“The Old Order Changeth”

The following article was written by Elizabeth Blair during the construction of the 417 highway in the early 1970’s.   It includes some local history information specific to Dunvegan and the Skye Road and Stewart’s Glen road areas.


The Ottawa-Montreal Highway No. 417 now under construction will pass through the north-west corner of Kenyon Township before swinging in a northerly direction to join the Quebec highway at Chute a Blondeau.  This will disrupt farms that have been settled for over one hundred and thirty years.  In some cases it may be necessary to relocate buildings, drainage may be drastically upset and there is the inconvenience of operating a farm bisected by expropriation of land.  These and other problems confront the farmers and they may wonder if the improvement in transportation will compensate for the changes.

Earliest Settlement

The western parts of the eighth and ninth concessions of Kenyon Township were the last sections of the county to be settled.  The area was remote from any town or village,   Martintown being the nearest place or any size for business purposes, and it was a day’s trip there and back on horseback.  Then to there were swamps and boggy land not easily drained.  As Crown land became scarcer this corner of the county also became populated mainly by emigrants from the Isle of Skye and Glenelg, opposite on the mainland of Scotland.  Before the coming of these people a few farms had been bought by the sons of earlier pioneers.  On the west side of the road leading north from Dunvegan, two brothers, Norman and Rory MacLeod from Lochiel, occupied Lot 25 in the 9th Concession, and on the east side of the road on Lot 24 was Malcolm McGillivray, said to have come from the “Front”.

Emigrants from Skye and Genelg

The emigrants from Scotland arrived in September 1832 after an ocean voyage of sixteen weeks.  They had paid their fare and provided food for themselves.  That winter they stayed with relatives or friends or in the houses in Lancaster provided for emigrants.  They located their farms through a land agent and moved onto them in 1833.  Some had come together on the boat “Fanny”.  They were, east of Malcolm McGillivray, Roderick Ban Chisholm, Jock McKenzie, Angus Campbell and Donald McKinnon.   West of the MacLeod brothers were Norman McDonald, John McPhee, the brothers Angus and John Cameron, Murdoch McRae, Murdoch McMillan and Alexander Stewart.  On the 8th Concession road west of the crossroads were David Urquhart, Malcolm (Calum Ban) MacLeod and his son John and on the east side Alexander Grant, Donald Dewar and Murdoch Campbell.  There were some who did not take up land, as they used to say, like Hector McLean and his brother Alex who had one of the first stores in Dunvegan and the first post office, also Robert Band who was a miller.  There may have been others who settled farther north in Caledonia Township.

Crown Patents

Before a Crown Patent could be obtained for a farm there were certain settlement duties to be conformed to.  These were changed every few years and those issued in 1830 placed emphasis on road clearing which was much needed, the roads in some places being not much better than trails through the woods.  The regulations were as follows: “The locale shall clear thoroughly the half of the road opposite to the front of his lot, by burning or totally removing the timer, wood and underwood of every kind therefrom.  He shall cut down the stumps for the space of ten feet from the centre of the road, so lo, that a wagon may easily pass over anything that stands within that space and he shall sow with grass seed the road so cleared.  On proof that this has been done and that some person has been constantly resident upon the lot for the space of two years, a patent may issue without other condition of settlement.”

This last settlement followed the same pattern as previous ones and soon log houses appeared in the little clearings dotted with stumps.  Life was primitive and harsh.  These people were accustomed to hardships and had been schooled in thrift and resourcefulness which they now put to good use.   To be able to acquire land of their own, something impossible in Scotland, would be a great incentive and there must have been a wonderful feeling of achievement in carving a home out of the forest.  Gradually land was cleared and farm animals, so necessary for food and clothing, purchased.  It would be a proud day for a farmer when he owned a team of horses and a wagon.

Dunvegan’s first School

Besides their homes they had two major concerns, education for their children and religion.  It is not known what year the first school was built.  It was a log structure erected by them and was located at the west side of the road, near the old factory lane to the south end of Norman MacLeod’s farm.  The desks and seats were made of planks, the text books few and slates and pencils used.  They were fortunate in having a qualified teacher, one who had come with them on the “Fanny”.  He was Alexander Stewart who had been educated in Scotland and had obtained the necessary qualifications for teaching.  He became the first teacher of School No. 3, Kenyon Township.

Dunvegan’s first church

Organizing a congregation and building a church was a more difficult matter.  Before they had a church building visiting ministers held services in the homes and in summer under the shade of a spreading elm tree on the farm of John Campbell, Lot 23 on the 9th concession road.  In 1838, the Rev. Daniel Clark became the first minister to be regularly connected with the church.  It was during his ministry that the first church was built.   In 1840 Norman MacLeod gave an acre of land on the south east corner of his farm as a site for the new church and a place to lay out a cemetery.   At the crossroads here the village of Dunvegan was taking shape.

The building was a log one and the men of the congregation contributed most of the labour.  To get the choicest cedar logs they went into the swamps to cut them down.  As horses or oxen would get mired in this wet ground they made ropes of twisted birch twigs and themselves pulled the timber to firmer ground where it was squared before being drawn to the building site.  The church was about forty feet by thirty feet.  It was never pained inside or out.  The cedar was beautiful wood and the minister’s pulpit and precentor’s desk were finely carved.

Kenyon Church’s first resident minister

The Rev. Adam McQueen was the first resident minister of the congregation being ordained and inducted on Dec. 5, 1858.  He spent sixteen years there and he and Mrs. McQueen are buried in the cemetery adjacent to the church.   She was Normanda MacLeod from Laggan and it is told that on the day of their marriage in 1859, Mrs. McQueen was driven to the MacLeod home by Alex McKenzie seated in a lumber wagon wearing top hat and tails.  It would have been more dignified for the minister to arrive at the home of the bride riding a horse but then she was to be brought back with belongings she had collected for her new home.  These would include a feather tick and pillows, woolen blankets, had-made quilts, cooking utensils and other items necessary for housekeeping in that day.

James R. McKenzie

In connection with the church there have been stories passed on of James R. McKenzie, always referred to as James R.  He had received a good education in Scotland and had knowledge of legal matters although not a lawyer.  He had a house on John Campbell’s farm near the 9th concession road.  Here he had a small store and was the postmaster for the Skye post office for a number of years.  He was Township Clerk, Clerk of the 12th Divisional Court, land appraiser and agent.  It may have been that he felt superior to the farm people on account of his education as we hear of his dominating and aggressive personality.  When he was ruling elder of the church even the minister was subject to his scrutiny and criticism.  He had a special seat in church, an armchair in front of the centre pews facing the pulpit.  If he disagreed or wished to question any part of the sermon he raised his hand for the minister to stop preaching while he discussed with him the subject in question.

Strict Rules

In those days a person could be summoned before session for misconduct.  Some of its members considered dancing a great evil and condemned the practice whenever they heard of it.  One time it came to the ears of the session that there had been dancing at the home of widow McCuaig at a party given for her son who had been home on a visit.  She was called before the session for questioning and when asked if there had been dancing at the party she replied that there had been and added, “When he comes home next year we will do the same thing”, and swept disdainfully from their presence.

Feuds and Prejudices

The feuds and prejudices of the old land had to be submerged in the struggle for existence in the new.  A few lingered on for two or three generations.  One of these was the superior attitude of the Glenelg emigrants to those who came from the Isle of Skye, going so far that marriage between the two groups was frowned upon.  In1861, when it was decided to build a manse for the minister, the two men appointed to purchase the land happened to by Skye men.  There were offered twelve acres of land near the church for a manse and glebe by Malcolm McGillivray.  This they refused as he was a mainlander.  They bought from Donald Campbell, the next farm east, even though the land was further from the church and at that time somewhat boggy, for he was a “Skianac”, a Skye man.  The manse built then is now a private home.

As families grew up they had to leave home and make a way of life for themselves.  The oldest son usually inherited the farm and had the responsibility or caring for his parents in their old age.  The young women went to Montreal, Boston, and even New York, to work as maids and cooks in the homes of the wealthy.  Some of the men learned trades as apprentices to blacksmiths and carriage makers.  Many went lumbering up and down the Ottawa River and in the Michigan woods.  The lure of gold took some to California and the west coast of Canada.  John Chisholm, grandson of Roderick Ban Chisholm, Lot 21,9th Concession, was one of the discoverers of the Cariboo gold mines of British Columbia.  He struck it rich and was returning to Glengarry on what was known as the gold ship, the S.S. Pacific, when she collided with another vessel in Vancouver Bay, capsized and all aboard were lost except one man.

Homesteads and Landmarks disrupted by the 417

The cloverleaf or overpass on Highway 417 constructed one mile north of Dunvegan will likely obliterate the oldest landmark of the community.  When the people first met for church service under the elm tree on John Campbell’s farm they thought the location a good one for a church and a small cemetery was laid out.  It was used between the years 1835 and 1842.  The stone wall built around it was sold some years ago for road building.  There would not have been many burials as there few old people at that time.  The graves had no markers and were outlined with small stones.  These burials were later exhumed and reinterred in other cemeteries.  One was that of Roderick Campbell, aged 27 years, who was drowned in May 1841 while driving logs in the Long Soult Rapids.  His remains were moved to the present cemetery along with those of his mother and a brother in 1898.  He left a wife and two small children.  One burial, for very obvious reasons, remained in the little cemetery, that of Ranald Campbell who died of smallpox.  He lived west of Baltic’s Corners, Lot 26 in the 7th concession.  He left a wife and three young children.  This may have been looked upon as a hallowed spot as it was never cultivated.

Another landmark a short distance east of here, on lot 19, is the McQueen home.  This is a spacious comfortable log house built by Alexander Matheson.  He came from the Isle of Skye in 1852 and bought the farm from the original owner, Angus Campbell.  Years later the McQueen’s bought the farm from the Matheson’s and the house has been continuously lived in by these two families.  The proposed route of the highway lies south of the farm buildings.  The McPhees of Lot 28, west of the Dunvegan road, may not be so fortunate.  The highway may come so close to their buildings that living there would be impossible.  The fate of Bonnie Hill in that area is still undecided.  It is an elevation of 275 feet from which there is a fine view north.  It may be carved and pared down and no longer be bonnie.  Through time the names Stewarts’ Glen and Skye will gradually fall into disuse, locations being referred to in relation to the highway.   An expressway with heavy traffic between to major cities to bound to bring changes to the communities through which it passes.

Many changes have taken place since 1833.  Farming methods of today are vastly different than those or the scythe and flail.  Pioneers would be amazed to see their grandsons haying with a tractor and baler, and harvesting in the field with a combine.  The women folk could not expected to understand why their great granddaughters never bake a loaf of bread or churn a pound of butter or why the spinning wheel, if there is still one about, as not more use than to be a conversation piece in the Livingroom.

It is difficult to foresee the changes of the future in this fast moving mechanized age.  They will not evolve gradually as in the past.  The new highway will bring sudden and drastic changes which, it is hoped, will be beneficial to the community as a whole, although it means disturbing the roots of some old established homes.


“The old order changeth, yielding place to new.

And God Fulfills himself in many ways.

Lest on good custom should corrupt the world”

“Morte D’arthur”, by Tennyson


Elizabeth Blair

Kenyon Presbyterian Church, Dunvegan Ontario –  Est. 1840