A Plaque at the Castle by D. Macdonell MacDonald

By the drawbridge of Edinburgh Castle there is a bronze plaque, a link between Scotland and Nova Scotia, which has special associations with our Clan. It is a memorial which commemorates the first great Scotsman to work for the settlement and development of Canada, Sir William Alexander, Earl of Stirling, whose family was a branch of the MacAlisters of Loup. It recalls the Order of Knight Baronets of Nova Scotia: one of the first to be created being Sir Donald Gorme Macdonald of Sleat.

It was unveiled by Angus L. Macdonald, Premier of Nova Scotia, whose grandparents emigrated to the Royal Province from Inverness over 100 years ago. He was the direct male descendant of Ranald Og of Kinlochmoidart, who was the first to draw his sword for the Prince in 1745 when he saw his brother Donald and young Clanranald hesitate.

Appropriately the unveiling ceremony in October 1953 was very much a Clan Donald occasion. Sir Somerled Macdonald of Sleat, Premier Baronet of the Order, was one of the distinguished gathering on the platform, and many members of the Clan Donald Societies were among the spectators on the Esplanade who watched as the kilted Premier, with an escort of stalwart Macdonalds, marched across the drawbridge to his place on the dais.

It was an occasion for some pride on our part not only for things of the past but also of the present, for this member of the Clan had earned for himself a place of honour in the story of the Dominion.

Mr Macdonald became Premier in 1933 at the age of 43 and as Minister for the Royal Canadian Navy in 1940-41 he was responsible for organising the expansion of the R.C.N. from a few ships to nearly 500. He died soon after this visit to Scotland.

Nova Scotia, Mr Macdonald recalled, was the dream of Sir William Alexander. It was his belief that as there were already a New France, a New Spain and a New England there should also be a new Scotland. In September 1621 he and his heirs received a grant from King James of territory between the Rivers St Croix and St Lawrence.

This territory comprised what are now known as the Maritime Provinces of Canada and the Peninsula of Gaspe – now part of the Province of Quebec. In the words of the Grant, it was “Incorporated into one entire and free Lordship and Barony, to enjoy the name of Nova Scotia in all time to come.”

The first expedition to the territory was unsuccessful, but a second ship was sent out and brought back favourable reports on its natural beauty and resources. The King then wrote to his Privy Council that he proposed to make the project “a work of his own.”

On November 30, 1624, a Proclamation was issued which stated that one hundred Knight Baronets were to be created. They were to have precedence before all ordinary Knights. Their baronies were to consist of 30,000 acres. In return each Knight Baronet would be required to set forth six men, “artificers or labourers, armed, apparelled and victualled for two years,” and pay Sir William Alexander 1,000 merks for discovering the country. Later they were given the option of paying 2,000 merks instead of furnishing six men.

The King did not live to see his scheme carried out. It fell to King Charles I to create the first Baronets in May 1625. Sir Donald Gorme Macdonald was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia on 14th July, with a clause giving him precedence over all but one of the Baronets previously created by the King. He was given 16,000 acres in New Brunswick located, by some authorities, beside the River Tweed, formerly “Sancti Crucis” (St Croix River), and by others on “Argalis Bay.”

“The creation of Orders of Chivalry is an ancient prerogative of sovereigns,” said Mr Macdonald. “But what we have come here to recognise are two unusual features surrounding the creation of this Order. The first is the manner in which the Knight Baronets of Nova Scotia were given possession of their Baronies in the new world. The second is this: Sir William Alexander’s colonists or emigrants were the first Scotsmen to set forth under the sanction of the King and Privy Council of Scotland to settle in the New World. Now how were these Baronets to take possession of their distant holdings? The custom of the time was that possession of land was granted by the handing over of a clod of earth by the Grantor to the Grantee, but Nova Scotia was far away and difficult and expensive to reach.

“Here Scottish ingenuity and reasoning came into play. A Proclamation was issued in which it was declared that by reason of the great remoteness and distance of Nova Scotia from Scotland it was ‘necessary that seisin be taken within our Kingdom of Scotland in the most eminent place thereof, which can neither conveniently nor lawfully be done without an express union of the said Nova Scotia to the said Kingdom of Scotland: Wherefore we have annexed, united and incorporated with the said Kingdom of Scotland the foresaid country and Lordship of Nova Scotia.

“Thus by Royal Proclamation Nova Scotia became part of the Kingdom of Scotland and, therefore, by a legal fiction the earth required for the ancient ceremony could be Scottish earth.

“Two other points I should mention here as being allied to the institution of the Order of Knight Baronets of Nova Scotia. These are a commission from the King on July 26, 1626, authorising the Arms of Nova Scotia which we now possess and from which Arms the beautiful Nova Scotian flag is derived.

“The second is a further Proclamation by the King in 1629, authorising Knight Baronets to wear ‘An orange-tawny silk ribbon whereon shall hang pendant on a silver shield, a blue saltire thereon an inescutcheon of the Arms of Scotland with an Imperial Crown above the shield and around the whole the motto-‘ Fax Mentis Honestae Gloria ‘ – Glory is the Torch of a Noble Mind.

“What colonisation took place under these schemes? A settlement was made at Baleine, Cape Breton, in the eastern part of Nova Scotia, by Lord Ochiltree in 1629, but shortly afterwards it was overrun by the French. In the same year another settlement was made at Port Royal in the western part of the Province. There a fort was erected and the colonists remained until 1632 when, under the terms of the treaty between France and England, the fort and colony were handed over to the French. The place on which the fort stood is now marked by a cairn and tablet.

“The attempts of Sir William Alexander, although they do not amount to a great deal in the way of settlement, nevertheless mark the first emigration directly from Scotland to the New World under the official and Royal sanction. Thus they take their place as the first link in a long chain that girdles the world, for in what country of the world cannot Scotsmen be found! Sir William Alexander’s venture in colonisation, in the words of a distinguished historian of Nova Scotia, “cannot be regarded as a complete failure so long as the name Nova Scotia survives and its citizens treasure their armorial achievement and their flag.

“One thing more I must do. Nova Scotia, more than three hundred years ago, was annexed to Scotland by fiction. Let me complete the task begun in those far-off days by depositing on the ground of this Castle a handful of Nova Scotian earth. Thus the fiction becomes a reality and Nova Scotia and Scotland are united in soil.”

The Premier then sprinkled soil from the Royal Province into the moat of the Castle, and brought the ceremony to a climax with these words: “I now unveil this tablet erected by the Government of Nova Scotia and placed here with the permission of Government Authorities in this Island.

“May it remain here for ever, but let it and this castle rock itself crumble away before the ties that link our two lands shall be impaired or severed.”