Inverness Miners' Museum
Inverness, Nova Scotia

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The Broken Ground: A History of a Cape Breton Coal Mining Community




Although many ships were making their way to Nova Scotia and St. John's Island in the latter part of the 18th century, it was not 1803 that the emigration movement reached the shores of Inverness.

In the year 1791, a young single schoolmaster, left the Isle of Canna on an adventure that would bring him to the shores of western Cape Breton. Another brother, Allan MacIsaac, emigrated to St. John's Island in 1772 with Captain John Macdonald of Glenaladale aboard the Brig Alexander. Many of the MacIsaac' worked the Glenaladale estate prior to embarking for a new homeland. Captain Macdonald received moral and financial backing from the Catholic Church to relocate and assist Catholic tenants from South Uist and the mainland to his 40,000 acre land holding in Prince Edward Island.

Angus MacIsaac had followed a different route. He arrived hi Pictou, travelled to Cape d'Or (Parrsboro) in Cumberland County and remained there for nine years. He then moved and lived in Antigonish for close to three years. The early years in Nova Scotia were challenging and he longed for a place that would remind him of his homeland. According to Annie (MacIsaac) Dixon (1991), a great-grand daughter of Angus, ...a very determined man hired a boat and surveyed the western coast of Cape Breton in search of available land that would remind him of home. His odyssey ended at a broad cove surrounded by numerous hills and a natural harbour. Drawing on his love of Celtic tradition and storytelling, Angus named the mystical mounds Sithean meaning a beautiful and peaceful place. The year was 1803 and the life of Angus MacIsaac had been transformed. He was married to Catherine (MacPherson) MacIsaac, had five children; Archibald, Donald, Roderick, Angus Og, and James and was in possession of 600 acres of land stretching from the Pond to the banks of Broad Cove.

It was time to clear the land and seek the guidance of the native population who were dispersed throughout the Island. This connection with the Mi'k maq proved invaluable during the early years. It was the difference between survival and death and the relationship flourished.

An important trait of Angus was his dedication to his religion and spiritual freedom. His spiritual roots were deep. In 1795, he had been installed as one of Nova Scotia's first catechists, under Provincial legislation that gave authority to the Governor to appoint lay clergy in communities where licensed clergymen were unavailable. A.A. Johnston, History of the Catholic Church in Eastern Nova Scotia, states that, Angus MacIsaac served as a catechist, responsible for administering, lay baptism, teaching catechism, and witnessing marriages. The MacIsaac legacy of service to the Church and State continued to future generations and was especially prominent in the family of Allan MacIsaac. Another clansman arrived north of the 'Big River'(Inverside) hi 1803. Donald MacIsaac from the Isle of Skye (no relation) received a large tract of land. His son, Alexander joined him, but soon left with his family to New Zealand. Another emigrant who arrived at the same time was Hector MacKinnon, who according to The Casket newspaper (Antigonish, February 19, 1891) "... came from the island of Eigg, Scotland and look up a large tract of land at the Big River of Broad Cove." (Adjacent to Donald MacIsaac)


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