|About From the Hebrides to Cape Breton and Beyond
One thing that is apparent is the fact that we are Island People. Whether it be the connected
islands of Harris and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides or the North Shore on the island of Cape Breton;
our family lineage has clung to a life of subsistence fishing and farming existence for many
generations in remote isolation.
This family tree attempts to map the journey of the original Morrison pioneers of the North Shore
region of Cape Breton; specifically Wreck Cove, and focus on tracing their descendants forward as
they spread across Canada and into the United States as well as backward to their native home in
In 1779, the Dunvegan MacLeod's who had owned Harris for over 500 years, sold it to the Berneray
MacLeods. They continued to clear the land of tenants on the west coast and between 1828-1853
nearly all was turned over to grazing sheep. Then they realised that they need to retain cheap
labour for kelp production. Tenants had to gather seaweed and lay it out to dry before it was burned
in a kelp kiln. The kilns were round, stone lined, pits measuring approximately 1.5 metres in
diameter and 0.5 metres in depth. The fire was left to burn for up to 8 hours with seaweed
continually being added, resulting in the formation of kelp, a dark blue oily substance.This
substance would then be left to cool for several weeks. Throughout the period of the late 18th and
early 19th Centuries the kelp industry reached its height, with the local landowners making vast
profits, while the crofters who did the back breaking labour saw little benefit, and in fact spent
so much of the summer involved in the kelp industry that their crofts suffered.
The clearance of the land for sheep, combined with the decline in kelp production after the
Napoleonic Wars, brought extreme destitution and created a mass exodus to Cape Breton and Prince
Edward Island from Harris and Lewis. These pioneering Scots faced a daunting voyage and lands
filled with dense forests to be cleared before settling. Some had sailing and fishing skills on
hand, but none had ever cleared forests before or had any knowledge of how to even begin. In fact,
in the little book 'A Jew in Exile' the author stated that outside of Stornoway, he hadn't come
across a single tree on the island. Houses were made from field stones and peat, and the only heat
source was peat moss, which smoldered away and created thick smoke in all the crofts.
Nothing prepared the earliest emigrants for the struggles for survival ahead of them. One quote
taken from 'Notes on the Clearances' states: 'The Harmony left Stornoway in 1827 with two hundred
emigrants on board: Thirteen died during the crossing, twenty-two died after being put ashore in an
uninhabited part of Cape Breton and five more died as the vessel reached Sydney, Nova Scotia.
Exposed on the voyage and ashore to disease and starvation these emigrants, like many other evicted
Highlanders and Islanders, who landed from fetid and worm riddled emigrant ships died upon a foreign
strand. There is no record of the number of evicted Highlanders and Islanders who died on board
emigrant ships, drowned on the voyage or shortly after coming ashore overseas.'
In Patterson's 'History of Victoria County, on Page 80
'North Shore is as yet very thinly populated. The first settlers were Irish who later moved to
Ingonish. In 1826 and 1828 some settlers arrived but the great bulk of inhabitants came the
following year (1829) from the Isle of Harris. In that year the barque 'University of Aberdeen'
sailed from Scotland with 560 passengers, who were landed at MacDonald's Beach, Big Bras d'Or, and
from there went and occupied lands along the shore between St. Ann's Bay and Ingonish. Here, they
did not suffer from want of food, as the fish were plenty and the land fairly good."
The later flurry of emigrants came from other areas. On the 2nd of September, 1841, the Caledonian
EMIGRATION. - There are three ships at Lochmaddy, North Uist, taking in emigrants from the
neighbouring parishes of Harris and South Uist, for Cape Breton. The Earl of Dunmore gives one pound
sterling a-head to the most destitute families from his property.
(Sourced from Inverness Reference Library via Am Baile's newspaper archive search facility)
The Scots To Canada Web Site lists three ships, the Banffshire, the George and the Tay, leaving
Lochmaddy in August 1841 'taking 1300 emigrants from N Uist to Cape Breton. " of the poorest
so I think that we can be reasonably confident that these are the same vessels that appeared in the
The 6th Earl of Dunmore, Alexander Edward Murray, had inherited Harris upon the death of his father
on the 11th of November 1836 and would in turn be succeeded by his son, Charles Adolphus, following
the 6th Earl's death on the 14th of July 1845 . Thus the Earl was about halfway through his
proprietorship of the island when he was providing a pound per person for those electing to leave.
There is some dispute as to the equivalent cost of one pound sterling in today's money, but averages
presume it to be close to 10 times it's worth, or 100 pounds sterling.
The first land grants on the North Shore of Cape Breton were given to the following families:
Buchanan, John and Murdoch
MacKenzie, John & Isabella
MacLean, Roderick (Rory) & Donald
MacLeod, Malcolm (Wreck Cove)
*Many members of our family tree are descended from these first pioneers.
MORRISON, MACLEOD, BUCHANAN, MACDERMID, MATHESON, MACQUEEN, MACLEAN, MACDONALD,
In 1919, MacAlpine's Gazatteer had the following entry:
Wreck Cove, a post village, Victoria Co. Nearest railway station, express and and bank, North
Sydney, 40 miles; money order office and port of entry, Englishtown, 20 miles. Contains store,
lobster factory, grist and sawmill and church. Fishing is the principal industry. Population 160.
Nearby communities on the North Shore of Cape Breton were also settled by extended family members.
SKIR DHU This is a Gaelic name, meaning “Black Rock.”
BRETON COVE (also called Briton Cove and Breeding Cove in early records)
INDIAN BROOK So named after a Micmac Indian named Joe, a cooper by trade who lived in this
CAPE SMOKEY CAPE SMOKY The old French name was “Cape Enfume,” on account of the cloud of mist
which so often envelops this mountain. The Indian name for this cape was “Sakpeedich,” meaning “a
smooth bathing place.”
North Shore poll district- Rear Little River, Barrasois Bridge, Rear Barrasois, Indian Brook, Little
River, Briton Cove, North Shore, Plaster, Wreck Cove, Path End, French River, Birch Plain, Skir Dhu
In Scotland, we also believe that our branch of the Morrison tree, that is so inter-related to the
MacLeods, may have originated from Pabbay, since, "A branch of the clan, the Morrisons in Pabbay of
Harris were the hereditary smiths and armourers to the Macleods of Harris".
DNA test results for our MORRISON line show that the 'MORISON'S (believed to be original spelling)
came from Viking ancestry. They did not have an actual clan of their own, but aligned themselves
with the MacLeod's. This may account for their reputation as warriors.
*One final comment: All the names listed in this Family Tree were Presbyterian Scots unless
otherwise noted and the mother tongue for all first, second and even third generation was Gaelic.