on 6 January 1999
Although I am English, I have always had an affinity with Scotland and an interest in its history. When I was a child I spent many holidays there and always had a feeling that there was an emptiness about the country but I did not know why. It was only when I got into my 20s that the reason began to dawn on me.
I also have an affinity with the USA and Canada having spent time in Alberta, BC and the Pacific North West.
This book interweaves the social history of Scotland and North America in a fascinating and readable way. In particular it puts the bare facts of Canadian history into a human context.
It is about the Scottish Highlanders who left their land and homes, voluntarily at first and later by force and settled in North America. It is also about heroism, tragedy and greed.
In most cases they made a better life and some of the men went on to shape the country itself. What kind of men were Alexander Mackenzie and Simon Fraser who came from small villages in the wilds of Scotland but were prepared to disappear into unmapped and unknown wilderness without any modern medical or navigation equipment? Their heroism is uplifting. So too the story of John Macdonald, whose drive and vision led him to become the father of modern Canada despite his love of the bottle and some dodgy business dealings.
This book is also the story of human tragedy and greed. The story of the Kildonan people is typical. They were forcibly evicted from their land and homes in Kildonan in Sutherland and packed off like so many head of cattle and led via Hudsons Bay to a settlement on the Red River near Winnipeg. There are also stories of other clearances and whole families carried in leaky, smelly timber ships rife with disease. This book lucidly describes the trials and tribulations endured by ordinary people caught up in other men's politics and greed. What kind of a man was Patrick Sellar who could not disguise his joy at seeing men,women and children turned out of their houses and burn their homes, possessions and crops? Was he evil or just a product of a violent and narrow minded age? Who knows?
I could not help thinking as I read these stories that not much changes - what happened in the Scottish Highlands was nothing short of genocide or as we call it today "ethnic-cleansing". The Highland Clearances were just like the Russian pogroms, the Holocaust, the destruction of the American Indian and the events in the 1990s Balkans.
This book is both fascinating and readable and I recommend it to anyone who has any interest in the social history of the Scottish Highlands and what became of its people.
on 19 March 2008
If you only buy one book about the history of the Highlands, the clearances and emigration to the new world make this your first choice. Dr Hunter writes with a style that takes you back to the time of 1600 to the late 1800's. He explains the life style, the hardships of the common highlander with reference to the conditions of transportation in "Hulks" to the "New World", how many died either in passage or when arriving. He also explains how many made the new world a better place not only for themselves but for Canada and the US. If you have links to the Higlands of Scotland or you are a Highlander this will open up the way that Highlanders suffered and prospered, how they fought adversity and global changes during their pat of history. If you buy it you will not be able to put it down it is compulsive reading.
on 6 August 2005
Well, you know what it's like you stand in the airport shop looking at the rack of books, will I buy this one or that one?
But this book just jumped out at me, just the ticket for a long flight.
If, like me, your are Scottish or have some Scottish blood - and very proud of the fact. This is a must read! Like most people I thought our history was pretty cut and dried, but all these myths are soon dispelled. Of course it's about Scotland and America, just as it says on the tin!!
Thanks for reading.