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Highlanders preparing to march on Toronto


The Introduction begins:

I was an eyewitness of the scene,” the stonemason Donald Macleod wrote. Strong parties of men “commenced setting fire to the dwellings till about three hundred houses were in flames, the people striving to remove the sick, the helpless, before the re should reach them. The cries of women and children—the roaring of cattle—the barking of dogs—the smoke of the fire—the soldiers—it required to be seen to be believed!” Macleod was writing of a Clearance, a forced eviction of families living in a glen or a valley in the Scottish Highlands. He was describing events of 1814, the Year of the Burnings, as they unfolded in Strathnaver, a wide river valley in the Highland county of Sutherland.
The man supervising the destruction, acting for the aristocratic landlord, had already ordered his men to burn the hill-grazing areas so there would be no food for cattle and the people would have no choice but to leave. When this failed, he escalated the action to the destruction and burning of villages. He had the roofs of houses pulled down and timbers set ablaze to prevent rebuilding. In the month of May alone, he dispossessed and rendered homeless at least 430 people.
Those 430 farmers were among the approximately 200,000 Highlanders driven from their ancestral lands during the Clearances, with estimates varying from 170,750 to more than 300,000. To argue that the Clearances were the result of the inexorable advance of capitalism is to ignore the cultural targeting of Gaelic- speaking, Roman Catholic, clan-oriented Highlanders. . . .

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Ken McGoogan
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Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.