The Culloden Story

Eye on History

Published on November 4, 2007

Glen Hancock

Many of the important battles of history – Ypres in Belgium in 1915 where 6,000 soldiers died; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1863, where almost 50,000 soldiers died; and Custer’s last stand at Little Big Horn in Montana in 1876, were fought in grain fields and meadows.

At Culloden, a piece of Scottish moorland near Inverness, a thousand Scottish patriots were slaughtered by the British in 1746.

I visited Culloden one time and was appalled that so many had fallen in hand-to-hand combat on what appeared to be little more than an over-sized playing field.

There is a cenotaph there telling the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s overthrow. It had an iron grating around it to prevent tourists from chipping off stones for souvenirs, but I was overwhelmed by a grabbing sense of history.

In quite another part of the world there is another Culloden, on the southwest shore of the Bay of Fundy. It is a little hamlet few people have ever heard of which author Irma Walker tells about in her book A Culloden Chronicle.

The history of Canada cannot be considered apart from the Cullodens of rural backwaters of the past, and Irma Walker knows that. She writes not only about the Digby County community, which never had more than 50 or 60 homes, but also about the times in which Loyalists settled Culloden in the 1780s.

It is an intriguing story about a little community that time has passed by, but the narrative is so interwoven with the heritage of Canada itself that it reads like a novel, albeit with a larger cast than most novels have. It is a book that should be read by schoolchildren so they would know about the people who came here first.

Walker is German-born. She emigrated to Canada in 1953 and married a Loyalist from the United States. For several decades she and her family have spent their summers in Culloden. As an historic preservationist, she has spent 15 years researching her subject, which is a delightful, professionally presented history. Walker is especially grateful to a native Cullodener, Gerald Handspiker, who was her living link with Culloden’s past. He died at 97 in 2005.

Loyalists were first to populate the area of Culloden and there is a record of a ‘fulling mill’, used to produce a course yarn from sheep wool, as early as 1799. The hamlet was once known as Broad Cove, but in 1859 a steamship named Culloden was wrecked on that Bay of Fundy shore and the name was changed to commemorate it.

Residents were farmers and fishermen, and children worked early in these occupations, so a schoolhouse did not appear until 1840, a church (Baptist) not until 1884.

But no matter, Culloden played a full part in building a basis for the nation that would follow. A Culloden Chronicle tells the whole story about Irish and Scottish settlers arriving in the 1780s; about their living in isolation from the mainstream.

Times were tought, and after a while young people drained off to the Boston States, but most stayed to barter with other communities from the bounties of the sea and the produce laboriously gained from the rocky soil. They made a life for themselves, hooking rugs from yarn unraveled from old sweaters, making quilts and homespuns, and suffering from the loss of their men in the cruel sea.

Walker builds her interesting story of Culloden not only from old scrapbooks, diaries and letters, and church records, but on a heritage display of artifacts at the Admiral Digby Museum in the summer of 2005. It presented 175 historic relics, 300 photographs gathered from barns and attics, and other mementos, including a timber from the ill-fated ship Culloden.

A reference is made from a book by Esther Clark Wright, a professor at Acadia, concerning one Major Lord Edward Fitzgerald, who, having passed through Culloden and environs was moved to exalt, “Any man that will work is sure in a few years to have a comfortable farm; the first 18 months is the only hard time, and that in most places, particularly near the rivers, for in every one of them a man will catch enough in a day to feed him for a year. In the winter, with very little trouble, he supplies himself by killing moose-deer, and in the summer with pigeons. These he must subsist on till he has clearance enough to raise a little grain. By selling moose-skins, making sugar out of maple trees and by a few days work for other people…he soon acquires enough to purchase a cow.” But Fitzgerald was only passing through.

Settlers had trouble receiving promised land grants and supplies from the red tape of bureaucratic ineptness. And the summer of 1784, for instance, was so dry that mills could not run. In 1786, there was a severe drought causing forest fires. The following winter was severe. A small pox epidemic broke out in ’88. The harshness killed the winter grain and in 1791 there was a blight and crops failed.

Even so, life was bearable, if you didn’t make comparisons.

With only a slight interest in history, one can find Culloden Chronicle a rewarding experience.

Copies may be obtained by writing Irma Walker, 135 Culloden Wharf Road, Route 3, Digby, N.S. BOV 1AO.