With 40 per cent of Prince Edward Island’s population being of Scottish origin, a great many can trace their arrival roots back 240 years ago to Lot 36 in the Tracadie Bay area.
One historic 529-acre piece of allotted land still original to that settlement time is Glenaladale Estate, once the home of army officer and colonizer Capt. John MacDonald who brought with him in 1772 the Scottish ancestors of many Islanders today.
Now that property and its impressive 19th-century house are up for sale and the Prince Edward Island Scottish Settlers Historical Society Inc. (PEISSHS) is putting the wheels in motion for the Save Glenaladale Estate campaign to preserve this piece of Island history.
“It’s a very important part of P.E.I.’s heritage,” says Aggi-Rose Reddin, who is spearheading the campaign with Mary Gallant, a fellow member of the PEISSHS, which has been active since the late 1960s in preserving Scottish culture and heritage on the Island.
In 1772 Capt. MacDonald, who was the laird of Glenaladale and Glenfinnan in Scotland, brought with him a bonny lot of 210 Scottish Roman Catholic settlers to the 20,000-acre parcel of land he’d purchased on what was then known as St. John’s Island.
“They were one of the earliest Scottish groups to come to the Island,” Reddin says.
“Some of them came out as servants for four years. Some came out agreeing to lease the land from Captain John for a number of years. . . ,” Gallant says.
The descendants of the Glenaladale settlers spread far and wide across the province and throughout North America.
“He was one of the landlords who took his mandate and settled the property. A lot of them had the lots but they didn’t bring the people. He brought the people,” Reddin says.
“The person who ended up running this estate was his sister, Nellie (MacDonald). So we have an early feminist story here (as well).”
The Glenaladale land holding is thought to be the last of the intact properties of the early landlords.
“Most of them are chopped up and this one is one. It’s the full 529 acres that he had for his personal estate,” Reddin says.
The stately brick house on the Glenaladale property is the third home that was built on the land.
“The original log cabin was down by the water (Tracadie Bay) and we’d love to see an archeological dig down there someday,” Gallant says.
The house that exists today was built in 1883-1884 by Capt. MacDonald’s grandson Sir William C. MacDonald for his brother John MacDonald.
In 1905 the estate was purchased from the MacDonald family by the McKinnon family, who in the 1930s operated it as a lodge.
It was used as the family home after that.
“When we heard it was for sale we picked up the phone and arranged to come out and see it. We did go through and we were amazed at how structurally sound it was. It’s well built,” Gallant says of the house, which has three bedrooms on the third level that were the servants’ quarters and seven bedrooms on the second floor.
On the main level there are five rooms: the kitchen, pantry, parlor, dining room and sitting room, as well as a large foyer.
The purchase price has yet to be determined but it’s most likely to be a seven-figure sale.
The society is considering contacting the descendants of the Glenaladale settlers for support, as well as corporations for donations or sponsorship.
They also hope to apply for funding through government agencies and private foundations.
Once purchased the house would have to be restored and subsequently used as base for an as yet undetermined enterprise.
One possibility could be an ecological centre, because the design elements that were used in the house were quite environmentally forward for its time.
“There is also the idea of an academic research centre and possibly a partial partnership with a university either here or MacDonald College at McGill (University), which was founded by Sir William Christopher MacDonald (who built the house in 1883/84),” Reddin adds.
“It’s got to be something that is of significant use. We want it to be sustainable and vibrant and it helps it to become a go-to place for whatever purpose it ends up being used for. But it also stands as an active living memorial to recognize the Scottish-ness of Prince Edward Island.”
Although acquiring the property is a major undertaking the PEISSHS recognizes that this is a one-time-only opportunity to preserve this intact piece of the Island’s history before it’s gone for good.
“We’ve got 40 per cent of the population of P.E.I. that identify themselves as having Scottish heritage. We are the most Scottish province in Canada. We tend to take our Scottish heritage for granted,” Reddin says.
“We’ve spoke with representatives from other groups and we said it’s time that we started to do something about that. So we see this has the potential for some sort of a project that celebrates our Scottish-ness on P.E.I. for everybody that has Scottish heritage, not just the Glenaladale (settlers’ ancestors).”