After we hopped on the ferry to leave the beautiful shores of PEI, we landed in Pictou, Nova Scotia, a place where many Scottish immigrants also landed by boat in 1773. Pictou is now known as the “Birthplace of New Scotland.”
The old Hector carried 189 Scottish immigrants who had recently been displaced from their ancestral land due to the Scotland Highland Clearances. Land owning investors, wanting to settle the Pictou area, enticed these land-less folks with a free passage across the Atlantic, 1 year of free provisions, and a farm.
The voyage across the Atlantic was a tough one. It took two weeks longer than the anticipated eleven because of adverse weather conditions. The accommodations were poor, food was scarce, and disease rampant, causing the deaths of eighteen children during the voyage. Those aboard the Hector did not arrive to the idyllic farms that had been promised; rather, they arrived to dense forest, and had to quickly clear land, build shelters, and sort out winter survival strategies in a totally foreign environment.
On the waterfront in Pictou, there is a fantastic museum that depicts the life of the early settlers. They’ve also created a replica of the Hector, the ship that brought the first Scots over. The original Hector was built in the Netherlands in the 1700’s, and the replica was built in harmony with the ship building methods of that time. It was completed and lowered into the harbor on September 16, 2000, the 227th anniversary of the ship’s arrival in Pictou County.
We watched a short video about the raising of the Hector replica, which was surprisingly emotional. The town gathered to watch the boat launch during the Hector Festival, a celebration of the region’s Scottish heritage. Because of the shape of the antique-style boat, and the ramp method they had to use to lower the vessel, there was a significant risk of the ship toppling over into the water. Thankfully, the video depicted the successful launch, and the strong emotions felt by the town. Already knowing the outcome, I still found myself holding my breath during the video.
We got to poke around on the replica ship, and view the sleeping quarters. One bed was allotted per family, and the beds are stacked 4-5 high; it’s easy to see how disease spread quickly.
Few things speak to Scottish heritage as well as shortbread, so we finished our sunny afternoon in Pictou with tea and this buttery treat at Mrs. MacGregor’s Tea Room.
This little café and shop are run by Helen Buchan and her husband Hollis Corbin. Helen makes shortbread using a recipe that has been passed down through her family; it was recently praised as Canada’s best shortbread by Canadian Living magazine.
We raised our tea to everyone who knows what it means to survive on a harsh Canadian landscape, and were thankful that our crossing from PEI was as easy as it was.
Ship and shortbread junkies, Pictou is your place.