My Great Grandfather, William, had taken his family from Scotland to Canada in 1873, and our plan was to retrace the route he had taken across the width of Scotland.
Researching our family history had led me to discover a very ugly truth about my grandfather Charles whose actions had had terrible impact on my father. And behind Charles was William, a very powerful and dynamic man I would never have known about without extensive research, but whose influence impacts my life even today.
In order to understand Charles I had to understand William, in order to understand my father I had to understand Charles, in order to understand me, I had to understand my father. It gets complicated, but ultimately it straightens a lot of things out.
William had been born in the little fishing village of Portgrodon in Banff, on the north east coast of Scotland. There he had grown and learned his trade as a carpenter. At 26 he had left home and moved to Inverness where he advertised himself as a builder. In Inverness he met and married my Great Grandmother, Johanna.
They lived at 20 Haugh St in one of three buildings owned by Alexander Fraser, a grocer, (and possible relation) and it was here they started their large family. Mary Ann, their oldest daughter was born, followed by William and Isobella.
The offer of work then took the family to the distant and treeless Isle of Lewis, on Scotland's West coast, where their son James Green was born. But it was here that tragedy first struck the family when little James died soon after birth, far from the comfort of extended family and friends.
William then moved his saddened family further south to Portree on the Isle of Skye (pictured above) where they lived for three years and he became a Contractor on County Buildings and a Cattle Dealer. They seem to have done well in Portree, living in an attractive rooming house at 2 Bosville Terrace, overlooking the harbour, and having a servant to assist them. Their children Geraldine and Alex were born during their stay on Skye and it was from Skye that they immigrated to Canada.
As an example of the amazing world we live in, before leaving Toronto I had discovered that their home at that time, 2 Bosville Terrace, not only still exists but has, of all things, its own web site (it's the pink triple gabled house on the hillside in the video above). It is now an attractive bed and breakfast in the very heart of Portree.
We spent three days on the Isle of Skye, walking the ancient and narrow streets of the small village, getting contact information on the Skye Historical Society, finding books on Scottish and Skye history not available in Canada, watching a frightening storm boil up over a huge ben and roar down into the valley where we parked, and listening through the night to that same great storm tearing at our bed and breakfast and hammering on our roof.
Just as William and Johanna must have done.
Our last night there we had dinner at the Isle of Skye Pub and Linda, my wife, noticed a history of the building on the menu stating it had been built in 1850 and we imagined William dropping in for a pint after a heavy day’s labour. We gave him a toast.
The next day we retraced the family’s cross country route back to Inverness. Our little blue Vauxhall Astra made the trip in two hours, but it must have taken William days, with horse and cart and little family in tow.
For all its fame (or because of it) Inverness was a disappointment. It has grown so much since my last visit back in 1962 and has become a very crowded and busy city. The Haugh lies behind Inverness Castle away from the bustle of the downtown core. We walked the street with no exact knowledge of the location of Alexander Fraser’s grocery, where William rented rooms for under £4.
We got a better feel for history by visiting nearby Culloden, Beauly, and the standing stones at the Clava Cairns. But maybe I’m being unfair to Inverness. I had waited so long to visit Portgordon and the little 40 acre farm of Dryburn in Moray, which my family had built, and where they had been tenants on the Duke of Gordon’s estate for nearly 200 years. Now it was a mere hours drive from Inverness and I could hear it calling all the time we were there. Inverness, darkened by constant drizzle, had little hope of holding my attention.
As we finally left Inverness behind, the rain stopped and when we reached Fochabers (Moray) the clouds began to part and when we finally reached Portgordon (Banff) the sun shone for the first time on our trip. I couldn’t have paid a hollywood director for a more dramatic moment. We crested a hill and the little fishing village was nestled quietly along a great expanse of golden beach, great breakers from the North Sea rolling gently in toward the land.
“Who needs Hawaii,” said Linda.
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