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The origins of the Clan Donald Family Picnic

About fifty-five years ago two brothers from Dutch Brook, Cape Breton, undertook the painstaking task of investigating the roots of their Scottish heritage. Dan Archie MacDonald and his elder brother, John Angus (my late grandfather), wanted to create a permanent record of their family origins. Up until this time, such information had been passed on merely by word of mouth from one generation to the next. Their tireless work cumulated in the publication of Dan Archie's book entitled Folklore and Folks of Cape Breton, with Family Ties in 1944.

Dan Archie's research first brought him back to around the year 1800, when two brothers (Donald and Angus MacDonald) had arrived in Pictou, Nova Scotia, from the Butt of the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. Sons of Norman MacDonald, a tailor in Scotland, they too became known as the tailors. The brothers left Pictou and headed to Cape Breton where they settled in West Bay. Much later, Angus moved to Estmere where he resided until his death.

Donald MacDonald had a family of four sons, while Angus' family consisted of one son and seven daughters.

Many years late, Dan Archie's son Kenny (now of Waban, Mass.) took up the torch lit by his father so long ago. After more than six years of hard work, in 1970, Kenn'y efforts (and those of countless others) resulted in the information of an updated family tree and the publication of an address book. A committee was then organized and it was decided that an annual reunion would be held.1

Families were contacted and in August 1970 the first Clan Donald Family gathering was held at the summer home of Shirley and the late Malcolm S. MacDonald on the shores of the beautiful Bras D'or Lake. Attended by over three hundred clan members, this was to be the first of many such reunions. Usually held on the first Saturday of August, the Clan Picnic as it has come to be known, is now a biennial reunion with clan members attending from near and afar.

My grandfather, the late John Angus MacDonald of Dutch Brook, was honored by being elected the first Clan Chief. This position he held until his death in 1971, just two months after our second gathering. His short term as Chief was marked by his deep-rooted pride and tender love of the clan, as well as by his dry sense of humour. In fact, these traits could be interpreted as characteristics of the clan itself - as evidenced in clan memebrs generation after generation.

In August 1974, our 3rd Ceilidh was held with about 200 members in attendance. Malcolm S. MacDonald was elected Clan Chief and served in this capacity until his death in 1981. Allister MacDonald of Marion Bridge became our 3rd clan Chief in august 1982. Altough he retired from this position in 1986, he remains an active member of the Clan Committee. John Y. MacDonald of Howie Centre capably served as our 4th Clan Chief from 1986 until 1998 and continues to be an active committee member.

Last year we elected the twin sons of our first Chief John A. MacDonald to carry on the tradition: (my uncle) Rev. J. Fraser MacDonald was elected as Chief, and (my father) Malcolm (Mackie) MacDonald was elected as Deputy Cheif.

Over the years our reunions have been marked by fun-filled days of meeting old friends and new, with activites for young and old alike: games and races for children and adults; candy throws for the children; paddle boat rides; cruises on a Cpae Islander; and the traidtional tug of war between Dutch Brook and Sydney River. In recent years we have served a delicious meal of Beef-on-a-Bun (for 300!); and held variety concerts which have been known to even include a Mr. Legs contest, Scottish and Highland dancing, even a Milling Frolic.

We have also added a dance on Saturday evening and closed with a Sunday morning worship service at St. Andrew's United Church in Sydney. We have formed an ecumenical chroir of Clan Members and last year hosted the first Kirkin' O' the Tartan ceremony held in Cape Breton, which witnessed an interclan commemoration of our Scottish heritage and culture. This was a wonderful and fitting end to a weekend of festivities.

Usually the day of our picnic begins with a registration of all families in attendance, distribution of name tags, followed by a brief program and devotion. The continuity of our family tree being very important to all of us, we are encouraged and reminded to update our family tree by recording all marriages, births and address changes. We pause for a few moments to mourn those who have passed away since our last gathering and rejoice at the enw additions to our clan.

Proud parents check birthdates of new babies hoping their own will be the youngest in attendance while reluctant seniors are not always quite so eager to accept the prize for being the oldest in attendance! A prize is also given to the family member who has traveled the longest distance to attend the picnic. Our picnics have always had relatives attending from all parts of Nova Scotia as well as New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Ontarion, Alberta and Mass. But, we have also had people attending from as far away as California and Lahr, Germany.

It will be thirty years next August (2000) since our reunions began. As we eagerly await this special reunion, we recognize that we have grown to be 6th and 7th genearation decendants of Donald and Angus. Since the original research has expanded to include the descendants of Angus, the name has been changed from Clan Donald and is now officially known as Clan Donald and Angus of Cape Breton.

In closing, it is hard to put into words the motions stirred by being a member of a clan. We gather together because of a legacy of our forefathers. Their primitive but proud struggle to overcome persecution in their own Scottish lands, followed by their tireless efforts and determination to establish a new homeland, are a source of pride to us all.

It is little wonder than as we gather together every two years that we are touched by an indescribable warmth as we rejoice, mourn, and share memories, laughter, food, song, and prater together.

Through our tears and our laughter, we are one.

Laurie (MacDonald) MacCuish
June 1999

(This was adapted from an article Laurie wrote which was published in the fall edition of the Clansemn Magazine, 1989)




1Kenny's research at this point was primarily focused on the family and descendants of Donald, now believed to be over the 1000 mark. Since that time our former Clan Chief John Y. MacDonald has done considerable research on the descendants of Donald's brother Angus. We now have representatives from this protion of the Clan on our Committee, they have joined our reunions and we have much more information on the Angus branch of the Clan. As noted earlier, Angus family included seven daughters. When they married, The MacDonald name was lost on the first generation descendants of Angus, which accounts for the many different surnames in the Clan from very early on.

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