The following is a letter that my grandmother, Retta (MacKinnon) Reynolds (1893-1973) wrote to her nephew Archie MacKinnon in response to a questionnaire that he had sent her, asking for information about the history and heritage of the family. She was 70 when she composed the letter.
|Retta (Margaret) was born in 1893 on a farm on the 11th Concession of
Kincardine Township, Bruce County, Ontario, Canada near the villages of Tiverton
and Glamis. She was of 100% Tiree stock: her father was born there and her
mother was born in Ontario of parents who were both from Tiree. Tiree is
one of the Inner Hebrides, a small island off the west coast of Scotland.
Retta became a teacher and had moved away from the farm several years prior to marrying Albert Reynolds in 1922. They settled in Toronto where they raised two children. Retta was also active in her church and did supply teaching. She was a much-loved grandmother of six. She died in 1973.
Archie MacKinnon sent the questionnaire to her and others as part of his inquiry into the Gaelic culture of Bruce County. The result of this research is a paper entitled "Gaelic in the Bruce" which is available on the Web.
|Retta, sister Eva and cousin Lily MacKinnon||
Retta, Mack, Elizabeth and Eva MacKinnon
|I have put the questionnaire questions in italics. Otherwise the only
editing is to bring together in their logical place certain PS's that Retta
wrote to her original answers. The spelling of names has not been made
consistent. There may be mistakes interpreting the Gaelic words. I have indicated
by "?" a few words that I cannot interpret, or that are obscured on the photocopy
that I was working from.
|I have added notes on the right to identify the people and dates that
Retta refers to. The relatives can be further traced in my family tree on
Information on neighbours is taken from the histories of Kincardine
Township1 and of Bruce Township2. Farm locations are
identified by Lot and Concession number (e.g. L27 C11 is the farm at Lot
27, Concession 11). All locations are in Kincardine Township.
It is interesting reading between the lines that she actually learned very little about Scotland from her father and uncles who had emigrated from Tiree as boys or young men. They were sober, serious and hard working. Their faith forbade participation in some of the more exuberant aspects of Scottish culture. There is no mention of ceilidhs; few folksongs but lots of hymns. The romantic attachment to Scotland and the Highlands (not even particularly relevant to the Western Islands) was learned at school.
Still, through her memories of growing up on the farm in Kincardine Township at the beginning of the 20th century, we glimpse a different world. It was a world in which Gaelic, not English, is the dominant language. It is a world full of relationships: of family, neighbours, school chums and church. Even though she had lived away from her childhood home for 45 years when she wrote this letter, the links of who is related to whom are still top of mind to her.
|1. Fletcher, Wanita Hollands (ed), Toil,
Tears & Triumph; A History of Kincardine Township, Kincardine Township
Historical Society, 1990
2. Judd, Anne (ed), Bruce Township Tales and Trails: with Supplement, The Township of Bruce Historical Society, 1997
|Feb 9, 1964
I hope you will forgive me for not letting you know sooner that I have been trying to do a bit of study on our ancestry before writing you. I'm afraid my knowledge is very meagre, but I'll send it along.
|I have been reading Grace Campbell's novel and one point I was glad to
get clarified. For years I've been a bit worried lest the descendants of
Kenneth MacAlpine were really the Skye MacKinnons (Cree and Sarah were married
to 2 Skye descendants - strange thing, which I didn't understand was Cree's
husband's way of chanting his prayers in the morning devotions. I confess
to my shame that it caused me to have the giggles, but I've learned a bit
However to get back to Grace Campbell - she said the descendants of Kenneth McAlpine are found in Skye, also Tiree.
I've also another book here - "Historical Sketches of Scotland", written by Mary Leslie, "being an account of the Kings & Queens of Scotland from the reign of Fergus the first to Queen Victoria". It has an appendix - Highland Clans. The most ancient clan is Clan Alpine according to tradition "contemporary with the formation of the hills and streams" - of the same race as the old royal family of Scotland, though whether this family is founded by the son of the Scottish King or his brother is uncertain - Badge - The Pine Tree. War cry - "Remember the death of Alpin" - "Cuimhne Bas Alpin".
|Retta's sisters, Christina ("Cree") and Sarah married two brothers, John and Alex MacKinnon. Both farmed on the 4th Concession of Kinloss Tp, Bruce Co.|
|Nora McNally's sister Minnie (Mrs. Dick MacRae) when she got off the
boat at Oban and began to walk on the island of Tiree walked with reverence
in memory of the good people who had come from there.
Mary Leslie tells too the story of the tombstone in black marble, over the grave of Abbot MacFignone with the inscription "Here lies John MacKinnon Abbot, who died A.D. 1500 To Whose Soul May the Most High God be Merciful".
This is a verse I like:
This tribe, children, springs from a race without peers,
Years ago in High School a boy name of Gordon MacGregor, said his ancestors were from the family of Alpine, and were first of the Clan Alpine descendants. His motto was "My race is royal", and he used to sing a wee song of the MacGregors:
While there's leaves in the forest
He was a good singer, and very proud of his MacGregor heritage.
This is a very disjointed letter; will try to fill your questionnaire and get it off to you this week but as I said my knowledge is meagre.
Love to your dear wife and boys & to yourself
I also found ??? book that Uncle John had.
|Nora and Minnie McNally were daughters of William Henry McNally and Normanda McDonald of Glamis. Minnie married Richard MacRae, a lawyer, and lived in Detroit.|
|PS. You will have heard of Kate Bells' death - They thought she would
have to be buried in the vault in Kincardine cemetery as the ground at Tiverton
was frozen, but the MacKays at Tiverton (2 of them - I'm not sure of their
names but I think they are Angus & Norman) helped Coll MacDougall dig
the grave, so Kate was laid to rest beside John Allan. It would have been
a second funeral for Allan & Tena to go through but for the kindness
of the MacKays. The blood still runs strong Archie and kindness like the
MacKay kindness does my heart good.
As ever with love - Aunt Retta.
|Allan and Kate Bell lived on L15 C11. John Allan (1918-1951) was their son. They moved to London in 1958 to be near their daughter, Tena. Both Kate and Allan died in 1964.|
|1. What was the name of the first owner of Elm Bower Farm ?
I'm not sure but I think it was Uncle Allan. I think daddy & the 2 uncles were first owners, digging the farm out of the bush.
Where did they come from?
The island of Tiree.
How long were they on the farm? Where did they move to?
|Elm Bower Farm (E.B.F.) is the name given to Archibald MacKinnon's farm, L27 C11 of Kincardine Tp, by Cree.|
|I think that the McKinnon brothers all lived where Uncle Johns lived. I am not too sure which farm was the first worked, but I know Uncle John married first.||John MacKinnon and the entire family first settled L29 C11 of Kincardine Tp. Later his brother Allan took over this farm and John's family moved to L31 C11.|
|Uncle John married first and lived on the farm where they all worked
together. Uncle John's youngest daughter was a year older than daddy's oldest
daughter Sarah . Grandmother, Uncle Allen, Christy (Uncle Johns oldest daughter)
and Hughie lived where Chas F lives now. Then Uncle Allen married Lily Ann
MacFayden, and for a while Grandmother lived with them, and I think she lived
at Uncle Johns for a while but finally she came to live with us and died
at our home .
|John MacKinnon married Christena Clark before
John and Christena had eight children. The youngest, Margaret, was born in Dec 1876. Her cousin Sarah, Archibald's eldest, was born about six weeks later in Jan 1877.
Retta's grandmother was Christena McLean, wife of Fingon MacKinnon.
Allan's son Charles Finney MacKinnon, took over his father's farm at L29 C11. John's Christena (1858-1921) and Hugh (1862-1923) were living at their Uncle Allan's in the 1881 census.
Allan MacKinnon and Lily Ann MacFayden married 14 Mar 1883.
|Grandfather MacDonald died at our home too .
I was just talking as usual when my grandmother was so very ill at our place. I think I was 3 years old . I informed the family, "I think she is going to get died". I can even now recall parts of her funeral.
2. How much land was cleared when the MacKinnons came to E.B.F.?
Those questions trouble me for as the land was Crown land the brothers all worked together and lived in one home.
|Retta's maternal grandfather, Alexander McDonald,
died 22 Jan 1885.
Retta was born 9 May 1893, so she was three years old when her grandmother, Christena McLean died on 14 July 1896.
|How was the land cleared?
They had little else than an axe to cut down the trees. That is why Uncle Charlie left. He said that if the others wanted to spend their lives cutting homes from the forest with little else than an axe he was quitting.
What buildings were first on E.B.F.? How did the buildings develop and when?
I think Uncle Allan & Hugh (Uncle Johns) had an aptitude for carpentry and were able to build the homes. I apologize for my ignorance! I'm glad the questions have been asked so maybe we will learn and respect our ancestors even more than we do now.
3. Can you recall any special stories about the very early years on E.B.F.? (What were the winters like? How did they get provisions? etc.)
The winters were cold! Your grandfather used to drive a team and sleigh either to Pinkerton or to Kincardine and to Glamis, and he brought home dried codfish in slabs such as you see in the pictures of the fishing villages in Newfoundland. When the codfish was soaked in water, overnight, it could be cooked either way fried (?) boiled and served hot, or boiled and broken up into pieces and served with a white sauce. It was good too. I believe that I, at my advanced age, have no false teeth is a tribute to codfish. Daddy also brought home herring in little barrels. I loathed them so can't tell you if they helped my teeth!
|Charles MacKinnon left for Michigan between 1861 and 1871. Later he was wounded with a gunshot and returned to live with Allan until his death in 1922, the last of the generation of Tiree emigrants in the family.|
|Do you know what boat they came to Canada on and where they first
They landed, where I do not know, but they arrived in Brock Tp. and would like to have stayed there but they didn't have money to buy land. Some of the Clans lived in Brock Tp.
4. Can you tell the exact year the MacKinnons left Tiree?
The Glengarry people migrated of their own accord but I think in our case the Duke of Argyll wanted to put sheep on the Island. Our forefathers were fishermen not farmers.
What were "The Clearances" that Grace Campbell speaks about in her book "Highland Heritage"? She doesn't mention the year.
|The MacKinnons left Tiree in September 1851 aboard the "Conrad" and settled first with other Tiree families in Brock Township in Ontario County.|
|This piece of family lore, that George died during the crossing,
is not quite correct. Actually George died at the age of 8 in Brock Tp. where
he is buried.
Col. Hugh Clark (1867-1959) was born on L9 C11. His father Donald was a brother of Uncle John's wife Christena Clark.
Archibald purchased L27 C11 in 1876. He received his Crown deed in 1906.
|5. What stories can you recall about life on Tiree?
My mother's father, Alexander MacDonald was said to be the strongest man on the island. A horse died and Grandfather summoned 2 of his cronies to help him bury it. They came, but hid behind a knoll, to see what Grandfather would do if he thought they weren't coming. He evidently got a bit peeved, waiting for them, so he grabbed the horse's leg, and hauled it where he wanted it buried. I expect they came to his rescue when they saw what he was doing, for he was well liked as he had an even temper.
|One other I loved - I told you about the man who lost his wife Sarah
- "My wife Sarah won't come home". I can't find it in the Gaelic book. One
more I'd like to know - "A young man was questioned as to where he was today
& yesterday. Said he "I was on my own business through the city".
7. What songs did you sing at "bees", at quiltings, at weddings, at dances, at milkings, at spinning, etc.?
|The MacKinnons to whom we belonged were not as cheerful as they might
be. Uncle John and Uncle Allan didn't want us to go out too much - we were
supposed to stay home and be quiet! My only attempts at musical programmes
were a bit sad - I played by ear, a little Christmas song at my sister Christy
Ann's ("Cree" to us) wedding - I didn't want to miss seeing the bride, so
turned round to see her till I heard one neighbour say to the other in Gaelic,
"She doesn't know what she is playing". I also attempted to play hymns one
Sunday afternoon to entertain my cousin Mac from Manitoba, until he said
to me, "Give us a rest!"
|Cree was married on 25 Dec 1907.
Uncle Hugh MacKinnon moved to Manitoba in 1895. His eldest son, Mac was born in 1867. He farmed in Minto until his death in 1941.
|Archie MacKinnon's father, Finnie George, was four and a half years older than Retta. He took over operation of Elm Bower Farm in 1919.|
|In No. 8 you asked what Gaelic hymns and prayers we used. Well I date
my interest in the Bible Society not to the Gaelic prayers but to the kindness
of Mrs. Robert McNally in Glamis.
Maria McNally and I were commissioned to call at the homes between our place and the end of the upper tenth for the Bible society and take the money carefully to Mrs. Robert McNally in Glamis (25¢ from each family was the expected donation). We called faithfully at each home and then walked through the swamp to Glamis - I think the Robert McNallys lived where John D. MacArthur had lived or near there.
When we arrived Mrs. McNally welcomed us as if we were very important. I'll never forget how she looked - she had a lovely black dress and a white beautifully starched apron on, and she set a table so we could have a cup of tea, as if she were entertaining royalty. I love the Bible Society and send donations because of her. I must tell you that Maria had a lovely blue dress on & white lace trimming. I had a little print dress on and was painfully conscious of the difference in our appearance, but Mrs. McNally made no difference between us!
|Mrs. Robert McNally was an aunt of Retta's friend Nora. Maria
McNally was Nora's cousin, the daughter of George McNally.
The road fronting the farm is called the 10th of Kincardine Township.
|9. Do you recall any songs that were composed in Canada?
Uncle Hughie not only composed songs but he also sang them! He had a very fine singing voice. Uncle Hugh composed songs in Gaelic and English. He composed one for the Massey Harris reaper in Gaelic - I listen to the Don Messer + his Islanders partly because they advertise Massey Ferguson. Somehow it all brings back our childhood. Another song in English concerned a nomination meeting in Tiverton.
10. What rhymes did you recite on Hallowe'en, Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve or special occasions and seasons?
Hallow E'en - "The goblins will get you if you don't watch out.
Christmas "The bells are singing - are sweetly ringing the merry bells - the Christmas bells" ( repeat with different tune ending.)
|The song now called "Scotland the Brave", we knew as Scotland Forever
- Jack + Danny McKinnon (Leasy's Christie who was married to Billy Hector's
brother John had a boy whom Leasy raised. He was Johnny's pal, and they sang
together at school concerts.)
PS. Scotland Forever was not the wishy washy piece now sung. It began
I Let Italy boast of her gay gilded walls
then at the last verse we sang with gusto -
III France long will mind the strain
I decided to put in the second verse for we always sang it with gusto as I said at the beginning.
I just had to add Verse II - I even now as old age creeps on, feel a little better, braver and stronger to sing to myself Verse II.
11. What stories do you remember that may concern second sight (da shalladh), Witchcraft (buidscachd), the evil eye (an droch shuil), special healing powers, etc.?
|Billy Hector McKinnon (1878-1962) owned L22 C11. He had a brother
John who married Christie McLean of L24 C11. John and Christie moved to Fort
Christie's parents were Donald (1821-1885) and Elizabeth McLean (1832-1910), she of L26 C11, the daughter of Hector McLean.
Leasy is probably Elizabeth, the boy's grandmother. Is Johnny Retta's brother Jack, and is Danny McKinnon the boy?
|We despised witchcraft and the evil eye, because mother taught us that
such things were of the Devil, and she loved God. However the second sight,
and special healing powers, were known to us, because our near neighbour
White Lauchie MacLean and his family had a member who actually did cure what
was called "The King's Evil". One man who was cured by "Doc", one of Lauchie's
brothers was given a lovely fur coat by a patient. Doc never charged a fee!
Two things I forgot to mention - second sight (da shalladh). Angus knew that daddy was going to die. He said he saw a ball of light over our house. Daddy had a bronchial cough which was troublesome, so we asked Dr. MacLeod to come to see him. He said to me, "The cough is troublesome but not dangerous - your father has a very bad heart". I told him how daddy liked to be taken for a drive often - it seemed to make him feel better. (Eva or I or even mother could drive Dolly - she was very quiet). We used to drive across Allen Bell's sideroad, up the boundary to Uncle John's sideroad and back home again. The doctor said the motion made daddy feel better but the drive was bad for his heart. Daddy died in November and this happened in Sept, or Oct.
This second story is very strange. Uncle Allan had to have an abdominal operation and had to have it at home. Dr. Groves came up from Fergus. In order to make an operating table, Lauchie (who loved Uncle Allan; and well he might for Uncle Allan was a source of strength, courage, & information both Scriptural & daily news to him) said he had some brand new boards in the granary and they could use them for the table. He went to get them and he said "I knew Allen was going to die, for the new boards were quivering, and shaking in the granary". Uncle Allen did die after the operation .
12. What recipes do you have for Scottish dishes?
|Lauchlin "White Lauchie" MacLean owned L28 C11 and L28,29 C10.
Malcolm "Doc" (1882-1954) and Angus (1878-1955) were his half-brothers. Malcolm's
sister Katy Margaret was Kate Bell (see Note above).
Retta's sister, Eva, the youngest in the family.
The next road north of the 10th was the boundary between Kincardine and Bruce Townships.
Allan MacKinnon died 30 Sep 1916.
|Bannach - Kit makes bannach but uses more shortening than we originally
used. I like bannach made with flour, salt, a little sugar and sour cream
& soda. Porridge needs no recipe for we had it daily until the prepared
cereals came on the market. I can remember how very grateful my mother was
when "Grape Nuts" came on the market! Oatmeal porridge can be a tasty dish
if made properly. The water must be boiling then salt is added, and my mother
always put the oatmeal in by handfuls, sifted through her fingers. Myself,
I use a cup!
|Retta's older sister, Katherine ("Kit").|
|Your dad & my husband say that the secret of good oatmeal cookies & ginger snaps died with Cousin Margaret (Uncle Johns). My husband agrees with your dad whole heartedly. I can make ones that I like myself, and furthermore, my son & my son-in-law & their children would rejoice and be glad if I sent up to Ottawa boxes of oatmeals each week.||Margaret MacKinnon, John's youngest, took over operation of her parent's farm. She died in 1944.|
|Gruel I liked if it were cold weather and we also liked curd. Our cheese too was homemade - "White Oak" we called it - it must be from the French name for cheese. Aunt Lillian, Uncle Allen's wife, came from Pointe Fortune . Her mother and Uncle Allen's mother were sisters. I do not know why they (their name was MacFayden -spell?) didn't come with the others to Ontario. Chas F. will be able to tell you. Chas F.'s mother went to school, in a convent at Pointe Fortune, although they were Protestant. She had some lovely china which Charlie prizes to this day. Not many pieces of china are left, but it is amazing how Chas F. loves them.||In fact, the MacFayden's farm was in East Hawkesbury, Prescott
Co, Ontario but very close to Pointe Fortune, Quebec.
Mary McLean (1818-1911) and Christena McLean (1809-1896) were daughters of Charles McLean and Ann McLeod of Tiree.
|One day John A. McKinnon was at our place for dinner (middle of the day).
Mother had made fresh curd (milk heated carefully till whey separates from
the curds - your own mother makes lovely curd). Well, anyway at dinner I
passed the meat platter to John A. He said, "No! When I can get curd like
this why should I eat meat?"
Didn't the original oatmeals lack sugar? Were they not oatmeal & some butter & sour milk, or better yet, oatmals & sour cream & cooked in the heavy black "spiders" on top of the stove! I wish I had one right this minute!
|John A. McKinnon (1886-1955) lived at L17 C10. His wife was Evelyn
Bell (1900-1962), sister of Allan Bell.
Archie's mother, Susan Christena Thompson married Finnie MacKinnon in 1923. She was raised near Glamis in Bruce Tp.
|13. What favourite anecdotes do you recall being told about early
pioneer days, about people, about places?
A minister who was highly respected, and also had everyone's sympathy because he was blind used to visit at our home; he always ended his devotions with a hymn sung in Gaelic, but as soon as he commenced to sing our dog Grip would begin howling. Mr. MacNeill (the minister) saw to it that Grip went outside for he would turn to one of the family and say, "Cur a mach a cu - na? Ceol ri cain." Put out the dog - Dogs do not care for music.
|Uncle John did not mince words when he spoke. I was down at Uncle Johns
for supper one night, and as usual was plied with meat, potatoes, vegetables,
biscuits, fruit and pie. I unfortunately make the remark "I ate too much
supper", as more food was pressed on me. Uncle John looked at me as if I
were a worm and said, "Your Uncle John is ashamed of you, not knowing when
to stop eating." Cousin Finnie, sitting beside me, pressed my hand in sympathy!
We were all a little afraid of Uncle John.
|John's Finnie J. MacKinnon (1868-1929) farmed on his father's farm. He did not marry.|
|Uncle Johns: Hugh, Uncle John, Aunt Christie,
George, Margaret, Finnie, Charles J., Sarah
14. What Gaelic place-names did they have on E.B.F. (the willow pond at the bush I know had one)? What other place-names can you recall in the district?
|I can't recall any Gaelic names for place names on the E.B.F. except
a tree in the orchard that was called "Craobh Aenaes", Angus' tree. I think
he repaired a broken branch on the tree when it was young. You know Doll's
tree, but it was not Gaelic.
A great many of the older people designated homes in Gaelic. For instance, I never knew Billy Hector's home name in English till I was grown up. We always called the place "Calum Malo Enals". I cannot spell the Gaelic for Dougal, but the home was known as the home of "Malcolm son of Dougal's home".
|Billy Hector McKinnon's father was Malcolm, but Malcolm's father was Neil, not Dougal, according to the Kincardine Township history.|
|I can't seem to stop writing to you Archie, but I must tell you this
story about Uncle John. A council from the various churches met at the
Association meeting in Tiverton to question a young minister, who was to
be ordained. Some members of the Council asked a number of catchy questions,
and the young man was finding it a bit difficult to answer though he had
answered the fundamentals well. Suddenly Uncle John stood up and said, "That
will do now! You are asking him questions that you can't answer yourselves!"
The young man came to him after the meeting and thanked him.
We respected Uncle John, but only once did I make him smile, and it was like ice breaking up after a long winter.
|We could talk to Uncle Allan as if he were quite young. He loved palling. I remember the morning daddy died . We phoned Uncle Allan to come down and he walked up and down the hall reciting hymns. The brothers loved each other a lot, and somehow, in any sadness, we wanted Uncle Allan. Your dad and your Uncle Jack were overseas when daddy died .||Archibald MacKinnon died 21 Nov 1914.
Actually, Finnie and Jack had gone out West for a harvest excursion and were working at the Burns Meat Packing plant in Calgary in the Fall. They enlisted in Calgary on 6 Jan 1915.
|On the day we got the 2 messages from overseas one in the forenoon and
one in the afternoon that Finnie & Jack were both wounded, the Presbyterian
minister Mr. Keith and the Baptist minister Mr. McCauley came over and were
of great comfort. Uncle Allan was there - he came down every evening when
the boys were overseas. The blood really does run strong in the Highland
Love + adieu
I say a prayer each night for you + Jeanne and for the 4 little boys.
|Finnie and Jack were wounded at the Somme on 15 and 13 Sept 1916 respectively. Jack had earlier been wounded in April.|
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