The Exiles- Selkirk Settlers 1813

There is a statue at the end of our street at the corner of Bannatyne and Waterfront Drive called Selkirk Settlers 1813.  It was created by Gerald Laing and depicts a family of four departing Scotland for a new home in Canada. 

A sign near the statue explains that in Scotland in the late 1700’s and early 1800s many men, women and children were chased off their land and burned out of their homes. Some were sold into slavery and others were put on ‘coffin ships’ that went to destinations all over the world.  They were called ‘coffin ships’ because the accommodations on board were so horrible—little food, water or living space so as many as 30% of the passengers on board these coffin ships from Scotland died. They said sharks followed the ships waiting for the bodies to be thrown overboard. Rich Scottish landowners wanted to use more of their land for raising sheep so they cleared off all their tenants. This came to be known as The Clearances. 

A humanitarian named Lord Selkirk arranged for some of the people who were victims of The Clearances to come to Canada and establish Scottish colonies here. The statue represents some of those Scots who came to settle here in Manitoba. The Dad has a bare chest and is wearing his kilt. He looks very resolute and hardy. His son is looking up to him. They are facing  forward ready for the dangers and challenges ahead. 

 

You can see that the Dad has a guiding hand on his son’s back. The mother whose shawl and dress are being blown around by the wind is looking back at her homeland before leaving.  She is probably wondering if she will ever see it again. She appears more apprehensive about embarking on an adventure to an unknown place. Perhaps she is leaving relatives and friends behind. The men’s feet are moving forward. The mother has pivoted on her foot to look behind. 

The mother is holding her baby tight to her chest, no doubt worried about what the future will hold for her small child and  whether the wee thing will survive the long voyage to Canada. 

The first 23 settlers from Scotland brought a bushel and a half of wheat with them which they planted in the agricultural settlement that would eventually become the City of Winnipeg. Some people call this statue The Exiles because the people had been exiled from their homeland. 

I walk by this statue almost every day and it reminds me of my own grandparents who were also exiles—forced to flee Ukraine in the 1920s after all their land had been taken away, their possessions stolen and their lives placed in danger.  Canada is a country filled with people who were exiled and made their way here to start a new life.  This statue was erected in 2008 thanks to generous donations by Dennis MacLeod and John Webster two Winnipeg Scottish businessmen. I’m grateful to them for adding this thought-provoking and beautiful piece of artwork to my neighborhood. 

7 Comments

Filed under Art, Canada, Family, History, Winnipeg

7 responses to “The Exiles- Selkirk Settlers 1813

  1. G McDonald

    Lord Selkirk was no humanitarian or hero by any means. He duped the Scots into leaving their homelands and settling in this area by promises of free land and easy living, leaving many of them destitute. Many settlements failed and many died during the voyage or soon after arriving on what was known as the ‘coffin ships’. Fortunately some families found help through befriending the local Cree tribes, a combination of people’s from which my own family hails.

  2. Thanks so much for this added information. It provides an important and different perspective.

  3. Thanks for writing this and including the photographs. I had also read that Selkirk was not a humanitarian, nor did he claim to, but instead was populating his new settlement with good Scots people. He paid for the passage of the ones he was employing, but did help to arrange passage for others who had to pay him for the passage.

  4. Hello,
    The very same sculpture stands in Helmsdale in Scotland. The leaving point for the Scots thrown off their land during the Hghland clearances. A period when tenant Scottish crofters were evicted from their homes by the rich lairds so they could use the land for grazing sheep. The sculpture was created by artist Gerald Laing.

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