Martha Urquhart’s Story

by Martha Urquhart

My family immigrated to Canada long before Canada was declared a country. In 1773, 189 people left Scotland on board the Hector, a cargo ship bound for Canada. My family was among those on board that ship. My family, as well as many other Highlanders, were driven off their lands in Scotland after the Battle of Culloden. They had no choice but to flee. Even though the Hector was well past its prime, it was better than staying and facing their fate in Scotland.

The passage from Scotland to Canada was to take four weeks. Instead, it took ten weeks. The food was gone, smallpox broke out, and the ship was falling apart. It was a miracle that anyone survived. But survive they did, only to reach Canadian shores just in time for a brutal winter. Another incredible hardship that my family had to endure. My family, along with the rest of the Highlanders, also had to learn English to thrive in this new home, named “New Scotland” (Nova Scotia).

My family built their lives around a tiny community called Truro. And that is where my dad grew up. When he was a young lad, he headed west – to Alberta where he met and married my mother (who grew up in Alberta on a farm in the Mayerthorpe area). Two of my siblings and myself were born right here in Edmonton, in the Edmonton General Hospital, just around the corner from NorQuest College!

The Canadian government has recognized the importance of that journey and has built a replica of the Hector, which is a floating museum in Pictou, Nova Scotia. And that journey, my family’s story, is – to me – what Canada is all about: a new land for people who need a welcoming home to live, a place where everyone can arrive and be safe, have the opportunity to thrive and create a better life for themselves and their loved ones, a land that offers hope when all hope appears lost.

You can read about the BBC documentary by British filmmaker, Neil Oliver, about the Hector: From Scotland to Nova Scotia, at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/bbc-film-hector-scotland-nova-scotia-1.4184218. Unfortunately, the BBC documentary is not available in Canada but you can see some clips from the documentary at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0532tv4.

The photo of the Hector that I have included with my story was taken from Wikipedia, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license: By Dennis Jarvis – Flickr: DGJ_4066 – The Hector, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16697572.


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