Early Days

John MacGregor was born on the 11th February 1889 at Cawdor in the County of Nairnshire and was the third child of William and Hanna MacGregor.

He was brought up on a croft at Newlands of Urchany and was baptised at Cawdor Free Church. He attended Geddes School, Cawdor School and Nairn Academy when he left full time education in 1907.

When he left school he was apprenticed to Mr George Tolmie of Nairn as a master Carpenter and Stone Mason. He also joined the Nairn Garrison Artillery.

In 1908 his father died of a stroke and as was the custom the croft was handed on to the eldest son. John was not happy about being beholden to a local laird and had been looking towards Canada as a land of opportunity and wide-open spaces, which suited his personality. On his birthday in 1909 he told his family that it was his intention to emigrate. He booked a passage with Cunard and left Scotland. He travelled to Canada from Liverpool, across the Atlantic to Montreal.

From Montreal he worked his way across Canada utilising his skills as a carpenter mostly on the burgeoning railroads building trestle bridges and moving west as the work moved west. 
On his route west he also worked as a cowboy. During this time he found a Cree Indian with a broken leg out on the prairie. He tended to him and returned him to his village where the Indians gave him Geranium seeds as a thank you for helping one of their own. He then crossed the Rockies, went into America for a short time then returned to Canada in Vancouver where he worked on the construction of The University of British Columbia. Whilst working on the University he found a map of the west coast of Canada and saw how remote the north west region was. In the autumn of 1912 he booked a passage north to Prince Rupert.

On his arrival at Prince Rupert he secured a job at the dry dock again as a carpenter. He became friends with another worker, Archie MacPhee, who had spent time as a trapper. It was his tales of the backwoods that sent John off at weekends learning from Archie the art of setting traps and fishing. He eventually bought his own equipment and supplies and in late 1913 set out by canoe, up the Skeena River for the backwoods north east of Prince Rupert. He built himself a log cabin and planted the Geranium seeds the Cree had given him. When the leaves are crushed and mixed with fat or grease then applied to bare skin it apparently stops the midges from biting.

One Response to Early Days

  1. donald wilson says:

    My father, the late Eddie Wilson was brought up in Canada and America and John MacGregor stayed with his aunt and uncle Mr and Mrs John Captain in Prince Rupert (I think) as a lodger for a spell. Mr and Mrs Captain’s daughter is Violet McMillan (my father’s cousin), of Links Place, Nairn. Although Violet remembers little about John because she was very young at the time my father, who also would only have been a child told me that he was a thoroughly modest individual who never let it be known about his heroic actions during the war. He recalled his medals were kept in a tin box. When I worked in the Nairnshire Telegraph I met one of John’s sons and told him this story. Congratulations to everyone for recording this gentleman’s story. I am now enjoying the book which was written by James about his father’s life.
    Donald Wilson

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