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,  ( 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

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.