Monday, November 14, 2005

Some McLennans (McLennan / MacLennan genealogy, Stormont + Glengarry counties, Ontario)

About fifteen years ago, I decided to start working on a genealogy for my own strain of McLennans, since landing in Canada at Lancaster, Glengarry county, Ontario, from Kintail, Ross-Shire, Scotland, somewhere between 1821 and 1840. A few years into my research, I realized that it probably wouldn't be that difficult to just do every branch of McLennan and MacLennan lines throughout both counties, since I was finding out various bits of information anyway. Now, my main document is over two hundred pages long, with thousands of pages of notes, and perhaps even up to forty-five unrelated families (until I find out where a few of them connect), and I know I'm not even a quarter way done. What the hell was I thinking?

In Marianne McLean's book, The People of Glengarry: Highlanders in Tradition, 1745-1820 (1993, McGill-Queen’s University Press: Montreal), she talks about the main thrust of highland immigration to Glengarry County, Ontario, between 1770 and 1820, calling it the highest concentration of Scottish immigration in Canada. With a number moving up from Mohawk Valley, New York State (arriving in the colonies a few years before the American Revolution) as Loyalists, by the time Sir John Johnston moved north, arriving in Upper Canada, a number of his clansmen had already settled the area, and had saved them some space. Johnston even made time to found New Johnstown (what is now Cornwall) on land he decided was his, no matter how many natives were already living there (a whole other issue). By the time the county had started to fill up, later arrivals from Scotland were willing to rent swampy land in Glengarry just to be near family and friends, rather than get better land for free in Rideau County.

As impressive as the records for Glengarry County are (in the fact that there are a whole pile of them), there are often entries that contradict, names that get changed or shifted, and whole pieces of information that are told through memory much later on, and not fact. Genealogy, as a whole, is bloody frustrating; and only part of it comes from the fact that the Scots only had a handful of first names they used (John, Murdoch, Malcolm, Farquhar, Alexander and Robert), sometimes more than one even in the first generation.

And memory is a tricky thing, after all. After he retired, Glengarry MP John McLennan (1821-1893), wrote whole articles on his grandfather Murdoch's arrival into Canada from Scotland on the Neptune in 1802, and got whole swaths of information skewed. Even my own family bible (given to my great-grandparents as a wedding present) has names and dates slightly off, of relatives not far enough away to have gotten wrong.

Through all the histories I've read of Glengarry county, Montreal (check out the new book The Scots of Montreal, a pictoral album edited by Nancy Marrelli and Simon Dardick, published by Véhicule Press, in collaboration with the McCord Museum of Canadian History and the St. Andrew's Society of Montreal) or the west relating to important characters, very few places actually mention McLennan names or lines. Some names were included as organizers of the Neptune exodus from Kintail, Ross-Shire, Scotland, including Murdoch McLennan, for example, who was supposedly a wealthy landowner, as opposed to most of the rest of the immigrants, who were farmers (Glengarry immigration was also rare in the fact that it wasn't individuals or families but entire boatloads that came over from the Highlands). There were also at least two politicians, a number of lawyers, and at least one carpenter. My great-grandfather's oldest brother John McLennan was a contractor for multiple buildings in Glengarry and beyond, including the Presbyterian Church in Maxville in 1899, and the Bank of Montreal on Sparks Street in Ottawa in 1900; every time he turned around, the weekly Glengarry News was mentioning something he was doing. After moving to Edmonton to find work, he eventually relocated to Earl Grey, Saskatchewan in 1904 with his second wife and four sons.

One of those simple quirks of history, after they arrived to homestead between what is now Earl Grey and Craven, Saskatchewan (just outside of Regina), an "a" was somehow added to their name. It took me five years to find their descendants, all MacLennans living in Regina, who presumed their John had come direct from Scotland, instead of being the first of his family born in Canada in 1851, with two generations behind him and five siblings left behind in Glengarry. They certainly didn't know the name had been changed.

Murdoch's descendants are especially interesting, including his aforementioned grandson, John McLennan (no relation). Known as John McLennan (By the Lake), he became president of the Montreal Board of Trade, vice-president of the Merchant Banks, and a director of other companies, as well as the Conservative M.P. for Glengarry from 1878 to 1882. He built many of the fine homes along the lake. Their own property became known as the “Ridgewood” estate, now made up of the campgrounds at Lancaster, the Ridgewood Church and a part of the 401 highway.

"The Anglican Church of St. John, the Evangelist, (Church in the Wildwood) held its first service on July 21, 1899. This church was erected on the McLennan (Ridgewood) property on the east front of Lancaster township by Mrs. John McLennan in memory of her husband. Though Anglicans in the area at the time were few in number and the church was almost a private chapel, population change in the next three quarters of a century brought more Anglicans to the community and the importance of St. John’s as a place of worship increased with time. There is a small cemetery beside the church."


I have yet to find more information about the church, but it’s a lovely little church off what used to be the highway (before they had constructed the 401), nestled between the woods and the campgrounds. When I first went to visit it last year, there was something sad about the fact that most of this once grand estate was made up of highway, cutting right between what would have been the space between the house and the shore. John's son Duncan sold what was left of it by the 1950s, when it was turned into highway and parkland.

Another relative, John Stewart McLennan, son of the MP's brother Hugh, moved to Chicago and married Louise Ruggles Bradley, the daughter of Frances and Sarah Bradley, eventually moving from Chicago IL to settle in Sydney NS. In 1899, J.S. developed plans for the construction of the estate that would be known as Petersfield, in Nova Scotia. In 1904, he purchased the Sydney Post and became its owner-publisher, amalgamating it in 1933 with its rival, the Sydney Record (a predecessor of today’s Cape Breton Post). In 1916, Prime Minister Borden appointed J.S. to the Canadian Senate. He was the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from McGill University, granted fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada and the Royal Historical Society of Canada, a member of the Boston Tavern Club (an association of people of accomplishment), and of the Champlain Society.

“Hugh McLennan, J.S.’s father, had been very involved in Montreal and this involvement led him to be interested in McGill University. An endowment to the university was funded by the McLennans and in 1969, the McLennan Library was built to house research books for graduate students. The library was named in honour of Isabella McLennan, daughter of Hugh, whose estate helped finance the library. Much earlier, in 1881, Hugh McLennan had given financial aid to McGill. in 1883, Hugh became a governor of the university. Hugh also financed the McLennan Traveling Library of Montreal in 1901. This library was the first of its kind in Canada.”

(from “McLennans of Petersfield”)

Unfortunately, the estate was considered a prime location for the military during the Second World War, but the Canadian government couldn't be bothered to keep it up.

"On her father’s death, the Petersfield estate passed to Katherine. It writes, of January 1941, that 'Katherine discovered that the federal government planned to expropriate Petersfield for use as a naval base [...] Katharine was forced to pack up all her belongings and abandon the estate. For a time, Petersfield was used as a residence for Royal Navy officers and a base for the Free French. After the war, Petersfield was of no further use to the government and the buildings were allowed to deteriorate to the point where they had to be destroyed. Even the oak tree was vandalized and had to be torn down. Katharine had moved her things into a house at 49 Whitney Avenue in Sydney. This would be her home until her death.'”

(from “McLennans of Petersfield”):

It would be, I think, extremely easy to write a book on the history of a few branches of the McLennans, and extremely interesting, given the amount of research I've already done. Far quieter are my branch, generations upon generations of farmers, cheese-makers and carpenters. Apart from the notice of land grant in 1845, the earliest entry I can find on my folk in Canada are in the 1851 census (considered the first complete census):

1851: Lancaster, Glengarry
(head of household) John McLennan (married), Scottish descent, 70 years old, born in Scotland, occupation farmer
2) Christianna McLennan (married), Scottish, 61 years old, born in Scotland
3) John McLennan, Scottish, 36 years old, born in Scotland, occupation carpenter
4) Roderick McLennan, Scottish, 34 years old, born in Scotland, occupation labourer
5) Mary McLennan, Scottish, 26 years old, born in Scotland, occupation spinster
6) Christianna McRae, Scottish, 9 years old, born in Glengarry (granddaughter of head of household)
(Log House)

It seems interesting to me that they're still in Lancaster, where they landed (my great-great grandfather, John, arrived with wife and six children; the last was born in Scotland in 1821), considering they took a land grant in Stormont County, on the "Indian lands" in 1845 (a two-mile swath from the St. Lawrence to the Ottawa, once considered Mohawk Territory; where my parents still live). (I don’t even want to get into the whole "spinster at 26" issue.) There was a rule at the time that if you hadn't cleared the land to live on, after a certain amount of time, you lost your land grant. I am presuming this is why my folk sold their land grant in 1860, and purchased the land right next to it, living there well into the 1900s (my great uncle Scott, childless, sold the land in 1954 and retired to Ottawa). Much earlier, my grandfather, not being the oldest, needed somewhere else than the homestead to live with his wife and small child, and re-purchased the original land in 1942, after moving twice, including a year they spent in a log cabin across the road from his parents and remaining siblings. Imagine: my father's family has been living on the same road for one hundred and fifty years. My sister and her family currently live in the log cabin, in the house where our father was born.

Anyone with related information on any McLennan/MacLennan lines throughout the two counties, drop me a line. I think I'd like to get this thing finished and published sometime before I die. Either through email (rob_mclennan (at) hotmail (dot) com) or post, at 858 Somerset Street West, main floor, Ottawa Ontario Canada K1R 6R7

related entry: McLennan, Alberta; a note on Stephen Brockwell’s Glengarry poems; Clare Latremouille & the moon
related links: MacLennan Family Genealogy Forum


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