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The Lowland Clearances

Table of Contents



Scottish Diaspora Tapestry

A Student Project
Your Community
In a World History Context


James McCowan Memorial Social History Society
c/o 19 Monarchwood Cres.
Don Mills
Ont., M3A1H3

BBC Radio Scotland is delighted to endorse this student essay competition. The experiences of both Lowland and Highland settlers are an important part of the history of Scotland and the development of Canada. Delving into the stories of where these people came from, and why they left their homes offers fascinating insights into the past.

The Lowland Clearance programmes were important to BBC Scotland, and the material that our team recorded in Canada was an integral part of the production. I am very pleased that the study of our shared heritage is so vibrant in Toronto.

With all best wishes for the future.

Yours sincerely,

Maggie Cunningham
Head of Radio, Scotland

Reprinted in The Scarboro Heights Record V11 #6


For an introductory student workshop 
Please call Bruce McCowan

Entry Form


Some Resource Materials
for Your School Library


Values of the Scottish Emigrants

Information Processing Using
Community Studies as a Catalyst

Eight Lesson Plans

Some Exercises


Your Community
in the Context of
World History

A Learning Opportunity


Discuss the impact of the Agricultural Revolution in Lowland Scotland on the development of rural Scottish communities in pre-Confederation Canada. Use this web site,, and the bibliographical sources listed on and linked pages as your principle resources.

For further information about this essay contest, please email us at


Our Heritage Learning Resources --
Stage Drama and Radio Documentary

(Shocked): What! That rent increase is outrageous!

Mr. Gibson (Stone-faced): Well, take it or leave it. I can find someone else who will pay this rent.

James: That may be, but it is still outrageous. (Pauses.) Look around. I've maintained this property with pride. Do you think someone else will care for the house and yards as much as we have? After paying your rent, they'll have nothing left for repairs and improvements.

Mr. Gibson (Snickering): Not a big deal -- if they don't look after it and make the improvements, they'll be out too. I'll find others.

Margaret: (Trembling) Don't you have any sympathy at all for ordinary people like us? Our cost of living is going up every day. Why would you do this to us?

Mr. Gibson: Because I can -- and I will.

James (Frowning as he turns to Margaret): This is happening everywhere you know. It seems we don't have rent controls anymore.

Does this sound a bit like the conversation you overheard at the bank or at the lawyer's office last week? Perhaps -- very well could be. In actual fact, this conversation (and thousands like it) took place in Lowland Scotland almost 200 years ago. And we will hear it again in a new production of "With, I Hope, A New Face: A Newcomer to a New Land". The story of James and Margaret McCowan is also an important part of a BBC-Radio Scotland series, "The Lowland Clearances", to be broadcast in May / June this year.

Why is it important to tell the story of the Lowland Clearances? How does what happened in Scotland two centuries ago have any bearing on life in Canada today? The Lowland Clearances phenomenon was all about change -- radical change. When the landlords decided to evict tenants and hike the rents four or five-fold, it was all for the sake of profit. "Improvement" was the keyword -- mind you, investing in making the farms better usually fell largely onto the tenants. The matter of improvements that were required to be paid by the tenants is the one major difference between the situation then and now.

The Lowland Clearances was all about "response" to dramatic socio-economic forces. If you think we're lucky to have food banks and a social safety net today -- well, back then there were no such social services. The ordinary and poor folk just had to move on. Some became coal miners, others weavers in the village, some went to the power mills in the cities, some became entrepreneurs, others like James and Margaret McCowan emigrated.

The Lowland Clearances was all about a "new economy" and re-configuring the workforce. The weaver of 1824 is the HTML-coder of 2004.

The Lowland Clearances was all about the evolution of a by-product value system which Scots carried around the world to excel in politics, in business and in Ministry. These ordinary Scots had profound respect for freedom, order, individuality, faith, family, honest toil and material wealth.

In particular, the evolution of the Canadian identity is, to a large degree, the evolution of our relationship with the land. The Canadian identity cannot be understood unless we comprehend our values with respect to the land -- from home ownership to preservation of the family farm. The story of the evolution of our values with respect to land must be told if we are to comprehend the vital importance of any future commitment to the land. If we understand the changing relationship between humanity and land in the past, we surely must be much better prepared to deal with the forces of change in the future. The Lowland Clearances is a profoundly important chapter in the evolution of our values with respect to the land.

The rather unpolished behaviour patterns of the ordinary rural Scots at the dawn of the nineteenth century matured as they assumed a greater role in social and economic decision-making. Their sense of competition during play was easily adaptable to accelerating competition in the work world. Social intercourse fostered exchange of ideas. Meaningful membership and leadership roles in Friendly Societies, Funeral Societies, Emigration Societies, Agricultural Societies, Temperance Societies and the Church, access to reasonable credit, the right to vote and responsible government all contributed to an attitudinal change at the grass-roots level. Ordinary Scots slowly achieved full partnership in the socio-economic planning process. The upper classes finally gave them full credit for their ideas, their actions and their printed statements. But along with achieving respect and dignity, the ordinary Scots assumed greater responsibilities. They realized that they were now partially accountable for the actions of their governments and fully accountable to the smaller community in which they lived. However, they would no longer be paraded in front of the Kirk Session and the public for some trifling wrong-doing.

The Lowland Clearances is a lesson from the past from which we can all learn a thing or two -- about values, compassion, balancing profit and social justice.

In Volume 11 Number 5 of The Scarboro Heights Record, "Interpreting Passage: Pointing to Our Heritage Learning Resources", we explained that the twenty-plus pairs of ribs pointing upwards on Passage are pointers to valuable information that is embedded in our own heritage. We can't just point to it though.

Through efforts such as the BBC Radio Scotland series, "The Lowland Clearances", and the new production of "With, I Hope, A New Face: A Newcomer to a New Land" we can do our small bit to help ensure that past mistakes won't happen again and that achievements from yesterday triumph once more. We have been working closely with BBC-Radio Scotland's Peter Aitchison and Andrew Cassell. Larry Westlake of Capricorn 9 Productions is our enthusiastic partner in the stage drama.

Here are some upcoming heritage learning opportunities in or in connection with Scarborough's heritage:

May 24, 2003: 2 PM
Scarborough Heights Historic Sites Walking Tour: Down Doris McCarthy Trail to "Passage"

May 31, 2003: 1:30 PM
Scarborough's Scottish Heritage Afternoon
The Bluffs Gallery, 1859 Kingston Road, Scarborough

  • "10,000 Years of Toronto History: The McCowan Collection". A one hour illustrated talk by Bruce McCowan
  • "The Lowland Clearances -- The Scarborough Connection".   BBC-Radio Scotland program focused partially on the impact of the agricultural revolution on Scots who emigrated to Scarborough, Canada, in the early nineteenth century.
  • Sales of Scottish heritage publications of the James McCowan Memorial Social History Initiative (35% of sales will be donated to the Scarborough Arts Council)

For broadcast times for the BBC-Radio Scotland series, "The Lowland Clearances", and for further information about these heritage learning opportunities, go to: or call 416-447-4895 or email

May 17 2003 to Aug. 2 2003
Toronto: A Place of Meeting: 10,000 Years of Toronto History
Toronto Reference Library, TD Canada Trust Gallery
789 Yonge Street, Toronto (1 block north of Bloor),
Mon-Thur. 10-8;  Fri-Sat. 10-5

Sept. 20 2003: 2 PM
The Pioneers' Kingston Road Historic Walk Sept. 20 2003: 2 PM
The Pioneers' Kingston Road Historic Walk
Sept. 20 2003: 2 PM
The Pioneers' Kingston Road Historic Walk

Fourth Scarborough Heights Historic Sites Walking Tour


To Get You Started
With Your Essay

Publications of the James McCowan Memorial Social History Initiative:

Closely affiliated publications and productions:

Here is a list of some key pages in this web site. Note that each page has an address of the form:

Page Address

Subject of Page

Administrative Scarboro Heights Record James McCowan Memorial Social History Initiative Order McCowan Initiative Publications for your school. A 20% discount for schools. Important social and economic history of lowland Scotland and Scarborough.

Organizational / Index Table of Contents of this Web Site Site Search Tool Site Subject Index and Educational Resource (Does not include the most recent volumes) New this Month: Most Recent Issues of Scarboro Heights Record (Volumes 9 and Up)

Instructional -- Information Processing Potential Inputs: Bibliography and Resources Information Processing: Analysis and Interpretation Outputting "Better" Information: Some Rules of Writing Conducting Oral History Interviews Definitions of old Scottish and Upper Canadian terms -- to assist in understanding the evidence

General Subject Areas
(Most of these Subject pages include a finding aid in addition to child-links)
(Information pertinent to the Essay Topic is throughout the web site) Community Culture: Recreation, Arts, Worship, Family Economics: Transportation, Work, Depression, Housing, Food Supply, Agriculture Education and Schools Flora and Fauna: Environment, Natural Features, Scarborough Bluffs Immigration Public Service: Social Institutions, Public Health, Politics, Volunteerism, War Biographical The Lowland Clearances: The Agricultural Revolution in Scotland Potential Inputs: A useful Bibliography and principal resources for your essay -- connecting the agricultural revolution in Scotland with Scarborough's early development. Potential Inputs: Bibliography and Resources for Upper Canada and Ontario Potential Inputs: Bibliography and Resources for Lowland Scotland

From The Scarboro Heights Record V11 #5


Bruce McCowan, P.Eng., is available
(with a month's notice)
to give lectures using our Lesson Plans


James McCowan Memorial Social History Initiative
c/o 19 Monarchwood Crescent, Toronto, Ontario, M3A 1H3
(email address is on our contacts page)
A Non-Profit, Non-Charitable Organization Dedicated to Placing the
Scottish Experience Within the Wider Context of the Community
Contributor to the "Lowland Clearances" BBC-Radio Scotland Series

Scarboro Heights Record
An On-Line Learning Resource for Community Studies
(email address is on our contacts page)
Dedicated to Promoting Community Events,
Arts and Multicultural Activities,
Non-Profit Groups, Local History and Local Heroes