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The Early Settlers of the East River
The East River is well known for the variety and the
beauty of its scenery. On its banks are Springville, Bridgeville,
and Sunny Brae, villages of abundant peace and plenty. It is well
known for its rich deposits of iron and lime; its vales and hills,
its towering elms and winding river, but it is still more famous for
the men and women it has produced; for the district from Churchville
to Kerrowgare, a distance of about fifteen miles, has given
thirty-five clergymen to the Presbyterian Church, a Governor, a
Chief Justice and a Premier to the Province.
What a community produces along educational and religious lines
depends not a little upon its antecedents. The early settlers of the
East River were a sturdy stock, a sober, stalwart worshipping set of
men and women, with iron in their blood, and a burning love in their
hearts for the Church and the School. They yoked education and
religion together, and the combination produced a fine type of men
and moralities. The writer, thirty years ago, taught the Shorter
Catechism in the public school at Sunny Brae.
As far as can be ascertained. the first settler in Churchville was
John Robertson. He emigrated from the Highlands of Scotland and
arrived in 1784, in Pictou. He was a brother-in-law of Roderick
McKay, who was one of the first settlers on the East River. The
first clearing Robertson made in Churchville was where John
Robertson, miller, once resided.
John Fraser was among the first settlers of Springville. To
distinguish him from others of the same clan he was called Iain
Ruaidh, or Red John. He settled about 140 years ago on the place now
known as the Holmes Farm, where he built the first frame house in
Springville. It is still standing. Later, the property was bought by
Senator Holmes and here he always lived and ended his days. The
house is low, but comfortable, reminding one of "the low roofed
house of Socrates." Here the Hon. Simon H. Holmes, once Premier of
the Province, was born and bred.
John Fraser, Red, had three sons James, Donald and William who
settled in the community. One of his daughters married Simon Fraser,
Basin: she was the mother of Thomas Fraser, Foreman, and
consequently, grandmother of Graham Fraser, the Iron King of New
Glasgow. Another daughter, married Mr. Fraser of McLennans Mountain
and was the mother of William Fraser, Postmaster, New Glasgow.
James, his eldest son, always called Seumas Iain Ruaidh, was a
devout man and well known for his honesty. He raised a large family,
who were all of an intellectual turn. It was James Fraser who gave
the name Springville to the place from the many sparkling streams in
John Fraser, eldest son of James Fraser, who went always by the name
of "Catach" was quite a celebrity in his day. His second son, Donald
was the geologist of the East River. His second daughter was mother
of James A. Fraser, Editor of the Eastern Chronicle.
James Iain Ruaidh and David McLean were near neighbors and each had
an inexhaustible lime quarry on his farm. In 1836, three thousand
bushels of lime were manufactured and sold at the Albion Mines. In
the same year twenty-five hundred tons of square timber were rafted
down the river by the athletic sons of Sunny Brae the Chisholms,
Kennedys, Thomsons, McDonalds and McIntoshes. David McLean was the
father of the Rev. James Maclean D. D., and Dr. Duncan Maclean, both
settled for a long time in Shubenacadie, N. S.
James Grant, one of the passengers on the Hector settled first in
King's Co., N. S. He came from Glen Urquhart, Scotland. He was
married and some of his children were born in the old country. He
moved from King's Co. to Cariboo, Pictou Co., and lived there for
some years. Before coming to this country he gained some knowledge
of milling. By this time the Upper Settlement people began to raise
considerable quantities of grain, especially wheat, but they had no
mill to convert it into flour. So they persuaded James Grant to
leave Cariboo and move to the East River. This he did, and settled
at Mill stream in 1790. He erected a mill on a stream issuing from
Grant's Lake, on a site some twenty rods further down than the one
now occupied by Grant's Mill. This was the first regular gristmill
on the East River.
James Grant died in February, 1822, age ninety-seven. He is
described as a quiet, peaceful man. He lived for some years before
his death on a farm subsequently owned by Duncan McPhie. When James
Grant died, there were twelve families in Millstream and Lime Brook:
Duncan Grant, James Grant, dyer, Alexander Grant, miller, Robert
Grant, elder, John Fraser, James Fraser, David. McLean, Donald
Fraser, Duncan McPhie, Donald Mor Fraser, David McIntosh, and Donald
James Grant had four sons and two or three daughters. One of his
sons, Duncan, died in 1847 and was buried at Springville Bridge, and
was either the first or one of the first buried there. He once owned
the farm on which the Rev. Angus McGillivray lived and died.
His sons, Alexander and Robert were men of influence and note and
had much to do with the making of the life and the growth of the
community. They succeeded their father in the milling business and
were leaders in the Church and the State. Alexander Grant was
married to Nellie McKay. The Rev. Robert Grant, the historian of the
East River was their son. James, eldest son of Alexander Grant and
Nellie McKay, was known as the Dyer. He owned woolen mills near
Springville. His sons Alexander, John Walter, Hugh and Robert
Robert Grant was married to Mary, daughter of James Robertson. He
had three sons; James, who owned a saw mill at the head of Grant's
Lake and was for many years an elder under the Rev. Mr. McGillivray;
Alexander Robert, who owned a gristmill on Millstream; and Dr.
William R. Grant, a distinguished professor in Pennsylvania Medical
College. One of his daughters, married John Fraser, Basin. Another
was the wife of Colin Robertson, Churchville.
In 1784, a settlement of disbanded soldiers was made further up the
river. They came to Pictou at the close of the American War. They
were, originally, from the Highlands of Scotland.
The first who came was James Fraser, Big James, who in company with
Donald McKay, elder, settled on the interval a little below where
St. Paul's Church now stands. He and fifteen others took up a tract
of over three thousand acres, extending up to Samuel Cameron's on
the east side of the river, and to James Fraser's, Culloden, on the
west side. They were a sober and industrious class of people and
endured great hardship. But they endured it with characteristic
Scottish tenacity and in the belief that the future had much in
store for them. A few years rolled by and they had made homes for
their families and laid the foundations for a God fearing and
prosperous community. To ponder over the hazards and hardships they
faced with such optimistic heroism, is but to admire and pay them a
justly earned tribute.
The names of these first settlers were: Donald Cameron, his brothers
Samuel and Finlay, Alexander Cameron, Robert Clark, Peter Grant,
first elder in the settlement, James McDonald, Hugh McDonald on the
east side of the river. James Fraser, Duncan McDonald, John
McDonald, brother of James, John Chisholm, drowned at the Narrows
with Finlay Cameron, John McDonald, 2d, John Chisholm, Jr.
John McDonald was born at Glen Urquhart and belonged to the Glencoe
McDonalds. At the time of the Glencoe Massacre, 1692, one of the
McDonalds fled to Glen Urquhart and settled there. John McDonald was
a grandson or great grandson of that man. He was about eight years
in the Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment, and three of his sons
fought with him in the Revolutionary War on the Loyalists' side. He
was married twice. By his first wife he had Duncan, Alexander, Mary
and Christy. By his second wife, Margaret Grant, he had James, Ewen,
Ann and Ellen. Ann was married to Thomas Fraser, Basin. Ellen was
married to James Robertson. The well known Deacon Robertson, Church
vine, was their son. Duncan, eldest son of John McDonald, was
married to Catherine Fraser. James, their third son, was born about
1759. He was a Corporal in the 84th regiment. He married about 1782,
Mary Forbes, by whom he had Alexander, Edward and other sons.
He left East River about 1834, and settled in Upper Canada where he
died in 1857. He was an elder under Dr. McGregor and a very
prominent man on the East River in his day. Alexander McDonald, his
fifth son, settled near Bridgeville and was the father of Hon. James
McDonald, Chief Justice of Nova Scotia.
Edward, second son of James McDonald, had a son John A. McDonald,
who left the East River and settled in Ontario. John A. was the
father of James A. Macdonald, LL.D., editor of the Toronto Globe and
one of the ablest political writers in Canada. He is a Presbyterian
minister and still preaches occasionally. Ontario claims the honor
of being his birthplace, but the East River is entitled to some
recognition in any reference to his parentage for both his parents
were born there.
James Fraser, Culloden, married Ann Robertson, Churchville, and had
John, Catherine, Margaret, Alexander and James. Alexander married
Catherine Rankine, of Merigomish. The late Rev. James W. Fraser, of
Scotsburn, was their son.
Alexander Cameron settled on the first lot above Culloden. Donald
Cameron with his brother Samuel were natives of Glen Urquhart.
Donald served eight years in the army. He was settled on the saddle
lot. It is said that the price given for it was a saddle. Thomas
Fraser, who lived in Springville, purchased it from Donald Cameron
and settled on it about 1815. He married Janet Fraser, widow of
Hector Thompson. He left the lot to Simon and Donald Thompson, sons
of his wife by her first husband. Duncan, son of Donald Cameron, was
an elder in Dr. McGregor's time.
John Campbell, son of James and Elizabeth Campbell was born at
Garabeg, Glen Urquhart, July 24, 1790. He entered the army in 1812.
He married Janet, daughter of Archibald Fraser, in 1812. He came to
Pictou in October 1818. Peter G. was his eldest son. He married
Elizabeth Kennedy, a sister of Donald Kennedy, Sunny Brae. His son,
Donald K., is a minister in Illinois. One of his sons is a physician
Donald, son of Charles McIntosh, settled on the lot above Donald
McDonald, Roy. He lived there for a few years and then sold to
William Ciuin McDonald and removed to Fox Brook. William Ciuin was a
teacher but gave it up for other pursuits. In the course of time he
started a store in New Glasgow. He put up a frame house on his lot,
boarded it, but never shingled it. Donald McDonald, Roy, bought a
piece of land near New Glasgow from Dr. Skinner. He exchanged it
with William Ciuin for the lot in the Upper Settlement and gave it
to his son, John McDonald, Roy. John finished the frame house which
William Ciuin had begun and lived in it. It is a question who had
the honor of living in the first frame house above Springville. It
may have been an honor, but what of it? Were not the men who were
born in log houses as strong, as wise and good as the men born in
David McIntosh, son of Charles McIntosh, settled a short distance
above his brother, Donald McIntosh. David was born in Inverness,
Scotland, and married Christie Chisholm. James McIntosh, his son,
Island, East River, married Catherine Grant. Two of their sons David
C. and Finlay G., entered the ministry. Hugh, another son of David
McIntosh, married Isabel Polson and gave that man of weight and
wisdom, Rev. Charles D. McIntosh to the ministry. Two other sons
entered the medical profession.
Alexander McDonald, Roy, was a native of Glen Urquhart, came to
Pictou in 1803, and settled at Sunny Brae. He married Christy Fraser
and had four sons and four daughters. Squire McDonald of Springville
was his second son. Alexander, his third son, was well known in
Sunny Brae for many years. The Rev. Finlay R. McDonald, a minister
in Scotland, was the youngest son of Squire McDonald.
John Thompson and his son Alexander settled at Sunny Brae in 1801.
Alexander married Bella McIntosh by whom he had John, Andrew,
Alexander, William, James, Finlay, Christy, Janet and Mary. John
Thompson had a brother Donald who settled at Nine Mile River. Rev.
James Thomson of the West River was his grandson.
Angus McPhie, in Glen Urquhart married Christy, daughter of John
Thompson and had Duncan, Christy, John, Ewen, Alexander, Mary and
James. He came to Pictou in the ship Aurora in 1803. Duncan, his
eldest son, settled at Springville and was an elder in Rev. Angus
McGillivray's day. His son, John McPhie, was one of the old Pictou
magistrates. He died in May 1912 in the ninety-sixth year of his
The first settlers in Sunny Brae were: Robert McIntosh, Donald
Kennedy, James Chisholm, John Grant, Duncan McDonald, John Thompson,
John McDonald, Peter Cruikshank and John McGregor. They came to
Pictou in 1801 and settled in Sunny Brae in 1802.
Peter Cruikshank was a native of Strathspey, and came to Pictou in
1789. In 1792 he had two hundred acres of land and a cow. He was
married and had Elizabeth, William, John, Alexander, Marjorie and
Robert McIntosh married Jessie, daughter of John Thompson, and had
John, William, Jessie and others. Finlay, his son settled on
Blanchard Road. He married Catherine Fraser. John Robert McIntosh,
his son, married Margaret, daughter of Donald McDonald, blacksmith.
Their son Finlay H., is pastor in Sydney, C. B.
John McGregor was a man of great strength. When they were making the
Big Miller's dam, he stood before a log that was rolling down the
bank to stop it, but the log went over him and killed him. The Big
Miller's dam was built about the year 1807.
Donald McDonald, Breac, came from Kerrowgare, Scotland, in 1802. He
was an intelligent man, and was an elder under Dr. McGregor. In 1811
he had four hundred acres of land, two cows and eight sheep. He had
eight children. Finlay settled in Caledonia; Donald, his eldest son,
settled in Sherbrooke, and was a tailor.
His son, James McDonald, was born in Scotland in 1801. He was a
tailor but gave up the tailoring business for farming. He married
Catherine, daughter of Alexander Fraser, Downie. He was ordained to
the Eldership by the Rev. D. B. Blair and fully adorned his office.
He was succeeded on his farm by his son, the late John A. McDonald,
Kerrowgare. James A., his son, is a minister in the United States.
Donald Ross, was born in Eddrachillis, in Sutherlandshire. He came
to Nova Scotia in 1816. He lived for one year on Irish Mountain, but
removed to Iron Ore, and settled back of Alexander McDonald's place.
He lived there twenty-two years. He then purchased the farm of James
McIntosh and occupied it. He had eight children. Jessie was married
to Kenneth McKenzie, elder, Churchvine.
Jane, who was born at Irish Mountain was married to James Cumming,
elder, of Sunny Brae. William, his eldest son married Mary, daughter
of William Cumming, and had by her, Donald, William, Peter, Hugh and
John who settled in Ontario. Donald, his eldest son, has lived in
New Glasgow for many years where he is greatly beloved. He has been
an honored elder in St. Andrew's Church for nearly half a century.
Hugh Ross was an elder in the United Church, New Glasgow, and died
some years ago. William Ross was an elder in Sunny Brae Church. He
was married to Christy, daughter of Robert Grant, Finlay's brother.
He had a large family, who were all actively identified with the
church. Two of his sons, William and Robert D., entered the
John Grant was born in Glen Urquhart and came to Pictou in 1801 and
settled at Sunny Brae. He married Margaret McIntosh, and had by her
Peter, William, Robert, Catherine, and Finlay. Robert was three
years old when he came to Pictou. He married Mary McDonald, and had
five sons, John, Alexander, Peter, William and Duncan.
A son of Duncan Grant, William M., is a minister in Ontario.
William, who settled in Providence, R. I., married Jessie McDougall,
a sister of Roderick McDougall of Westville. One of his sons became
a physician, another a lawyer, and two daughters are teachers in the
Grammar schools, Providence. Marjorie, daughter, of Robert Grant,
married Joseph McKay; two of their sons William R. and Robert G.,
are clergymen. Catherine, a sister of Finlay Grant, married Duncan
McPhie, Springville. They had John, Christy, Alexander, Jessie,
Margaret, Mary, Angus and Peter. Their youngest son, Peter McPhie,
married Isabella Cruikshank. Their two sons, John P. and Duncan A.,
entered the ministry.
Finlay Grant was born in 1800 and was one year old when he came to
Pictou. He married in 1827, Ann, daughter of Alexander Fraser,
Downie, and had Alexander, a merchant in New Glasgow and elder in
the United Church. John, an elder in Sunny Brae church who gave two
sons Robert J. and William P., to the ministry; William, who entered
the ministry, gave two of his sons to the church, Melville and
Clarence. The latter died while a catechist. Finlay Grant was
ordained to the eldership by the Rev. John Macrae in 1834. He was a
clear headed, well read and useful man.
The descendants of John Grant who came to Sunny Brae in 1801 were
numerous and took a leading part in the activities of the Church.
Fifteen of them entered the Christian ministry and fourteen were
regularly ordained elders in the church. This is perhaps as many or
more than was given by any other family in the county.
Pictonians at Home and Abroad, 1914