Many in my family left Scotland for Australia, most through choice, while others headed for Canada. One such family were the McLeans from Kilmarnock. John McLean b. 2 January 1807 in Kilmarnock, was my great, great, great granny, Helen Armour's (m.s. McLean) brother. (Great granny Jeannie Gibson's (m.s. Henderson) granny).
The 1941 census shows John McLean and his family living in Dunlop Street, Kilmarnock. He was 35 years old and married to Jean. Like many people in Kilmarnock at this time, he was a hand loom weaver of worsted cloth. Worsted is made from smooth compactly spun yarn. Long fibered wool is combed and spun using an average to hard twist in the spinning. The fabric is napless and tightly woven. Worsted is used for clothing, like suits.
Jean was a pirn winder, the monotonous job of winding the yearn onto the reel that is loaded into the shuttle. Together they already had nine children aged between 15 and 3 years. The three eldest sons were already weaving with their ten year old brother Hugh helping out.
What future did they have? Working every hour of the day to make end's meet, a large family to support. It's not known exactly why John took the chance of uprooting his family and emigrating to Canada but hoping for a brighter future for his children must have been high on his list.
In the 'hungry' 1840s many immigrants arrived in Kilmarnock from Ulster to escape the ravishes of the potato famine causing over-crowding in many of the Lowland towns and cities. In the late 18th and early 19th century, many Highlanders had settled in Ontario, already making it a centre for Scots to live in Canada.
By 1851, John was settled with his famaily in St. Thomas, Elgin County, Ontario. He had managed to get a parcel of land, possibly rented in the first place, and had built a log cabin for himself, his wife, seven children from Kilmarnock and two new additions born in Canada, Elizabeth and George. At the very latest, John must have arrived in Canada in 1846.
In 19th-century Scotland, emigration was the result of both force and persuasion. Until about 1855, a number of the emigrants from the Highlands were actually forced to leave the land because of evictions. In the Lowlands, the decision to move abroad was nearly always the outcome of the desire to improve living standards. Whatever the reason, Scotland lost between 10% and 47% of the natural population increase every decade.
Keeping in touch with the land was not a consideration for the urban emigrant from the Scottish Lowlands. The decision to emigrate from this part of Scotland was purely voluntary. Indeed, emigration was seen by trades unions and other voluntary groups as a practical solution to unemployment and economic depression.
Lowlanders were moved to leave their birthplace by a combination of low wages, poor housing conditions and unemployment. The high points in emigration statistics corresponded with years of severe economic depression. These occurred in the late 1840s and early 1850s, the mid-1880s, and the period 1906–13.
Lower class Scots during the nineteenth century seem mainly to have emigrated in order to escape destitution at home; they came from the Highlands and the Lowlands but also from the major cities to which they had previously moved as a response to unfavourable economic conditions. They arrived with intelligence, shrewdness, and adaptability, but often with few skills which could qualify them as farmers, let alone artisans. In some instances, however, they had and could use basic skills, long in use in the Highland and Lowland areas from which they had come.
As society stabilised itself in the New World, the settlements gathered around themselves a clergyman, a doctor, a teacher, a storekeeper and a group of artisans. Each district was provided with a shoemaker and a tailor, who often travelled from house to house in the traditional Scottish manner. Each district had its own grist-mill and saw-mill. Villagers often had both a cabinet-maker and a carriage-maker, sometimes a boat-builder, and always a blacksmith An occupational directory of Nova Scotia for the year 1864 presents a very different picture of the communities from that of today. In Whycocomagh, for instance (which at that time had a population of about 1,800), besides the inevitable teacher, innkeepers, and merchants, we find a shipwright, a carriage-maker, a wheelwright, a tanner, two millers, two blacksmiths, and two tailors.
Other districts were all once well supplied with the service of the local craftsmen. Sometimes one craft predominated, sometimes another. In North Gut St. Ann's, for instance, there were no less than five weavers listed for the year 1864. On the mainland of Nova Scotia during the same period we find in the St. Andrew's district seven carpenters, six shoemakers, three ship-carpenters, three tailors, two masons, two millwrights, two carriage-makers, two tanners, and a surveyor.
Since by no means all emigrants possessed funds for buying land from local land boards, individuals like Colonel Talbot, or land development companies such as the Canada Company, the initial step was frequently to make a down payment or accept employment on the land with the intent to save capital for ultimate purchase.
- Hugh McLean died in 1901 in Toronto
- James McLean settled in Newbury, Middlesex County and died in 1890
- Adam McLean settled in New Glasgow and died in 1909
- Matthew McLean died in 1922 in London, Ontario
- Robert McLean died in 1915 in Glencoe, Ontario
- William McLean died in 1929 in Hamilton, Ontario
- Andrew lived in Welland County and died in 1928
John, himself, died on the 7th April 1882 in St. Thomas, Elgin County, Ontario; a weaver from Kilmarnock who wanted a better life for his family.