The Hebridean Scots of the Province of Quebec
[Home Page] [Site Map] [Search] [Genealogy] [History] [Culture] [The Arts] [Geography] [Addresses] [Photos]

The following essay on religion among the Hebridean Scots of the Province of Quebec is taken from pages 176-189 of "Memoirs of Dell" by John Austin MacLeod, unpublished 1972 typescript, 264 p.


Religion played a very important part in our private lives, indeed in the whole community. People trusted wholeheartedly, with their very being, in the power of God, in the power of worship and in the power of prayer. Religion in the home started early in the day, each day, and always in Gaelic. Before breakfast after we had all sat down at the table and before anyone would dare to take a bite, Papa would say grace, asking the Lord to bless the food. After breakfast before anyone dared leave the table, he would again say grace, this time thanking the Lord for the food. We, then, in our chairs pushed back from the table, Papa would get down his big Gaelic Bible, each of us would get our small one, then Papa would first read a Psalm, or a portion thereof, then a chapter. As he read each one of us would follow him in our Bible, including Mamma. When the chapter was finished each kid in turn, according to our ages, the oldest first, would go over to Papa's side and read aloud one verse from his Bible. After which we all got down on our knees and Papa would pray aloud. Sometimes we would get a little uneasy and act up. Papa read the Bible through many times in this fashion, a chapter each morning, consecutively, only to start over again,

At the noon meal it was very much the same, with grace before and again after. Supper was likewise.

At nine o'clock religiously, before bed, the reading of the Holy Book again, almost as at breakfast time. This time the Psalm was also read as at breakfast, but, the chapter was picked at random and only Papa read aloud, followed by prayers on our knees.

This type of worship was carried out every day of our lives and was common practice by almost all of the families of that area. Sometimes at morning, or, evening worship, if we would have company who happened to be on the same religious level as we were, and who liked to sing, it

- end of p. 176 - (Memoirs of Dell)

was considered etiquette to ask him to "Present" (this later explained) we would all then sing the Psalm.

On looking back on this over-religious daily practice, it all seems so quaint now. An outsider can understand how religion was so imprinted on our young minds that it left a real impact.


That is the question. The original idea behind the Church Union, which took place in 1925, was to unite the Congregationalists, the Methodists and the Presbyterian Churches under one common banner, namely, The United Church of Canada.

There being only one, the Presbyterian Church, in this area, church union in itself was not of too much importance except for the fact behind the issue. Outside, some people wanted independence, while others wanted to be included in a wider scope.

Originally, in the surrounding area were six Presbyterian Gaelic congregations, namely, Winslow, Megantic, Marsboro, Hampden, Lingwick and Scotstown. (I can but vaguely remember the first two mentioned, however, of the following four I shall give a brief account). Their ministers were, Rev. Beaton, of Marsboro, Rev. Allister Murray, of Hampden (before him, Rev. Malcolm MacLeod, following him was Rev. Malcolm Gillies), Rev. McLennan, of Lingwick and Rev. McLean, of Scotstown.

Previous to the church union these four congregations enjoyed real compatibility and were closely knit. But during the period in which the union discussion took place, hard, bitter feelings came into the picture, feelings ran high, sometimes there would be neighbour against neighbour and brother against brother. At a particular meeting held for a general discussion on the matter, which had been held in the Oddfellow's Hall in

- end of p. 177 - (Memoirs of Dell)

Scotstown, the four above named ministers were to be a panel of leaders to explain the pros and cons. The discussion became heated and tempers flared. In fact, Rev. Beaton from Marsboro, became so excited and enraged at Rev. McLennan of Lingwick, that he started to take his coat off right there on the stage and challenged Rev. McLennan to put up his dukes and that they would settle the argument right than and there. However, Hampden and Marsboro remained solidly as they were, Presbyterians. Both Scotstown and Lingwick each split, resulting In Scotstown having to build a new Presbyterian Church and Lingwick a new United Church.


Its real name was Saint Luke's Church. It was located at the McArthur corner where the Dell/Tolsta, Gisla, McLeod's Crossing and the Milan roads intersect. It had been built in about 1920 to replace the older church that had been located about two miles farther away on the Gisla road, which had been demolished by the cyclone. People in that immediate area had begun to move away. So it had been decided to re-locate the new church that had to be built. In fact, two churches were to be built, one, Bethany Church, was to be built in Milan, of brick construction. The services in that church were to be held in English. Saint Luke's Church was to be of frame construction, the services in it were to be held in Gaelic.

It is difficult to find words eloquent enough to properly describe the touching, moving, deep and powerful sermons that were once preached in this sanctuary, the Hampden Church, in the Gaelic language. They were preached by the Rev. Malcolm MacLeod, Rev. Allister Murray and Rev. Malcolm Gillies, who at one time had served as ministers of

- end of p. 178 - (Memoirs of Dell)

this congregation. The sermons that those long ago old Gaelic ministers used to preach were pretty solid; they made really good impressions to come back to later on in adult life. It was a deep soul-searching type of religion that they preached, the type that solaces one, the type that seemed to fill the air with a sort of Godliness, which left one deeply inspired, imprinted on one's mind. Those sermons made valuable memories.

Hampden Church, the memory of which is dear to my heart, was painted pure white, it had a peak cedar shingled roof, a chimney at one end, no steeple or bell. There were three windows on either side with two at the entrance end, the top of each of which were curved with three panes of glass, fan shape. Its interior was entirely of V-joint natural color varnished ash. The building was heated with two box-stoves, each of which had its long line of stove pipes which ran the full length. Its lighting consisted of clusters of hanging coal-oil lamps, suspended by means of chains from the ceiling, as well as bracket lamps attached to the wall in symmetrical order here and there. This church had never been intended for services at nighttime. I can recollect only one instance in which the lamps were ever used.

The pulpit was on a platform about three feet above the level of the floor and it was about sixteen feet in length and had a depth of about twelve feet, It had five armchairs on the platform for the ministers and visiting preacher's use, Ofttimes could be seen all five chairs occupied, especially at "Ordain" time (later explained).

Directly in front of and below the pulpit was the altar, behind which were two chairs facing the congregation, for the two "Presenters" to sit in, These were occupied by the persons of Angus MacDonald (Doak) and Johnnie Murray from the Milan Yard. Later, by Johnnie Doak, Angus' son

- end of p. 179 - (Memoirs of Dell)

and by Johnnie Morrison, son of Domhuill Beau-chaill, of Dell. "Presenters" were those who led the singing (usually two, alternately) of the Psalms in Gaelic. These were sung in sort of doleful tunes. In Gaelic services there was no organ or choir in use.

On the right side of the pulpit the pew was reserved for the minister's immediate family. The one on the left was reserved for the church elders.

Our family pew was situated on the right-hand side of the church as it was entered, about half way down, where I used to sit with Mamma and the rest of the family except Papa, who was an elder and he sat with the other elders. All would sing Psalms together in Gaelic, along with the congregation. In front of us sat Mrs. Doak, bless her soul, who used to give me peppermints "because you were a good boy." Sometimes, Ish-bel Ruat-hy, "Dolly Varden", from Milan sat with her, with her big hat.

(James, my son, has in his possession the small Gaelic Bible that was used in the family pew in the Hampden Church those many years ago.)

Outside, on one side of the church was a roll for hitching the horses to, later on it was reserved for cars. The other side was used for buggy parking, the horses were put in the stable. Behind the church stood a low built stable with sections, each section was partitioned off into individual stalls, Many a kid sneaked a smoke within these confines. At the end of the stable was built a community two-holer one big hole and one smaller one, for the convenience of those who "had to go."

GAELIC CHURCH SERVICE (as held in the Hampden Church)

I cannot imagine anything that I would rather do than to be able to adequately describe

- end of p. 180 - (Memoirs of Dell)

this, the most beautiful and eloquent of all divine church services, to my way of thinking. However, I shall endeavor to do the best I can. In its entirety, it all came directly from the heart without the aid of an organ, other music, or the support of a choir. The minister would preach from the heart without notes of any description. Usually the regular service would be held at eleven o'clock in the morning, with no evening service. It would be altogether in Gaelic. There was no ante-room or preparation room for the minister, who entered the church precisely at the correct time, walked the full length and ascended the four steps that led to the pulpit platform, as a hush descended on the congregation. The platform had steps on either side of the altar. A few minutes previous to the start of the service he would sit down on his chair at the back, close his eyes in meditation so as to close out the evils of the world. He would then arise, take about two steps to the pulpit, and announce, "We will now sing the first three verses of Psalm -----." All would then open up their Gaelic Bibles as he would read those verses, having finished, the two Presenters would stand up, the rest of the congregation stayed sitting down (the people stood up during the long prayers, the kids and older people would sit down as they tired). (The adoption of the name "Presenter" was taken from the fact, that, these men presented to the congregation the words that were to be sung, and, were at liberty to choose their own tune from the Psalter. The presentation of that which was to be sung dated back to when but a few people owned a Bible, when there were not enough to go around. It was also done for the benefit of those who could not read).

One Presenter would begin the singing, alone, he sang the first two lines so as to enable all others to catch the tune. He would then chant the third line rather quickly (hence, presenting). At this point all

- end of p. 181 - (Memoirs of Dell)

would then join in the singing of that line in unison. On the fourth line the same thing and so on until the three verses had been sung.

The "Amen" was always sung at the end of each singing. At the end of the singing the minister stood up and announced, "Let us pray," all stood and he would pray, his face lifted toward heaven, asking, pleading and thanking, while he clutched a small Bible to his heart. His prayers were from the heart, deep, sincere, long prayers. Upon finishing he would read from the Old Testament. Then another Psalm would be sung, the opposite Presenter would take over this time, then a lesson from the New Testament would follow.

The collection plates were then passed by two elders and on completion was placed on the altar. The minister said a prayer of thanksgiving; this was followed by the announcements for the week (always there was a prayer meeting somewhere for a Thursday afternoon at two o'clock, alternating in different districts of the parish, say, in Dell, the Middle District, Gisla, etc.). Following this order would be the sermon, long, impressive, touching, arousing emotions and conscience, sometimes the sermon itself would last a full hour, leaving each with a feeling that the sermon had been directed at him personally. So touching were the words of the minister and the depth of his feelings conveyed, that tears could be seen running down his checks; as well as some of those to whom he was preaching, it would leave one with the feeling that he had just emerged from a meeting with God.

The sermon would be followed by another prayer, another singing of a part of a Psalm, led by the first Presenter. The benediction. A little "caly" after the service outside and then home with the horse and buggy to about a two o'clock dinner, saturated with religion.

- end of p. 182 - (Memoirs of Dell)

Gone now is this holy sanctuary, all that now remains are its site, and its memories. The building was purchased in 1950 by the Roman Catholic Church, disassembled with extreme care and love, and then rebuilt in the village of Island Brook, in Quebec, which is on the border of the State of Vermont. It is still in use to the Glory of Almighty God, but, in a different faith and in a different religion. What difference does that make? It stands there proud, looking very natural, painted white and gleaming in the sun.

THE ORDAIN (this supposedly is the Gaelic of sacraments)

This quaint and unusual custom is a little difficult to explain. It was a unique celebration of the Gaelic Presbyterians of olden times. The local Ordain, was a combined effort of the Gaelic congregations of Winslow, Megantic, Scotstown, Lingwick, Hampden and Marsboro. It was held in the spring and fall of each year. The one held in the springtime being the principal one.

(After the church union the Ordain was never quite the same.)

The Ordain was an old custom of the Presbyterians having been brought to this country by our ancestors from the land of the heather, where Gaelic was the only language that they knew. Along in May sometime, it would be announced in all six churches that the Ordain was to begin in the congregation of Saint Luke's Church, of Hampden, on a certain Thursday beginning at eleven o'clock. Many people would journey there by horse and buggy from the other congregations, sometimes a distance of over thirty miles. As well as the ministers from the respective churches. A regular Gaelic church service would be held, Presenters and all. On that day church attendance would increase by about twenty percent over the usual attendance, it being only the first day of the Ordain. A prayer meeting would be announced for the afternoon as well as a church service in the evening.

- end of p. 183 - (Memoirs of Dell)

It was always a distinct pleasure for the natives to be able to have company from the Ordain for meals and sometimes for all night, along with their horses, people from other congregations, sometimes an many as four at one time would be put up at one place, sometimes even more, the Ordain went on for five days.

The prayer meeting would be held at two in the afternoon in, say, the Middle District, with another one in the Dell schoolhouse, or, at Malcolm Morrison's home in McLeod's Crossing, where Angus Beaton lived, who was unable to attend church service, or, in Milan at Donald Ross' place, or, in the private home of some other invalid. Those prayer meetings were similar to a church service except the prayers, which were many, were said by whoever the minister might call upon, that is, by men who were communicants. The minister would say the benediction himself. All of which was in Gaelic, The natives would then go home and take someone with them who had journeyed from other parts for the Ordain. Its evening would be spent discussing different aspects of the Bible, after which the evening worship would take place.

The next day, Friday church again at eleven. This day, was always a different kind of a service, it was called "La Na Kesh-t" (question day). Instead of a sermon being preached the minister would ask a member of the congregation to read a particular verse out of the Bible that he did not understand and which be would like an opinion on. This was usually confined to an older man. After this was done the minister would then ask anyone at random to give his opinion on same. Several times this procedure would be repeated. Then the usual singing of a Psalm and the benediction. Previous to the closing the minister would announce a prayer meeting for the afternoon and a church service at night. A prayer meeting would be held in a different location to the previous day.

- end of p. 184 - (Memoirs of Dell)

A minister would always be in charge of these prayer meetings. Then all would go home with more company, maybe different from the previous night. In the evenings there was always a Bible discussion and worship before going to bed.

Saturday's schedule would be about the same as it had been on Thursday. By this time the church attendance would have increased by about seventy percent by virtue of more people from the surrounding church areas arriving by horse and buggy.

Each day the services were under a different visiting clergyman, say, the minister from Lingwick.

Naturally, Sunday was the big day of the whole affair and would be communion day of the Ordain. Attendance on that day increased by about two hundred and fifty or maybe three hundred percent. People would come from far and near. Both Milan and Hampden churches would be used on that Morning. The one in Milan would be packed, the service would be in English. The Hampden church service would be in Gaelic and would also be packed to over-flowing, with a crowd outside. This service would sometimes last for two full hours. The preachers were powerful, dynamic, forceful and deeply moving to all who were in attendance. The usual prayer meetings would be announced and held as on previous days.

THE COMMUNION: The bread that was used for this commemoration had been baked and prepared by some local woman who was good at bread making. It was cut into about one inch cubes. The wine would be served in two huge silver chalices, one for each side of the church and would be passed from one to the other of the communicants while they remained in their seats. Just previous to the taking of the communion the collection plate would be passed to collect the small cardboard tokens which had been given to

- end of p. 185 - (Memoirs of Dell)

the communicants the previous day (I don't know the significance of this tradition but expect that it was a verification of being qualified to partake of communion). It was a very solemn and an exceptionally touching ceremony and was held with an air of absolute quietude, no one even coughed during this commemoration of symbolic cleansing and washing of all sins.

After the prayer meeting in the afternoon on Sunday, the visitors would begin to dwindle, return to their own homes, to their own congregations. On Monday the service would begin at ten thirty in the morning in the church, so as to finish early and enable the remaining people from afar to get an early start for home. No prayer meeting would be scheduled for the afternoon. The Ordain was over, all would now return to normal, the following Thursday the Ordain would start in another district.

I have seen occasions at our place when there would not be enough room for us kids to sit down at our large dining-room table with all the company that we would have at Ordain time. We would have to eat in the kitchen, on the sly, and always the leftovers. The same can be said about sleeping accommodations, we would sleep on the floor. I can remember us many times sleeping in the hay-mow in the barn.

After Hampden the Ordain would move on to Scotstown, to Lingwick, or to some other location, altogether covering a period of four weeks, only to be repeated again in September.

"ORDAIN," Gaelic pronunciation, "OR-DA-UN."

As we speak of "Ordain," in connection with the old time Gaelic church services, which had been so traditional, have we ever analyzed what this word really means ? In the long ago the English of the

- end of p. 186 - (Memoirs of Dell)

word "ORDAIN," was supposedly, "Sacraments," the way that we knew it. But, is it not an English word with a Gaelic pronunciation?

The word "ORDAIN," according to the Westminster Dictionary means: set apart for sacred service.

The word "ORDAIN," as we knew it, with its Gaelic pronunciation, was just that, days set apart for sacred service.


There are certain aspects in relation to the religious teachings at the time of my own youth, some of which left a real impact on the mind of each of us, who had the good fortune of being brought up in the environment in which we were, that were really solid.

Among some of them were the following:

The Dell Sunday School when those humble folk sang their hearts out, those beautiful old hymns whose lyrics stood out above all others, some of which were, "Rock of Ages," "The Old Rugged Cross," "When The Roll is Called up Yonder" and others. All without the accompaniment of music, organ or piano.

As the sound of the singing flowed out through the windows of the old schoolhouse, one could not help but feel deeply moved by the religious static that seemed to fill the air.

The kids of the congregation were naturally encouraged, and expected, to learn the Catechism.

The imprudence of those responsible for the making up of this piece of religious education should be indeed questioned, at least, that is my own opinion. What was expected to be learned and adopted from that Catechism was, well, -----. For instance, one of the questions was an follows; "What is God?" The answer being, "God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His wisdom, being,

- end of p. 187 - (Memoirs of Dell)

goodness and truth," (odd that I should remember that after 50 years). Now, I ask you, dear reader, what kind of a question is that for a six year old? Or, for that matter, what kind of an answer is that for even an adult? -- what do all those adjectives mean?

The younger people, of that long ago time, were left with the impression, that to be a Presbyterian was to have the preference over all other religions, that their chance to acquire eternal life was almost a certainty.

To be a Catholic -- well, there was hardly a chance for them to acquire eternal life.

And, to be an Anglican, that was sort of an off-beat kind of religion, second rate, a rather poor excuse.

Just how bigoted can a person get?

Saturday had been a day for chores in respect to religious ways of the area. In the preparation of the Sabbath, extra water would have to be hauled in by hand from the wells the woodbox piled extra high so that on Sunday we could rest from our labours, and not break the Sabbath. Many farmers would not even clean the cow stables on a Sunday for the same reason.

When we were kids it was a time when Sunday belonged to God. It was a time when anyone who went to dances was considered by the older people to be doomed, to be heading for the devil and were deliberately going against the will of God and His teachings.

The word "Hell" was a word that was never uttered in the homes of Dell, it was always referred to as "The other place," or, "The hot place."

- end of p. 188 - (Memoirs of Dell)

Rev. Malcolm Gillies, previous to his coming to the congregation of Hampden had had a charge in Cape Breton , N.S. He, being a man of God, and faithful to his avocation, put into effect one of the theological virtues, that of Charity. With hard times everywhere he deemed it his duty to help wherever he could. After discussing the situation with certain members of the congregation, he would order one or two barrels of codfish and herring (skaddan) from his old preaching grounds down on the east coast. In due time the fish arrived, packed in rock salt. It was then divided amongst the people of the congregation according to their needs. The people of the Hampden Church became the fish-eatingest people west of Nova Scotia.

Actually, salt skaddan, or, salt codfish, and boiled potatoes was considered a quality meal by the people of the Scottish Highlands (perish the thought), we weren't too much different.

The congregation of Hampden Church selected its ministers in various ways and from various sources. One of these men of the cloth that was chosen was another from Cape Breton. He turned out to be proficient in the art of animal husbandry, having at one time attended a Veterinary College. In due course he also proved to be a great disappointment to the congregations, for time had proved that he was a victim of long standing of alcoholism. In spite of his shortcomings he was truly a man of God and constantly battled against his affliction. It was reported that he had become an alcoholic during the time that he had attended the college, having constantly suffered from severe migraine headaches. This had been his only refuge.

- end of p. 189 - (Memoirs of Dell)

[Top of Page]
[Home Page]  [Genealogy]  [History]  [Culture]  [The Arts]  [Geography]  [Addresses]  [Photos]

To send me a comment or to report Web page errors: Click here.

Last Updated: Sept. 12, 1999