deaths and over 7,000 wounded, it was a costly victory for a young nation of only 7 million people. Although greatly reduced in numbers, Canadians went on the participate in other battles during 1917.

Few communities in Canada were untouched by grief.   To date, three men from North Colchester and part of the Earltown Gaeldacth  were known to have perished on this battlefield.

Archie John MacKay was born at The Falls in 1885.  He was a son of  William G.A. MacKay “Achany”  and Martha Hayman, merchants at the cross roads.   He was one of seven children.  His brother Roach lived in Springhill, a brother Bill, (Alberta Bill MacKay), lived in Waldegrave, and the remainder in Fairview, Alberta.  Archie died in the April 9th assault.

Donald Ferguson was born ca. 1879 at Ferguson Crossing, Waugh River.  His parents were Robert Ferguson and Maria MacKay.  His father was born and brought up near Knox Church in Earltown.  His mother’s father, of the Caribou MacKays,  came from the Berrichan.  Donald died in combat on April 10th.

Arthur MacKay Ross was born at Waldegrave, a son of Duncan Ross and Johanna MacKay.  The Ross family were originally from Gulf Shore, Cumberland County, and Mrs. Ross was a descendant of the both the Tailor and Black MacKays.  Arthur died in the April 9th assault.  Prior to going overseas, he was married to Nettie Hynds and left a young son Arthur.  Arthur’s brother,  William G. Ross, later of Glenholme, served in both World War I and World War II.

There may be others from the area of which we are not aware but would be most grateful to learn about their service.


Vimy Memorial at Vimy Ridge, a site given to Canada by France to

commemorate the battle.



World War I Casualties – Wikipedia

Wilson, Margaret,   The Descendants of Catherine Ferguson, unpublished

Files of Janet Ruby MacKay  “Tailor”










It’s Complicated …The Relationship of William Murray and Girzel Grant: Part V

Donald Murray, son of William and Grace, was a soldier in the British Calvary[i]. He brought with him to Nova Scotia his sword which always hung in the kitchen of his cabin or house. He was nicknamed Swordy.

Donald married Margaret Campbell of Cyderhall, Dornoch, in 1819. The couple had a small holding in post clearance settlement of Rearquhar near his home hamlet of Fluchary. Their first six children were born on that croft.

In 1831 the family was under financial stress and lost the croft due to unpaid rent[ii]. The family joined a boatload of emigrants from Eastern Sutherland who were mainly families cleared in the 1819-1821 era but chose to remain in Sutherland at that time. Most of these families were directed to marginal uplands surrounding Loganville, Earltown, Upper Kemptown and parts of West River. Donald acquired a hilltop near Loganville known as “The Craig”. It was not a hospitable location as it was exposed to the distant Northumberland Strait and a number of valleys extending towards Mount Thom, Kemptown and the Berrichan. Thereafter this branch of Murrays became known as the “Craigs”.

In total they had ten children:

  1. William married Dolly Grant of Hardwood Hill. They settled a large farm at the junction of the College Grant and MacIntosh Roads.   They had a family of ten including Libbie (Angus) MacBain and Jessie (Sandy) Ross of East Earltown.
  2. Hugh married Christy MacDonald of Dalhousie Mountain. Hugh took over the original homestead on the hilltop. They had no children of their own but brought up Christy’s nephew, John MacDonald. The MacDonalds moved to Oxford leaving John with the Murrays.   John became known by the nickname “Bouyan” and lived alone on the Craig after the Murray couple died. The circumstances surrounding his unusual death are related in “Stories Around the Branch”[iii].
  3. Grace married James Innes of Golspie and lived in Loganville Glen. Descendants are in Prince Edward island.
  4. Isabel, unmarried
  5. John Lyall Murray went to Mirimachi as a young man and settled in the village of Doaktown.
  6. Robert died young in Scotland
  7. Margaret married Sgt. John Welsh of Dumphries, Scotland. They operated a boarding house in Pictou before moving to Quincy, Ma. Their family later relocated to Denver.
  8. Donald Jr. lived on a lower property on the Craig. He married Catherine Sutherland of East Branch. They had a family of nine, most of whom lived in the Canadian West.
  9. George Murray was a prospector in the west. After an absence of several years, his nephew, George Murray the merchant, went west on a search and tracking him down in Alaska. He was brought back to West Branch and lived his last few years with his niece, Mary Beck[iv].
  10. Robert “Craig” cleared a farm near the north end of the MacIntosh Road at College Grant. He married Annie MacLean who grew up on the same road. Together they had eight children.   Jim Murray, late of College Grant, was a son who took over the homestead[v].

Margaret Campbell Murray, Donald’s wife, died in 1845 of lockjaw which was the result of stepping on a rusted nail. She was buried in the Earltown Village Cemetery[vi]. Donald survived her until 1859.

[i] Unpublished memoirs of George W. Murray of Lethbridge gives the origin of the nickname.

[ii] Online: County Sutherland: Dornoch Emigrant List

[iii] Mackay, et al, “Stories Around The Branch: A collection of tales from West Branch, Pictou County, N.S.” 2001

[iv] Interview with Dolly Murray Baillie, Scotsburn, 1980

[v] Family: Dan, Hantsport; Alex, Hantsport; John, Alberta; Maggie, Mrs. Mac Baillie, Welsford; Rev. George, Trinidad; Grace, Mrs. Gordon Matheson, The Falls; Dolly, Mrs. George Baillie, Welsford; Jim at home.

[vi] The back part of Loganville along the Gunshot Road had easier access to Earltown via the Berrichan than to West Branch. Consequently several families from that area are buried in Earltown.

It’s Complicated …The Relationship of William Murray and Girzel Grant: Part IV

Robert Murray, eldest son of William and Grace, was 36 years of age in 1819 and a single man. With limited prospects in his home parish, he chose to emigrate with a group evicted from the upper reaches of Strath Brora, likely on the ship Diana[i].   Although there is no evidence that this family were in any way connected to the people of the Upper Brora, Robert followed them west to the blossoming community of New Portugal as Earltown was then known. He received a grant of land in the narrow valley on the Nabiscamp Brook, approximately a mile southwest of MacBain’s Corner.

It would have been a lonely existence for a single man with no neighbours within his line of vision. However, he remedied the situation on April 23, 1821[ii] when he married Miss Mary Sutherland. Mary was born in 1799[iii] at Craigton, Rogart, to John Sutherland “Ballem” and Catherine Reid. Although her parents and many of her siblings chose to adapt to the new system of farming in Strathbrora, Mary accompanied two of her brothers to Nova Scotia in 1819, likely on the same ship as Robert Murray. Mary’s brother John settled on the original road between Rossville and MacKenzie Cemetery. This would be about two miles from Robert’s homestead. One can only wonder whether Robert followed her to Earltown having met her on the ship or whether it was a matter of pragmatic convenience. Whatever the circumstances, they begat nine children.

Two of the eldest children are buried in MacKenzie Cemetery, William and Elizabeth. Eldest surviving daughter Grace married John Ross of Loganville. Ellen married Robert Murray “Corrigan” of Spiddle Hill and they later pioneered in Maple Plain, Minnesota. Catherine “Kate” married Alex Sutherland “Ballem” of Gunn’s Hill. Alex died young and Kate later married William MacIntosh of Welsford.

Daughter Janet married Angus MacKay of Lovat, Pictou County.   In 1852 Janet and Angus booked passage to Australia on the Aurora. When boarding the vessel, or maybe a feeder vessel, at Pictou wharf, Janet was overcome with grief and feinted. Angus scooped her off the wharf and carried her aboard[iv]. After a short stay in Port Philip, Australia, the couple settled among other Nova Scotians near Waipu, New Zealand[v].

William, son of Robert and Mary, left East Earltown as a young man and followed others from Pictou County to the lumbering bustle on the Miramichi River in New Brunswick. He settled down in Chatham where he ran a store. He married Isabel Peters, a native of that area. The store later ran into difficulties after which William, Isabella and their family of ten moved to Cambridge, Ma..

Christena, the youngest daughter of Robert and Mary, married Dr. Neil Sutherland of West River. Dr. Sutherland was practising in Tracadie, Antigonish County, when Christena died in 1875 at the early age of 30. Dr. Sutherland and their only son John went west to Saskatchewan and later settled near Edmonton.

John Murray was the heritor of the homestead at East Earltown. He married Mary Ann MacMillan of Pictou County. They had five children.   John died young in 1874 and Mary married John Munro of Balfron. The Murray children later returned to the homestead. Their son John, styled “Little Johnny in the Valley” was the last inhabitant. He never married. He was a fiddler and fixture at dances in the surrounding communities.

Robert Murray died in 1862 and is buried in MacKenzie Cemetery. His stone lists him as “Robert Murray, Esq”.   He often used that style as land ownership was a source of great pride to one who grew up in a tenant household in Scotland.   To the locals, however, he was styled Robert Murray “Valley”.

[i] The obituary of Angus Graham of Elmfield, Colonial Standard, Aug. 22nd, 1882, mentions that Graham came to Nova Scotia in 1819 on the ship Diana along with a number of families who were the first settlers at Earltown.

[ii] As reported by the Pictou Bee

[iii] Rogart Parish Records

[iv] The late Wilbur Murray of Marshville, River John, related this story to the writer in 1983.

[v] The ship and destination are documented in an unpublished manuscript among the papers of the late Janet MacKay. Others from the Scotsburn and West River area were on this passage. This was around the time that the zealot, Rev. Norman MacLeod, led a large contingent from Cape Breton to Australia and New Zealand. John MacKay “MacIubh”, native of North Earltown and a schoolmaster in St. Anns, Cape Breton, may have been the connecting link between random people in West Pictou and the St. Anns community.

It’s Complicated …The Relationship of William Murray and Girzel Grant: Part III

This is the third part of the family of William Murray and Grace Grant. The previous two parts are found on Historylinks.  In this part we follow the three offspring who came to Nova Scotia.

Janet, the fourth child of the above couple, was born in Fluchary, Parish of Dornoch, in 1792. Around 1810 she married Alexander MacIntosh of Evelix and settled in that community. On February 23rd, 1812, the parish register gives evidence of the birth of their eldest daughter Grace.

The year 1812[i] was an eventful one for the young couple as they embarked on another life journey. They sailed to Pictou to join the expanding colony of Sutherland expats in the western part of what is now Pictou County. It would have been a challenging journey with an infant daughter only a few months old. Family tradition claims that Janet also brought along a cow which had been a wedding gift from her father William[ii]. They settled at the base of Mount Dalhousie on the boundary of the communities of Elmfield, Plainfield and Diamond[iii].

In addition to carving a farm out of the forest, Alexander also served as a school teacher for a period of time in the infant settlement. He had received a basic education in the homeland, something not every settler brought to the new world.

They had seven children of which we are aware:   Grace, who married David MacIntosh of Eight Mile Brook; Elizabeth who married the boy next door, Alex MacKay “Bratten”; Williamena, the wife of Sandy Murray, Scotsburn; Margaret who married George Munro of North Earltown and later settled at Elmfield; Catherine; Janet, wife of William Carson, Meadowville and one son Alexander who also lived at Meadowville.

We take note of this family in detail as there were a number of connections to Earltown. As noted, Margaret, or Peggy as she was called, married George Munro, a native of Leatty, Rogart, who came to the Back Mountain of Balmoral around 1818. They lived briefly in the Earltown area before permanently settling at Elmfield.   Williamena and Sandy Murray had two daughters at East Earltown, Annie, the spouse of Alex MacBain of MacBain’s Corner, and Margaret, wife of Robert MacKay “Achany” of MacBain’s Corner.   The Forbes family of Denmark descend from Margaret.

[i] 1812 is the year cited by their grandson, Rev. John Murray, in his “History of the Scotsburn Congregation”  Truro News Publishing  1923

[ii] This is a story my grandmother, Grace Murray Matheson, was fond of relating. She was a granddaughter of Janet’s brother Donald “Craig”.

[iii] “Illustrated Historical Atlas of Pictou County” 1879, J.A.H. Meecham and Company

Heritage Tour – MacKenzie Cemetery

Our tour is still on for Sunday,  July 24th starting at 3 PM at MacKenzie Cemetery.

For those who want to go directly to the site early:

  • Take Highway 326  northbound from Earltown Village or southbound from Brule Corner
  • Approximately 2 Km north of Earltown Village or 4 km south west of MacBain’s Corner, (East Earltown),  you come to Knox Cemetery.
  • On the opposite side of the road,  a gravel road leads north up a long hill for approximately 1 km.
  • At the top of the hill,  take the branch to the left.  MacKenzie Cemetery is approximately 1 km. in this road.

There is no parking lot. However volunteers will be on hand to assist you parking along the road.  A private farm is at the end of this road and we ask that you respect their privacy and turn at the designated point.

The presentation will be approximately one hour.  It will contain a broad review of the settlement of the surrounding area but will mostly focus on the settlers buried therein who experienced the infamous Highland Clearances first hand with Earltown being the land of contentment after a very distressing experience.




Heritage Tour 2016


In the early 19th century, the Countess of Sutherland embarked on an ambitious socio-economic scheme to convert her vast holdings into large sheep farms. Her tenants, residents of the interior valleys and glens for countless generations, were forced to move in mass. Some gladly left to join relatives in North America while others stubbornly resisted and were forcefully evicted.

This great upheaval gave birth to a homogeneous community of Gaelic speaking farmers in the Cobequid Hills which would become the District of Earltown.
Join us on July 24th at 3 PM at MacKenzie Cemetery for a guided heritage tour of the final resting place of these rebels and refugees. 
For those wishing assistance locating the cemetery, you may assemble at Sugar Moon Farm before 2:45 to car pool.  For more information, you may contact Glen at 902-957-0532 or 

Bonesetter – Part II

Due to the preponderance of the Murray surname in Northern Nova Scotia,  it was necessary for each Murray family to have a byname.  As would be expected, Peter and his descendants became known as the “Bonesetters”.

Peter and Eliza had twelve children:

  1. Alexander   (1817-1890)  married Christy Murray “Ardachu” and lived at The Falls.
  2. Janet  (ca 1818)  died young, possibly in Scotland
  3. Christy  (1821-     ) married Alexander MacKay “Post”
  4. Janet    died young
  5. John (1826-1917)   never married and remained on the home farm.
  6. Donald (1829-1890) married Jane Sutherland “Square” of The Falls.  Died in Waukon, Iowa
  7. Infant daughter
  8. Ellen   (1831-1908)  married John Sutherland “Elasaid” North Earltown
  9. Angus  (1832-        )
  10. Infant son
  11. William  (1835-1862)
  12. Robert (1837-1906)  married Lydia MacKay  “Judge”

Peter died in 1875 at the full age of 97 years.  As a boy and young man he experienced the centuries old rural lifestyle of cattle rearing in the uplands of Sutherland.  He witnessed the upheaval of the clearances, survived an ocean crossing and adapted to farming on the forest and stone clad hills of Earltown.  He helped found a church and cemetery.  He was the first elected spiritual leader in the surrounding area. Most notable was his lifetime of healing of fractures, sprains and various injuries.

Eliza’s life was no less notable.  She was cleared from her home not once but three times.  She ran a farm while Peter was attending to the physically and spiritually injured neighbours.  She brought twelve children into the world and lost four in infancy.  She died in 1898 at the advanced age of 103!!   What a story she could have told.

Of their surviving children,  Alexander took up residence at The Falls on the farm surrounding the Murray Cemetery.   He was known simply as Alex Bonesetter and may have practiced the skill in that district.

Christy married the boy next door,  Alex MacKay “Post”, who lived on a farm on the Nuttby Road.

Donald also moved to The Falls where he married Jane Sutherland, daughter of “Gib Square”.  He left his young family in the care of the Sutherlands around 1870 and went to Chicago with Jane’s brother in search of new opportunities.  He first settled in Minnesota where his young family joined him.  They later moved to Lafayette, Iowa, where they farmed and Donald made shoes.  He later took up a farm in Waukon where he died.  His widow later lived in Rock Grove, Iowa.

John Murray, son of Peter and Eliza, never married.  He took over the Sugar Moon farm after his father died.

Robert Murray acquired the farm immediately behind the Earltown Village Cemetery.  Like his father, he was an accomplished bonesetter.  This article best sums up his life story:

Truro Daily News, August 11, 1906:  Mr. Robert Murray, who died at Earltown, July 28th, is worthy of more than passing notice. He was justly famous over a wide district as a bone setter.  His skill in reducing fractures, dislocations and sprains, was wonderful.  With a light and delicate, yet firm hand, he did wonders in bone setting; with the least possible pain to the patient and many who passed under his hands will regret his death… The best doctors welcomed his assistance in serious cases.

The bonesetting skill also passed through the family of his daughter Ellen.   Ellen married John Sutherland “Elasaid”, (pronounced Allsage), who lived between Matheson Corner and Spiddle Hill.  Whether taught by Ellen or Peter,  her son Hugh Alan Sutherland was a noted bonesetter well into the 20th century.  He was still practicing in the late 1920’s when he set the broken hip of his mother in law, Mary Sutherland  “Ban”.  It was reported as a complete success.  The poor woman had another fracture in the early 30’s which was set by a local physician.  It apparently left her lame.   Whether the lack of success on the second fracture was due to lack of skill or advancing age, one might debate either way.

Peter Murray’s tombstone does not mention his unique vocation however signage at his homestead on the Alex MacDonald Road bears witness to his life calling.