Musical dramatizes period of Highland evictions

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Strathglass Farewell tells story of immigrants that spread all across Nova Scotia

Strathglass Farewell, the second in a trilogy of Highland Clearances dramatic musical concerts, will be staged at the deCoste Centre in Pictou July 27.

The Society for the Ships of 1801 has announced the show is well into the planning stage as the songs are written, the story scripted and rehearsals began early in May. Like last year’s Ships of 1801, Strathglass Farewell will be performed in Pictou, Antigonish and Mabou with the first show held in conjunction with the Antigonish Highland Games.

Producer Duncan MacDonald said the story extends beyond the three counties.

“We know immigrants fanned out in many directions from Pictou. Some likely went up the shore toward Tatamagouche and on to Cumberland County, looking for land to farm or work to do for pay. In succeeding generations the people of the highlands spread out across Nova Scotia and far beyond,” he said.

Strathglass Farewell covers the period of 1801 to 1810, during which as many as 27 ships arrived in Pictou harbor with thousands of immigrants from the highlands.

A variety of factors counted in the large-scale emigration from the highlands, but Strathglass Farewell focuses on eviction, particularly the evictions carried out by Clan Chisholm against those with that surname and their associates.

“In 1793, Alexander the 23rd chief of the Chisholm clan died and left much of his estate to his brother, William. William married an ambitious woman, Elizabeth MacDonell of Glengarry. It was said she was the people’s nemesis, responsible for much of their misery, for their emigration and for those who didn’t survive the turmoil,” MacDonald said.

Chisholms, Frasers, Grants, MacRaes and MacIntoshes were among those targeted for removal and given notice.

“Often they were hustled from their ancient lands on the very day Chief William Chisholm sent word their lease wouldn’t be renewed. Some of these farming families were offered small plots of land on the worst soil, while others were told to go south to the cities or emigrate. Many of them emigrated between 1801 and 1810 and most emigrants boarded ships for Pictou,” MacDonald said.

While the theatrical concert will be based on historical facts, the script and songs are interpretations of a traumatic period in the history of the highlands.  

“Based on the research we’ve done, we’re interpreting what we believe the people would be saying or doing. The song writers, poets, dancers and musicians have created works that both enhance this story and showcase individual talents,” MacDonald said.

The cast for this year’s show includes Sheumais MacLeod, Kim Wempe, Lewis MacDonald, Diane MacNeil, Lisa Colton, Abi MacDonald, Spyder MacDonald, Peter Rawding, Frank Beaton, Brian MacDonald, Katie Jamieson, Carol Anne MacKenzie, Rob Wolf, Jim Ralph, Bill Murphy, Heather MacIsaac Gillis and Terry MacIntyre.

“We’ll also be adding some young performers once we get underway,” MacDonald said.

Poets and songwriters include Peter Mackenzie, Alistair MacDonald, Hugh Macdonald, Joyce Rankin and Rosalie MacEachern.

 This concert is a MacDonald-Wolf production with direction by Rob Wolf and Carmel Mikol returning as stage manager. The show will open on July 12 during the Antigonish Highland Games, move on to Strathspey Place in Mabou July 24 and then to the deCoste.

Organizations: Society for the Ships

Geographic location: Pictou, Mabou, Tatamagouche Cumberland County Nova Scotia

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