Thanks to the research of Susan Arn we can share a story of some emigrants from Rogart who made the journey westwards and settled in the inhospitable lands of Ontario.

The Mystery of Rossal

An ancestral ‘brick wall’ surrounded my second great grandmother, Janet MacKay. Her obituary, death record and marriage record did not reveal who her parents or siblings were. I only knew from her obituary and tombstone that she had emigrated from Sutherlandshire, Scotland sometime in the mid or late 1840s. I also knew her approximate age.

James Rossel and Janet Mackay were the names she gave her first and second born children. Their names and birth order were important clues to Janet’s identity but there was more than one place named Rossal/Rossel in Sutherlandshire. John and Christian were the names of Janet‘s husband‘s parents so I assumed James and Janet were likely the names of her parents. The only birth for a Janet Mackay I found, in the correct age range, was to a James Mackay and a Catherine Mackay so I assumed this was not my Janet.

I continued to study the names of the rest of her children and she did eventually name a daughter Catherine. But one name, in particular, stood out. She named one of her daughters Anna Neilina which led me to believe that she may have had a brother named Neil.

After much searching I found a website which included the Mackay family from Rossal, Rogart. The parents names were James and Janet (Sutherland) Mackay. They did indeed have a son Neil and the names of the other children corresponded with the names my Janet gave her own children. Sadly my enthusiasm was short lived. The James and Janet from Rossal, Rogart were all too old to be my Janet‘s parents and the children far too old to be her siblings.

Years passed and in 2018, I had my DNA analysed and numerous ‘cousins’ came onto my newly created DNA page. I randomly chose a man with the surname Mackay as he shared a significant amount of DNA with me. Although he was from England, I wondered if he was connected with my McKays.

I received an immediate response when I sent him a message. He was indeed closely connected to my McKays. His ancestor was a younger brother of my Janet Mackay. He was able to give me the names of Janet‘s parents, her siblings, the date she left Scotland (1844 on the ship the Joseph Hutcheson) and the names of her grandparents.

Ironically after all these years, it was confirmed that the James and Janet Mackay from Rossal were related to her. They were her grandparents. I have now learned that not only did her grandfather James run the mill at Rossal, but that her own father James Jr also ran that mill.

Janet had been just 22 when she left her family behind in Rogart and headed out to Canada. She eventually married and had numerous children including James Rossel and Janet Mackay.

Leaving home

When my ancestor Janet MacKay emigrated to Canada in 1844 at the age of 22, she went alone, leaving her mother and siblings behind (her father was dead). When looking at ships’ passenger lists for the 1830’s and 1840’s to Canada, I saw it was not uncommon for female passengers to travel alone. I also found that the number of passengers on the ships varied. Two of the arrivals (taken from the newspapers Montreal Gazette and Quebec Mercury) from 1835 included the barque Symmetry which left London, England March 28th, 1835 and arrived in the Port of Quebec May 14, 1835. It was this ship that a Gunn family from Sutherlandshire was on.

Another ship was the barque Hutcheson which left London, England March 25, 1835 and arrived in May with only nine passengers to McGill, general cargo and was reported at Grosse Isle by the Telegraph (newspaper). Janet MacKay sailed on the ship the Joseph Hutcheson but not until 1844. Although the ship that arrived in May of 1835 had just 9 passengers, many of the ships carried 100 or more passengers.

The Ships’ List (navigating the Lower St. Lawrence River in the 19th century) and Ship Arrivals at the Ports of Montreal and Quebec, 1835 included “some amendments for regulating the carriage of passengers in merchant vessels to the British possessions on the continent and islands of North America:
Vessels shall not carry more than 3 persons per 5 tons and have 5 1/2 feet between decks or a temporary platform where there is no deck, and 3 inches between the deck and lower tier of berths; 50 gallons pure water, 70 pounds weight of bread stuffs for each passenger; a surgeon to every vessel carrying 100 and more passengers and sufficient medicines if less; Master to pay 20 pounds for landing a passenger not at the port of contract; two children under 13 and three under 7 years to count as one passenger; Master to pay one shilling per day per passenger for unavoidable detention beyond the day of sailing; Master obliged to feed and keep on board passengers 48 hours after anchoring in port; wrong list to be considered a misdemeanour”.

An immigrant who left the port of Aberdeen, Scotland in 1855 for Canada kept a diary and revealed that an emigrant “would require to have cooking utensils, a large pan to boil broth or potatoes, a frying pan, griddle, fish brander, toaster, tea pot” and “warm clothes that will not be easily dirtied or torn, strong shoes as the feet is apt to get cold, and I would advise old people to keep in bed as much as possible when the weather is rough as they would be apt to get knocked about. Some try to hold themselves in bed when the ship is rolling but is useless, and soon becomes painful. One woman was thrown out of bed half across the ship on the 15th of May, but then she was sitting up”.
The majority of people “became ill”. People “spent most evenings on deck …. fiddlers playing and much dancing…but they soon tired of it. When not feeling ill, people spent their time reading, writing, nursing babies, whistling, singing, newsing, laughing, sewing, knitting, baking, cooking and eating”. The cooking went on all day….first brochen, then porridge and brose, soup, potatoes, pies, flour scones. “One day they had turnips and brose for dinner. The water, however, was not very good”. Nearer the end of the trip, the food mainly consisted of porridge and “rawsoans, brose and fat”.

Once the Scottish emigrants had survived the long (up to 13 weeks) uncomfortable trip by sea, their journey was far from over. On May 16, 1855, a Scottish emigrant observed that though they were “still a days sailing to the Banks but they had light by 4:00 in the morning and it remained light until late in the evening”. On May 17th, a bird came aboard from Newfoundland and” the Scottish settler thought it looked much like their own blackbirds. On May 24th, the ship was close enough to the Isle of Anticosta where it was all wood and ice along the shore. After landing at Quebec, the immigrants had the tedious and often dangerous trip up the St. Lawrence in small open boats pulled by oxen.

A pilot would eventually come aboard first, however, to safely guide the sailing ship along the inner waterways. Still today, Canadian Law requires pilots to guide ships along the East Coast, the St.Lawrence, the Great Lakes and the West Coast, as all harbours are different with unique currents, rocks, and subsea conditions. Ships would make a stop at the island of Grosse Isle where the passengers were checked for disease. If ill, a passenger would be forced to leave the ship and remain on the island until cleared or, if very ill, until they died.

The Upper Canada Line also had steamboats and stages that left Montreal every day except Sunday, at 10:30 a.m. and arrived at Prescott the following day. The Saturday’s stage, however, had to remain “over the Sabbath” at Cornwall. The Journey was as follows:
Montreal to Lachine by land – 9 miles
Lachine to Cascades by steamboat – 24 miles
Cascades to Cote du Lac by land – 16 miles
Cote du Lac to Cornwall, via St. Regis, Indian Village, by steamboat – 11 miles
Cornwall to Dickenson’s Landing by land – 12 miles
Dickenson’s Landing to Prescott by steamboat – 38 miles
Total: 140 miles

The journey down to Woodstock/Zorra Township took longer and would continue into the Great Lakes by small boat across to either York (Toronto) or Hamilton. From there, many would take oxen pulled wagons filled with their possessions and travel through thick forest along corduroy roads. A family who had emigrated from Dornoch, Sutherlandshire in 1831 described the journey down into Zorra.

“We have experienced the joys of corduroy roads. For miles you are flung up and down and from side to side of the wagons by the trunks of trees which form the road, some thick and high above the level, others sunk below it. Nothing more rugged or tormenting can ever possibly be conceived.

The bush is here, the bush is there, the bush is all around. The woods seem moved away from the cultivated land, the trees rising as thickly and in lines as straight as the corn in the field partly cut.

Looking back, you see no break in the long fringe of trees from whence you have emerged but one small opening which swallows up the road. This is the only gap in the dark hedge stretching along the whole horizon”.

For more about the life of the settlers click here.
To discover more about the pioneers’ school days click here.