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 1700s 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 onboard 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 man 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 father 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 father 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 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 were 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 neighbourhood.