Ships of 1801 is an original dramatic concert performed by local and recognized musicians in period costume. Song, dance, and Gaelic verse are tied together by live narration, celebrating the culture that early Scottish settlers brought with them to Nova Scotia.
In 1801, five ships arrived in Pictou: the Nora, the Sarah, the Dove, Hope of Lossiemouth, and Good Intent. They carried Scottish settlers who left behind everything they knew, risking their lives for freedom from oppression, freedom to preserve their Gaelic language, practice their religion, own land, and provide for themselves. Their culture helped them cope with the hazardous ocean voyage, tragic loss of life, deplorable on-board conditions, and the great uncertainty of their futures. The passengers of those ships dispersed throughout North-eastern Nova Scotia to Pictou, Antigonish, and Inverness Counties. Ships of 1801 asks: Who will remember?
The musical features several performers who, like the show’s producer, Duncan MacDonald, are direct descendants of these early immigrants.
“It was music and story-telling that sustained these pioneers individually and as a culture, so it’s fitting that we remember them this way,” MacDonald says. From traditional tunes to new songs, Ships of 1801 provides a living record of the culture of the Gaels that continues to thrive in Nova Scotia.
Hailing from Antigonish, Pictou, Inverness County and beyond, the cast list includes tenor Tom MacDonald, alto Janice Alcorn, young singer/songwriters Sheumas MacLeod and Haley MacDonald, John Spyder MacDonald, storyteller Terry MacIntyre, pipers Heather MacIsaac and Frank Beaton, fiddler Brian MacDonald, Mabou’s own Christine, Mairinn, Eilidh, and Seonaid Campbell, young actors David Stewart, Ewan MacDonald, and Alex Kennedy with dancer Jenny Cluett. It also includes a local Gaelic choir and children’s choir, lead narrators Charlie Mason and Alistair Hamilton, Gaelic ambassador Lewis MacKinnon, award-winning songwriter Carmel Mikol, and well-known vocalist Katie Jamieson. The onstage band is directed by Rob Wolf and features pianist Jim Ralph.
Already having played to over 2,500 people at the Antigonish Highland Games and to a full house at Pictou’s deCoste Centre, Ships of 1801 has received excellent reviews. “We…were totally blown away by the depth of the talent and the depth of the passion in the presentation. Thank you for…ensuring the story is not lost,“ wrote one appreciative audience member.
The performance is dedicated to the female descendants of the original settlers. Many lost husbands and brothers to battle and then lost children to illness on the ships. But they were pillars of the communities, banding together to care for each other’s children and providing a vital connection to traditional crafts, music, language, and dancing. This long line of strong, influential women continues to be organizers, caregivers, innovators, and tradition-bearers in our own communities today.
Ships of 1801 comes to Strathspey Place in Mabou on Saturday, September 14. Tickets are $20 advance, $25 at the door and are available by phoning 902-945-5300 or visiting the Strathspey Place Box Office.