User Tools

Site Tools


Carrie Holmes MacGillivray

Sue Harrington

It was a lucky day for Glengarry, when the late Evelyn Theakston van Beek and her husband George, decided to take a Sunday afternoon drive in the country on July 11, 1965. Heading east along the Raisin River toward Williamstown, they made their acquaintance with a large house, well placed on a terrace with lawns and trees to set it off.
“Now there's MY idea of a house,” Evelyn said to George, who knew of her life-long dream to live in a big house. As luck would have it, the house was for sale. This was the beginning of Mrs. van Beek's love affair with Dalcrombie, home the historic MacGillivray family. After buying the house, which the van Beek's renamed Avonbloem, Evelyn began the hunt for information that culminated in her writing a book about the MacGillivrays of Dalcrombie.
Carefully sifting through archival materials, writing letters to newspaper editors, contacting friends of friends of friends, Mrs. van Beek discovered missing links, unravelled genealogical mysteries, and brought a colourful and talented family to the attention of history lovers.
A copy of her work was placed in the Williamstown Library's Local History Collection, and two large scrapbooks containing photos, memorabilia and letters which she had amassed in her studies of the MacGillivrays, are located in the Glengarry The Archives in the Sir John Johnson Manor House.
The late Mrs. van Beek left Glengarry more than just the legacy of her work, however. It was announced in the fall of 2003 that she had bequeathed $125,000 to the Glengarry Historical Society. Her interest in Dalcrombie and the resulting information she gathered about the fascinating MacGillivray family had ignited in her a love of Glengarry history. Of the MacGillivrays of Dalcrombie, this is what she discovered.

The story begins, as with so many other families in Glengarry, in Scotland. Familiar terms - Culloden, British landowners, the New World, the fur trade, adventure - combined to create in John McGillivray, as in countless other young men of the time, the desire to sail across the Atlantic.
McGillivray came over in the late 1790s, and promptly joined the North West Company. Several of his “distant cousins” were already prominent in the fur trading company, and one of them, the Hon. William MacGillivray, later became its head. John became a wintering partner in 1801, and five years later was in charge of the company in the Athabasca District of northern Saskatchewan.
In 1818, having accumulated some wealth, and having had an unwarranted brush with the law, John decided to retire. And like so many other NorWesters, he chose the Williamstown area. He selected a site on the Raisin River mid-way between Williamstown and Martintown now known in his honour as MacGillivray's Bridge - and there he built Dalcrombie, named after his ancestral home in Scotland.
The North West Company partners acted similarily by marrying aboriginal women. These women helped the fur- traders to survive in the long winters of the West, caring for, and “comforting,” their husbands.
From this union, McGillivray had four children, although just who they all were is not known. His son, William, followed in his footsteps in the North West Company, but was drowned in Stuart Lake, B.C., in 1832. His daughter, Elizabeth, married Colin Campbell, also an employee of the North West Company. Elizabeth and Colin had five sons and nine daughters, and some of you reading this may be descended from their offspring.
The other two children from John's marriage to the “perfect” Indian woman (as she was described by Governor Simpson) are not known. Local legend has it that after John settled down at Dalcrombie and was married to Isabella, the daughter of the Hon. Neil Mclean, the following event took place.

Carrie Holmes MacGillivray “One winter in a wild storm, there was a knock at the door. Isabella opened it and there stood an Indian woman with two small boys. She had come from the far Northwest, all the way to Glengarry, to claim their rights for the two boys.” So wrote Rhodes Grant of Martintown, who said he had been told the story by his grandmother, Janet Munro, who was raised on the farm adjacent to the MacGillivrays.
The visitors were taken in, and when spring came, the woman set out again for the West. John and Isabella kept the two boys. One died in childhood, while the other appears to have survived.
According to Mrs. van Beek, “Some people have cast doubt on this story, but when Mr. Ian Henderson of Williamstown was reading it in the trial draft of this history, there immediately flashed into his mind something his aunt had told him when he was a very little boy, namely that she had SEEN the Indian son of John McGillivray as a clerk in Vankleek Hill, Ont.”
Certainly there must be some truth to the story of an Indian woman following her husband back to the East. Tales of such happenings have swirled around the countryside for years, and have even been fictionalized in Grace Campbell's novel, The Thorn Apple Tree.
It seems as though John McGillivray produced his children in lots of four. He and Isabella had four daughters in a row between 1819 and 1826, but oddly, they all died. They then had four sons in the next decade, and they all lived.
John McGillivray held many important titles during his time in Williamstown, among them Commissioner of Crown Lands, member of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada (giving him the right to use Hon. in front of his name), and Justice of the Peace - but there was one title he had to return to Scotland to try to retrieve.
In 1852, at the age of more than 75 years, he sailed across the sea whence he had come, to claim the title of Chief of the MacGillivary Clan. But legal ramblings took their time, and John, feeling in ill health, returned to Williamstown without settling the matter. He died in 1855.
The eldest of his four sons with Isabella, Neil John, then took up the quest to be leader of the clan' Unfortunately, he encountered some difficulties in proving he was who he said he was. In the records of St. Andrew's United Church in Williamstown, there is mention of the baptism of some of John and Isabella's children, but there is no Neil John.

As Mrs. van Beek wrote, “This seemed puzzling until in an affidavit written by the Rev. Hugh Urquhart of St. John's Presbyterian Church in Cornwall in 1857, the information came to light that Rev. Mr. McKenzie of Williamstown had been somewhat remiss in the keeping of the ministerial registry of baptisms…”
Armed with this affidavit and another one from his uncle, Alexander Mclean, Neil John became the Chief of the MacGillivary Clan and was able to claim his rights to the Scottish estates.
Despite becoming chief in 1858, Neil John ruled the clan for many years from his home just west of Dalcrombie. He and his wife, the former Catherine Macdonell (a niece of the Bishop Macdonell, the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Kingston), had four children, all of whom were baptized in St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church (now United) in Martintown.
In 1870, the family left Glengarry and relocated to Montreal. After “commuting” many times to Scotland to look after his clan duties, Neii John and Catherine and family finally made the move back to Scotland in 1880.
Just six years later, Neil John died suddenly, but his character legacy was a good one, He was regarded as a “kind and benevolent chief' by his clansmen, who filled the church to overflowing at his funeral.
He was succeeded as chief by his son, John William MacGillivray, but by then the family's finances were in decline. In 1890, all the Scottish estates were sold off, ending a four-century MacGillivray connection. The new chief, having a title but no lands, set off roaming about the world, living for periods in British North Borneo, Hong Kong and India. He died, without issue, in a London workhouse in 1914. His brother, Angus, who had predeceased him, also is said to have died in indigent circumstances.
The chief's title then passed to John Farquhar MacGillivray, a cousin of John William. John Farquhar was the son of Neil John's brother, Farquhar, who became a barrister and later worked as Clerk of Routine and Records in the Canadian House of Commons.

The younger Farquhar was born in Ottawa but lived in Kenora and later Toronto. He was also a lawyer, a K.C., in fact, and became Taxation Master at Osgoode Hall.
Although married, Farquhar, the 14th Chief of the MacGillivray Clan, had no family. His three brothers had died before him and with his death in 1942, the long line of MacGillivray chiefs ended.
Isabella and John McGillivray's third son, William, had gone to the United States as a young man. Not much was known about his family until Mrs. van Beek, through her diligence, managed to track it down in California. The last of William's family had also died out.
So who was left at Dalcrombie near Williamstown? The fourth and youngest son of John McGillivray and Isabella Mclean was George Hopper MacGillivray. Except for a brief period, George Hopper stayed home on the farm. He married Caroline Metcalf Holmes of Montreal in 1870, but the union was short lived. Mrs. MacGillivray died the following year in childbirth.
The baby survived, however, and was named Carrie Holmes MacGillivray. And although she was the last MacGillivray resident of Dalcrombie, she was a memorable one.
Carrie, who was nicknamed “Birdie” by her father, lived with him at Dalcrombie until his death in 1912 George Hopper MacGillivray was a big man in the Williamstown-Martintown area, big in physical stature as well as in the esteem of his friends and neighbours. He served as the Reeve of Charlottenburgh Township in 1879, and was also its clerk for many years. George provided a universal ear for the problems of the residents, shelling out advice when asked.
“George was regarded as one of the most knowledgeable men of the area on its history,” said Mrs. van Beek, who, when writing her history of the MacGillivray family in the 197Os, spoke to many locals who remembered him.
Carrie Holmes attended the MacGillivray's Bridge School as a young girl, but also spent time at a boarding school in Ottawa.

She returned to Dalcrombie and graduated from Williamstown High School in 1890, winning the gold medal. She was an artistic lady, painting in water colours, and also received some musical training. She attended a finishing school upon graduation and travelled abroad with her father, taking in Scotland, where the MacGillivray estates had just been surrendered. In fact, she was, by all accounts, an accomplished, attractive young lady.
But things were not easy for Carrie. Sometime during the 1890s, she fell in love with the principal of Williamstown High School, Wynn Williams. Wynn was an Englishman and a graduate of Cambridge University. The two were well suited; they courted and became engaged. Unfortunately, before they had the opportunity to be married, Mr. Williams died suddenly of apoplexy while on a hunting trip, according to an obituary found in the scrapbooks at the Manor House.
Carrie Holmes MacGillivray never married. Following the death of her father, she sold Dalcrombie and its contents, and moved to Toronto, where she worked in the Ontario Archives.
“This employment gave her an excellent opportunity to study historical records of the West, which she later used in the writing of a novel,” observed Mrs. van Beek.
Carrie wrote two books. One is the well-known local novel, The Shadow of Tradition; the other is The Prairie Star a Saga of the Western Plains. The latter book was never published, but two editions of The Shadow of Tradition have found their way to the library shelves of countless Glengarrians. A new edition of this book was recently published by Optimum Publishing of Maxville.
When Carrie Holmes MacGillivray died in 1949, she requested that no stone be erected on her grave. She believed that the brass plaque she had placed in St. Andrew's Church in memory of her late father some years before was sufficient recognition of the family. Instead she left money to Queen's University to provide the George Hopper MacGillivray Scholarship, open to high school graduates in SD&G.
So ended the line of the MacGillivrays of Dalcrombie. And their names might have been forgotten if not for the efforts of Evelyn van Beek. Visiting the St. Andrew's Church cemetery one day to find the MacGillivray plot, she was astounded to discover that there were no markers of any description on their graves. John the fur-trader, George the civic leader, and Carrie the writer, all were likely to fade into oblivion.

In 1972, a recognition ceremony was held, and a granite marker showing the burial place of the MacGillivrays lain. Evelyn Theakston van Beek was the party responsible.

This article first appeared in the Glengarry News, the weekly newspaper serving Alexandria and surrounding area. Sue Harrington is a popular columnist for the News and a very active member of her community of Williamstown.

carrie_holmes_macgillivray.txt · Last modified: 2021/11/30 14:42 by johnwoodrow