Sinclair Groupings - Sinclairs of Canada - by Antonia Sinclair

Click any one of these as we try to figure out the Canada Group's complete path through time
Click to see all points of origin for this lineage Click to see where this group's lineages may have formed You're on this page now

Scots have been leaving their homeland for centuries - the earlier ones probably with a notion of making a living, or making a fortune. Many of these Scots would have seen this as a temporary opportunity until conditions in Scotland improved, and they could "come home." Perhaps they could return to help bring their work- worn parents out of poverty or destitution; perhaps to their sweethearts, now with the where-with-all to finally be able to marry.

Other "leavers" of Scotland probably left with no hope of returning to their beloved homeland. Turned out of their crofts in the highlands after the infamous "clearances", or turned out of their over-crowded tenements in the cities when their skills in the textile industries were usurped by mechanization, they left Home with heavy hearts. They would leave everything they loved or hated, but what was familiar. Many of these Scots, who had never travelled much beyond their parishes, found themselves at strange ports waiting for the ships that would take them to the "New World" [wherever that might be!], with their meagre belongings and frightened family clinging together for mutual support.

In Canda the earliest Sinclairs who made their way to what was then called British North America were probably Orcadians - employed by the Hudson's Bay Company in the late 17th Century. The HBC ships left London, England, and it's last port of call was usually Stromness in Orkney, where they took on supplies and more importantly trappers, fishermen and labourers, generally single men. From there, the ships travelled across the North Atlantic to the forts and "factories" on Hudson Bay, and later in the vast territory surrounding it, (then called "Rupert's Land"). From these forts, they traded with the area natives, or "Indians" for furs which were returned to England. It became the custom for many of these employees to take on a "country wife", and eventually some retired to the Red River settlement, now Winnipeg, Manitoba

Among these Orkneymen was William Sinclair, born 1766 in Harray Parish, who rose to the position of Chief Factor. He and his Cree wife, Margaret Nahoway Norton, raised a large family, many of whom continued working for the Hudson's Bay Company, or with one of its competitors, and became prominent in the later development of Manitoba and the other western provinces of Canada.

"In 1844 James Sinclair was chosen as leader of the native people of Red River, both French and English, in the fight against the Hudson's Bay Company's monopoly and tyranny. Sinclair was one of twenty trading half-breeds who engaged in the industry of tallow exportation, from their herds of cattle. He was refused the right by the Company of exporting tallow at a reasonable rate, and on account of his persistence in opposition was prevented by the Company from exporting at all. He and his companions contended that on account of their Indian blood they had native-born rights which no Government or Campany could take away. It has been said that James Sinclair became the "Village Hampden," who stood for his own rights and those of his compeers."[1]

In Winnipeg, Manitoba, one can visit the Hudson's Bay Company Archives, which has a compilation of many early artifacts, including employee records. From William's employment record, it can be seen that although he returned to Scotland several times, he c ontinued to come "home" to his Canadian family. William Sinclair died 20 April, 1818 at York Factory, Rupert's Land. Today, there is an association of proud descendants of William and Nahoway, about 2,000 strong. * * * *

"The Scottish Highlands produced a breed of men who for centuries were known as some of the world's best soldiers. The cold, wet, barren Highlands did not forgive weakness of any sort, and only the most hardy were able to survive the harsh climate, scant crops and unremitting poverty of the region….After the Battle of Culloden in 1745 and the subsequent Highland Clearances, a majority of Highlanders was forced to leave home and construct new lives….They [the English generals] understood the Highlanders' clannish nature and made a point, whenever possible, to compose certain regiments entirely of Highlanders, led by a Highland commander, a chieftain figure for whom the loyal troops would be ready to lay down their lives."[2]

The Seven Year's War between France and Great Britain actually began in North America in 1756, in their struggle for dominance on the resource-rich continent. The Black Watch was the first regiment of Scots, followed by other Highland regiments, who marched and fought on battlefields of what would later become Quebec, and successfully defeated the French in 1763. The highland regiments were disbanded, and the Scottish soldiers were given the choice of being returned to an impoverished homeland where clearances were now becoming commonplace, or they could stay in the upper part of British North America where they would be given a land grant. The choice for many was an easy one, and the land was soon inhabited by many of these Scots.

However, peace in British North America did not last very long as the 13 colonies of New England became restless for independence. During the build-up of hostilities, more Highland regiments were called upon, and some of the old regiments were re-formed to join them. After the American Revolution the regiments were again offered land in Ontario and Quebec - strategically located near the American border. Typical of these discharged Highland soldiers was a Neil Sinclair in 1803, formerly of the Oban area, a member of the 91st Regiment of foot soldiers, who was actually discharged because he was nearly blind. He eventually applied for a land grant, which was granted -100 acres near Ridgetown, Ontario, on the shores of Lake Erie.

Simultaneously, the Scottish families were being evicted from their homes and villages all across the country. The notorious Highland Clearances by greedy landlords affected many Sinclair tenants - descendants of some of the original Caithness branch. "In 1812 Lord Gower [Duke of Sutherland] and his wife drove away from their lands scores of persons who were compelled to seek a home among the Indians and bears of the Red River settlement. In 1815 they turned more of their tenants - more of the parents of the men who had been fighting against Napoleon - out of doors, especially in the parishes of Farr and Kildonan. On this occasion the selfish and tyrannical Sellar [their agent] found enjoyment and pleasure in setting fire to the houses of those whom he was removing." This is from "THE SINCLAIRS of Roslin, Caithness and Goshen" by the Rev. A. MacLean Sinclair, 1901. One Alexander Sinclair left the home of his ancestors in 1816 and eventually settled in Goshen, Nova Scotia. Obviously, communication between Alexander and his relatives in Scotland gave them hope to own land in Canada also - Alexander's nephew, John Ban Sinclair followed in 1818. All three sons of Alex's sister, Janet, eventually emigrated in the following decades to join their uncle in Goshen. Here the family could work their farms, side by side, but some of their children migrated across Canada and the United States. Some generations later, some of their descendants became involved in the establishment and continued success of Clan Sinclair Canda.

As the shadow of the Clearances spread across the country, Highlanders of Argyllshire soon felt the despair of being removed from the land of their forefathers. In many families, children had already been sent to the Lowlands for employment as farm labourers or household servants who could send some of their meagre wages to their parents in hopes that the ever-increasing rents could be met. When they could no longer compete with wealthier sheep farmers who were willing to pay higher rents, the displaced highlanders were forced to leave. As they flooded into the cities in hopes of finding employment, overcrowding soon led to disease. Emigration Societies were formed to help provide funds to alleviate the situation, and thousands of the poor and homeless crowded into ill-equipped ships for the long voyage across the Atlantic. Many passengers were too sick or weak to survive the harrowing trip to Canada - several weeks occasionally stretched into months when the ships were blown off course. Yet, the heartiest eventually made their way to eastern Ontario where the land resembled their beloved highlands. Lanark County became the home of three Sinclair brothers - John, Colin and Alexander emigrated in 1822. Although they all cleared and farmed their own land, and lived in log cabins, they raised families who prospered, and many of their descendants became leaders in education, business and religion across Canada.

By this time, towns were popping up in Ontario, especially in critical locations where timber could be shipped back to England, and new emigrants could be supplied with the necessary provisions for the long trek inland to their new homesteads. Although most of the residents of the Isle of Islay in the Hebrides were not "cleared" so early in the 19th century, the tenant farms were becoming over crowded, and the future on this small island was becoming bleak. The Campbell family who owned most of the island did not clear them off, but instead, they built fishing villages to encourage families to leave the farms and take up this new profession or other trades. They also tried to diversify agricultural crops such as flax, with the subsequent trade of linen weaving. The population of the island mushroomed as a result of this prosperity.

A study of the waves of emigration from Islay to Canda shows some interesting trends. Of those who left of their own volition and with their own funds in the 1830s, most settled in Peel County - an area just west of what would become Toronto. The land was fertile and again near shipping for timber and for their produce. The family of John Sinclair of Tallant farm were among these early settlers. The 1840s saw land grants becoming available to the north - in the areas of Simcoe and Victoria Counties, where another number of Islay Sinclairs settled.

In the 1850's on Islay, the Campbells' experiment of "non-clearance" failed, they were forced into bankruptcy, and the new owners felt no sympathy for the tenants. Many were finally evicted, or strongly encouraged to emigrate, so the next wave of Islay leavers found land available in Wellington County, Ontario. Among these were "the Six Sinclair Brothers", well-known pioneers of Minto township, who came from Kilchoman parish with their families. All became successful farmers, and one of the farms is still in the family more than 150 years later.

The Bruce Peninsula saw the last mass exodus from Scotland to Ontario, where again several Sinclairs got grants of land which they cleared and farmed, but some of their children and later generations became sailors on the Great Lakes.

If this sounds like the Isle of Islay was completely populated by Sinclairs, this really isn't the case, even though there were hundreds of Sinclair families who lived there from 1750 to 1850. Currently there are only a small handful still living there today.

Throughout all of Scotland attitude had finally started to change toward the rights of the tenant crofters. By 1883 the Napier Commission was forced to investigate the plight of the Highlanders, and in 1886 "The Crofters Act" was passed by Parliament to end these brutal evictions which had been going on for a century and a half. There were no more massed transports from Scotland, although naturally, there would still be letters from Canada trying to entice relatives and friends to start a new life in this new country.

These examples, of course, do not tell the story of every Sinclair who left Scotland - when land in the Prairies became available later in the 19th century, many emigrants travelled west by train, perhaps only stopping in Ontario to visit friends and family who by this time were well established.

Whatever the reason for leaving, few Sinclairs would have done so by choice. A Scot anywhere in the world will hear bagpipes and know where his or her heart lies. Our Clan Chief, the Clan Associations around the world, and now the new Sinclair DNA project keep us connected, no matter where in the world we live. 

[1] George Bryce, D.D., LL.D., The Scotsman in Canada, 1911 

[2] Matthew Shaw,"Great Scots! How the Scots Created Canada"ISBN 1-896150-01-2 Sinclairs in Canada

What we'd expect
to see in the DNA
(1) Given multiple sources of geography from which the DNA of Sinclairs in Canada came, I'd expect to see many different lineages there. In fact, I see the DYS390=23 group and the DYS390=24 group.
(2) The Argyle bunch shows up here as do some folks from Ireland.

Home |  Contact