Historical Essay on the Scots
of the Upper St. Francis District of Quebec

[Part 1 of essay] [Part 2 of essay] [Part 3 of essay]

Donald Morrison Affair splits the community even further.

Donald Morrison was a young Scot who had left home and worked as a cowboy for seven years in the "wild" west frontier of Canada and sent money home to help his father pay off the mortgage on his farm. When his father defaulted on the home loan farm was repossessed by a fellow Scot who had made the loan. Donald returned to Quebec believing that he and his parents had been treated unfairly. When his efforts to legally regain the house had failed and the house had been sold to a French family, he allegedly burned down the house and barn in May of 1888--a charge Morrison always denied. Although he had been charged with the crime, delivering the warrant for his arrest proved to be problematic. No local person, Scot or not, was willing to do so.

Finally, a young American drifter volunteered to serve the warrant himself and was deputized for this purpose alone. He vowed that he would kill Morrison, if necessary. When Morrison saw the "deputy" coming to arrest him, Morrison shot him before he could be shot himself. Morrison then disappeared into the community. Now branded a murderer, he was pursued by a company of provincial police who scoured the countryside to find him, following every lead they could get.

For ten months Morrison was fed and sheltered from the police by the Scottish residents, who were not inclined to cooperate with the government authorities. Even despite the large number of Frenchmen who lived and worked in the Upper St. Francis none of them seemed to have joined in the manhunt or turned him in. Even when a reward for information leading to his arrest was raised to $3,000 and his supporters were threatened with arrest, still none would turn him in. It seems that either Donald's guilt was not as obvious as the authorities believed or perhaps there was apathy in the French community over the incident viewed as one Scot feuding with another. Some of the Scots who aided Morrison were arrested and did serve brief jail sentences only to return to repeat their "crime.

Morrison was eventually shot in the leg and arrested in April of 1889. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 years in prison. After serving just five years of his sentence, he was released because a hunger strike while in prison led to tuberculosis. He died in 1894 just a month after his release. The Donald Morrison affair became a symbol of the division between the Scots and the numerically dominant francophones in Quebec then. (For more on the Donald Morrison affair, see the epic poem of Oscar Dhu (1892), the narratives of Kidd (1948), Epps (1973), and Wallace (1977), and the analyses of Rudin (1986) and Little (1994).

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Most Scots were able to make a decent living on their farms, in their shops, or in the saw mills. The local economy showed some promise. The dairy industry was proving to be a great success, and the sawmills were still doing well. Scotstown was developing into a real city with two hotels, four general stores, three groceries, two butchers, a leather store, two carpenters, two locksmiths, a saddler, a tailor, a carriage maker, a doctor, a jeweler, a cobbler, a bank, a post office, schools and churches (Baril 1991, p. 23-24).

In Hampden township there were about 50 farmers, who above all were engaged in raising sheep as they had been accustomed to doing in Scotland. With a train station and three saw mills, Scotstown looked like a town with a bright future.

However, since coming to Canada, the Lewis Scots had acquired little real political influence. They held political offices in only the few communities in which they were concentrated and now even there they were becoming a minority group.

[NOTE: The following is a list of the mayors of Hampden taken from Baril (1991, p. 93):

Charles H. Parker     1889-1892
D.D. McInnes          1892-1893
Thomas Muir           1893-1893
J.D. Morrison         1894-1897
KENNETH SMITH         1897-1900
ALLAN A. MORRISON     1900-1907
J.D. GRAHAM           1907-1917
JOHN M. MACDONALD     1917-1935
J.D. SMITH            1935-1939
J.C. MORRISON         1939-1944
ALBERT MACLEOD        1944-1947

The following were the mayors of Scotstown:

CHARLES H. PARKER     1892-97
WELLIE F. BOWNAN      1897-1900 - 3 -4 -6 -7
E.M. MCKAY            1900 -1 -4 -5
FRANCOIS-GODFROY ROY  1901 -2 -5 -6 -9 -10 -16 -17
JIM BLACK             1902-03
M.J. MOONEY           1907 -8 -9 -11 -12
M.-ANGUS MCKENZIE     1910 -11 -12 -13
JOSEPH LANGLOIS       1913-14
ANGUS M. MACKENZIE    1914-15 -30 -21, 47-53 -54 -55
J.A. GIFFORD          1915-17 -20
W.C. SCOTT            1921 -23 24 -28
ROBERT D. FARLEY      1922-25
DONAT SAINT-JEAN      1928-29
JOHN MACDONALD        1929-31
FREE START            1931-32
G.F. COWAN            1933-40
A.M. MACDONALD        1943-44

As the French influence increased, the Scots began to feel more and more out of place. The Scots were not as attached to the province of Quebec as were the French, most of whom had been born there and preferred living among other speakers of French. The Scots were willing to seek other places to live in the English-speaking provinces of Canada and in the United States. Places in Canada they gravitated to especially were Upper Canada and Alberta. In the States many moved to New England, the Dakotas, Montana, and California.

The reasons most Scots left the region was economics. They wanted to find better paying jobs in a more hospitable setting, with better education for their children.

French "invasion" complete

By 1901 even Compton County was 48% French speaking. Twenty years earlier the French were only 29%. The "invasion" of the French into the Eastern Townships is treated by the Scottish-born newspaper editor Robert Seller in his 1907 book The tragedy of Quebec: the expulsion of the Protestant farmers. Unfortunately, it is also a highly-biased anti-Catholic document, but it may give the reader some idea of what the Scots were thinking during this period in Quebec. It ignores the many legitimate reasons the French farmers had for leaving their farms along the St. Lawrence and moving elsewhere--such as too little land for their large families, worn-out soil, and the low price of land offered them in the Eastern Townships by the government if they moved in.

The size of the French families was remaining high whereas the size of the Scots' families was shrinking (Baril 1991, p. 26).

By 1930 only 6% of Compton County were Scots, 31% English, and 60% French. A table comparing the two major language groups in the Eastern Townships as a whole between 1837 and 1931 shows the profound changes that took place in less than a century.

1837          90.2%       9.8%
1887          41.5%      58.5%
1931          18.0%      82.0%

(figures from Dresser 1935:98)

Despite the numerical dominance of the French, aspects of the Scottish presence were still noticeable as evidenced by this 1930 quote that the region "creates for the astonished visitor the illusion of his being at one and the same time in a province of France, of England, and of Scotland" (Along Quebec Highways, p. 90).

Economy of the Eastern Townships stalls

Mining for asbestos, chrome, copper, and other minerals became a major industry in the Eastern Townships during the first half of this century. By 1930, 85% of the world's production of asbestos took place in the Eastern Townships ("Along Quebec Highways," 1930:23). Dairying, making maple syrup, growing fruits, canning produce, and raising fur animals kept the local economy alive. But the lack of good roads was holding back real progress.

We learn from the 876-page guide book mentioned above (Along Quebec Highways, 1930), which discusses 702 cities along Quebec's main highways, that Scotstown, Dell, and Milan were not on the main highways of the province. They are not even mentioned in this book.

Until their local roads were upgraded to be traveled comfortably by car, Scotstown and Milan were connected by only a dirt road. But even when the road was upgraded in 1938, it was upgraded to a just a gravel road.

Both Scotstown and Milan did, however, have railway stations as early as 1877, but the lack of easy automobile access stalled their economic growth for some time. Limited telephone service came to Scotstown in 1890, but general use of it was not made until the 1920's and 30's. Houses in Scotstown were wired for electricity in 1922, but Milan homes were not wired until 1948. But the pace of this progress was too slow to hold many of the younger, Canadian-born Scots in their hometowns. The Lewis-born parents remained, but the Canadian-born generation were more and more inclined to leave.

In the 1920's many Scots left the townships to work in industrial factories and office in places like Montreal, Ottawa, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Boston.

Hebridean community lives on in memory only

It was impossible for the Scots who left Quebec to ignore their upbringing in the Scottish villages of Quebec. A poem written in the early 1970's by Donald N. Morrison of Scotstown, whose ancestors came from Barvas, Isle of Lewis, wrote this poem, quoted in McLeod, (1977:87), about the Scots who had left the Eastern Townships:

When the mill did close in Scotstown
Many families moved away -
Some to many parts of Canada
And others to the USA

They do miss the Salmon River
As it flows down by the mill
While happy memories linger
About the fairground on the hill.

They do miss their place of worship
Steeples reaching for the sky
And wistful are the memories
When they think of Scotstown High.

Stornoway, a city just five? miles from Scotstown and which was named after the largest city on Lewis, is now entirely French speaking. Only Scotstown and Milan have Scottish populations of any size and even there they numbered fewer than 100. Compton County Scots today are all quite elderly and it is certain that the Scottish presence will die when they do.

In 1991 the only Scots Presbyterian church remaining in the area was St. Paul's in Scotstown, which was being maintained by the deacon, Rev. Robert Sandford of Scotstown, who served also the Presbyterian communities of Milan and Lac Mégantic M&(Baril 1991, p. 38).

The 1986 census showed that no one in Scotstown speaks Gaelic at home anymore. Of the 705 respondents, 430 spoke only French, 105 spoke only English, and 170 spoke both English and French. Ethnic origins were given as 515 French and 70 British.

Many of the towns in the area that once bore Scottish names now have French ones or no longer appear on contemporary maps because they have no inhabitants at all. Even the term "The Eastern Townships" has been replaced in local usage by the French "L'Estrie." I have read somewhere that it may only be a matter of time until the town Stornoway is renamed "St. Ornoway."


Along Quebec highways: tourist guide, (s.l., Department of Highways and Mines, Provincial Tourist Board, 1930), 876 p.

Auger (1978?)
Auger, Roland J. "Genealogy in the Province of Québec," in ?, pp. 33-41.

Baril (1991)
Baril, Gilles, Paroisse Saint-Paul de Scotstown: (historique) 1891-1991 (La Patrie, G. Baril, 1991), 110 p.

Bennett-Knight (1980)
Bennett-Knight, Margaret. "Folkways and religion of the Quebec Hebrideans," in Doucette (1980), pp. 45-144.

Bennett (1999)
Bennett, Margaret. "Oatmeal and the Catechism: Scottish Gaelic Settlers in Quebec," John Donald, Edinburgh and McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal, 1998. Second edition, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2003.

Boisvert (1997)
Boisvert, Jacques (1997), "Origin of the term 'Eastern Townships' and 'L'Estrie,'" in Across the border [Spring 1997], pp. 2-4.

Channel (1896)
Channel, L. S. History of Compton County and sketches of the Eastern Townships, District of St. Francis and Sherbrooke County (Belleville, Ontario, Mika, 1975), 289 p. (Canadian reprint series, no. 70). Reprint of 1896, Cookshire, Que.

Dominion of Canada (1884)
Dominion of Canada. A guide book containing information for intending settlers, with illustrations, 5th ed. (Ottawa, Dept. of Agriculture, 1884), 137 p.

Dominion of Canada (1873)
Dominion of Canada. Information for intending emigrants (Ottawa: Brown Chamberlain), 1873), 56 p.

Doucette (1980)
Doucette, Laurel, ed. Cultural retention & demographic change: studies of the Hebridean Scots in the Eastern Townships of Quebec (Ottawa, National Museums of Canada, 1980), 170 p. (Mercury series; Paper / Canadian Centre for Folk Culture Studies, no. 34)

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Dresser, John A. "The Eastern Townships of Quebec: a study in human geography," Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, Section II, 1935, 89-100.

Epps (1973)
Epps, Bernard. The Outlaw of Megantic (Toronto: ?, 1973), ? p.

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Hance (1949)
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Laperrier, Guy. Bibliographie d'histoire des Cantons de l'Est = History of the Eastern Townships: a bibliography (Sherbrooke, Que., Dep. d'histoire, Université de Sherbrooke, 1986), 210 p. (Histoire des Cantons de l'Est, 1) Kidd (1948) Kidd, Henry. Donald Morrison: the Outlaw of Megantic (Toronto: ?, 1948), ? p.

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Lawson, Bill. Register of emigrant families from the Western Isles of Scotland to the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada (Eaton Corner, Que., Compton County Historical Museum Society, 1980), 120 p.

Little (1977)
Little, J.I. "La Patrie: Quebec's repatriation colony, 1875-1880," Canadian Historical Association Historical Papers (1977), ?-?.

Little (1991)
Little, J.I. Crofters and habitants: settler society, economy, and culture in a Quebec township, 1848-1881 (Montreal, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1991), 368 p.

Little (1992)
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Little (1994)
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McLeod, Duncan. The Milan story. ([Milan, Que.], D.L. McLeod, 1977), 108 p.

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O'Donnell, Brendan (1992). Sources for the study of English-speaking Quebec = Sources pour l'Étude du Quéec d'expression anglaise: an annotated bibliography of works published between 1980 and 1990 (Lennoxville, Que., Eastern Township Research Centre of Bishop's University), 264 p.

Oscar Dhu (1892)
Oscar Dhu (Angus MacKay). Donald Morrison, the Canadian Outlaw: a tale of the Scottish pioneers (s.l., s.n., 1892, 118 p. (Reprinted by Page-Sangster Printing Co., Sherbrooke, Quebec, 1965).

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Prattis, J.I. "Seven generations: ethnic identity and cultural retention in an Eastern Townships community," in Doucette (1980), pp. 145-56.

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Ross, Margaret. "Lewis settlers of the Eastern Townships," The Canadian magazine 61 (June, 1923), 171-76.

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Whyte, Donald. Dictionary of Scottish emigrants to Canada before confederation (Toronto, Ontario Genealogical Society, 1986), 443 p.


1. A hard working farm laborer was able to make from $8 to $15 per month (see Province of Quebec and European Emigration (1870:108). Though an acre of land cost only a couple of days' work, saving this much money was not as easy as it might sound.