Parks Canada

Parks Canada

November 26, 2012 09:30 ET

Harper Government Designates Captain John MacDonald of Glenaladale as National Historic Person

CARDIGAN, PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND--(Marketwire - Nov. 26, 2012) - On behalf of the Honourable Peter Kent, Canada's Environment Minister and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, the Honourable Gail Shea, Minister of National Revenue, today designated John MacDonald of Glenaladale as a national historic person for his important contribution to early Canadian settlement.

"The exceptional written record Captain MacDonald left behind - his memoirs, letters and petitions - have proven invaluable in understanding this early period of our history," said Minister Shea.

John MacDonald, a Scottish noble, played a lead role in encouraging Scottish settlement of Prince Edward Island and left exceptional written records of this early period in the history of the province.

"The arrival of the first Scottish setters, and their establishment in Prince Edward Island, their struggles to survive and challenges from landlords to colonial practices are fascinating chapters of our country's early pioneering history," said Minister Kent.

The new designation will be included in Canada's system of national historic sites, persons and events, on the recommendation of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada was established in 1919 and is supported by Parks Canada. It advises the Minister of the Environment regarding the national historic significance of places, persons and events that have marked Canada's history. On behalf of the people of Canada, Parks Canada manages a nationwide network of National Historic Sites that makes up a rich tapestry of Canada's historical heritage and offers the public opportunities for real and inspiring discoveries.

For additional information, please see the accompanying backgrounder at under Media Room.



Born in 1742 at Glenaladale in Scotland, John MacDonald received his education in Rathisbon, Germany, at a college operated by the Benedictine monks of St. James Abbey. He learned to write and speak seven languages and was considered "one of the most finished gentlemen and perfect scholars in his part of the country." He returned to Scotland around the time of his father's death in 1761 and two years later he became the Eighth Laird of Glenaladale and Glenfinnan.

In the years and decades following the Battle of Culloden, major economic change came to the Highlands and John MacDonald, like many, began looking to emigrate. He reached an arrangement with leaders of the Scottish Catholic Church whereby he would take the lead in convincing Highlanders, mostly from Clan MacDonald lands, to emigrate to Prince Edward Island (then called St. John's Island), while the Church secured the funds for those unable to pay passage. MacDonald was then responsible for recruiting, transporting, and providing the necessities of settlement for the largest number of settlers to arrive in Prince Edward Island in its early years as a British colony. His 214 settlers sailed from Scotland in 1772 and were the first group of Catholic Scottish Highlanders to emigrate to Prince Edward Island. They took up residence on MacDonald's lot, 20,000 acres on the east side of Tracadie Bay. MacDonald provided supplies and implements for their first year until the settlers began to harvest their own crops. Several years later, in 1775, MacDonald was awarded his commission as a captain in the Royal Highland Emigrants at the outbreak of the American War of Independence.

His tenure as a proprietor, or landowner, is a remarkable example of the struggles at this time between the landowning class and the Island's colonial authorities. The proprietors owned large plots of land, rented it to their settlers, and forwarded the proceeds to the colony's treasury to pay for its administration. However, few proprietors, including MacDonald, could afford to pay their yearly assessments, called quitrents, and most owed large sums of money. These quitrents were to pay salaries for the Island's governor, Walter Patterson, and other administrators, and without them, these authorities received a fraction of their salary and moved to seize lands in lieu of money owed.

MacDonald fought his battles with Patterson and his clique through printed works, correspondence and personal meetings with authorities in England. He spent several years in London pressing his case, and finally received relief of the charges against him. While MacDonald was away, his sister Nelly managed his household and lands. In the end, John MacDonald's memorials, petitions, and letters dating from the arrival of the first Highland Scottish settlers in 1772 to his death in 1810 are an exceptional written record of Prince Edward Island's history.

Contact Information

  • Adam Sweet
    Press Secretary
    Office of the Minister of the Environment

    Media Relations
    Parks Canada