The Highland Clearances took places in the late 18th century over a period of about 70 years. This relates back to last weeks post that concerned Footsteps in the Snow. The Scott family in the story were victims of the Clearances and since I mentioned them previously I thought I would expand on them in their own post. The Clearances were essentially the clearing of tenant farmers from land on which they had lived for centuries. This was mostly due to profit and the change in the clan system which unsettled the status quo and demolished a lot of Gaelic culture in the Highlands. Sheep farming was much more profitable to the landlords than grain or other varieties of farming. More sheep meant less land was available to grow food for the tenant populations and consequently they were not able to continue living on the land. In some cases, as with the Sutherland lands, the homes of cleared Scots were burned to prevent them from trying to stay or move back and more than a thousand might be evicted per day. It is reported in some cases that the homes were burned before the people were even out of the building. The Highlands of Scotland are not a place I would like to be with nothing but the shirt on my back and no hope of a home.
(Memorial statue for the Clearances in Helmsdale, Scotland)
This is a very emotional subject for people of Gaelic descent and they occurred in several places besides Scotland, but it has a bit more punch in the Highlands because they were still only a generation off of the failed uprising against the British and the subsequent dismantling of the clan system. That particular topic will be the subject of a future Throwback Thursday and is one I’m sure many people are familiar with thanks to Outlander.
One of the results of the Clearances was emigration, as present in Footsteps in the Snow. The Scots came to Canada, America, New Zealand and Australia to build new lives for themselves after being forced to give up their familial land. Some families left before they were forced, but it’s hard to tell how many left truly voluntarily and how many just got out before it came to force.
The Scottish Diaspora saw tens of thousands of people leaving Scotland with an additional wave of emigration when the Potato Famine strikes. BBC points out that the sheep farms that drove the people out of Scotland were proven to be unsustainable and that the products from them were replaced by cheaper, higher quality product from countries settled by the cleared Scots.
According to Stats Canada over 15% of Canadians identified as having Scottish origin. The most notable Scottish settlements in Canada are Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Manitoba. When I visited Prince Edward Island a local told me that 60% of Islanders were of Scottish descent, though the internet chooses not to corroborate that. A Stats Canada census from 2006 suggests that about ⅓ of responders identified as Scottish in PEI and Nova Scotia, while ⅕ of responders identified as Scottish in in New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon Territories. The Clearances were one of the big factors that led to the Scots providing a substantial population to Canada and helped to build our country into what it is today.
(Replica of the Ship Hector in Pictou, Nova Scotia that brought 200 Scottish Settlers to Canada)
I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about the Clearances. Thanks for stopping by!