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C. Barrett 1976

A Brief History of Middle River

    Middle River is a small rural Cape Breton community located along the river that bears its name. Previous to the arrival of the first settlers, the Middle River and Nyanza areas were inhabited by the indigenous Mi’Kmaq people whose name for the area was Wagmatcook. Around 1806 the first settlers arrived from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, mainly from Loch Ailsh, Kintail, Gairloch, Applecross, Rosshire; and the Isles of Skye, Lewis and Mull. Most were Gaelic speaking Presbyterians. Some of these families came dispersed by the Highland Clearances, some to escape adverse social and economic conditions, all in search of their own land and independence. They struggled to survive in the valley and the surrounding hills and endured many hardships; however, with the help of the Mi'Kmaq they persevered and gradually adapted to their environment. Small-scale farming and lumbering were the main occupations and, as the community grew, so did the need for blacksmiths, carpenters, shoemakers, tailors, weavers, merchants, etc., as well as teachers, doctors and clergy. At one time the population of Middle River was close to 1,000 inhabitants; today it is around half that. In the 1850s many of these staunch Presbyterians decided to join the Reverend Norman Macleod’s migration to New Zealand and Australia. Today many of their descendants come to Middle River seeking their Cape Breton roots and to visit the homesteads of their ancestors.

    While retaining its Scottish roots, the community has been pleased to welcome immigrants from other parts of Canada and the world. making for a diverse and interesting community.

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