21 September 1808 - 24 July 1898
Evan MacColl (1808-1898) was a Scots-Canadian Gaelic poet who also produced poems in English. He was known as the "Clarsair-nam-beann" or the Mountain Minstrel. Later he became known as "the Gaelic Bard of Canada".
Evan MacColl was born at Kenmore on the banks of Loch Fyne, Argyll and Bute, Scotland, on the September 21, 1808. His father was Dugald MacColl who was possessed of "the richest store of Celtic song of any man living in his part of the country." His mother, Mary Cameron, "was noted for her storehouse of traditional tales, legendary and fairy tales." She was also said to be something of an 'improvisatrice' or maker-up of tales. Though MacColl was fully employed farming and fishing, and later with road repairs, he nevertheless received a fair education. His father was fond of literature and procured books for his children when he could. Since the local village school offered a very poor education, his father employed a tutor who taught his son English and instilled in him a love of Burns and of English literature in general. He thus began his poetic efforts in boyhood.
MacColl's family emigrated to Canada in 1831, but he could not make up his mind to leave his native land. He continued his employment in road repairs while composing many of his best Gaelic lyrics. He published his first book of poems at his own expense in Glasgow in 1836. This was The Mountain Minstrel; or, Clàrsach nam Beann, and it sold enough to give the author a small profit. In 1837 he began contributing to the Gaelic Magazine then published in Glasgow. From October 1838 to January 1839, MacColl made a tour of northeast Scotland which was recorded in a diary published by Alexander Mackenzie in his biography of MacColl. Later in 1839 he became a clerk with the Customs House in Liverpool. He remained in Liverpool until 1850, when, because of declining health, he obtained six months' leave of absence and visited friends and relatives in Canada. While staying on his brother's farm on the Trent River, he was introduced to the Hon. Malcolm Cameron, then a Minister of the Crown and was offered a position in the Canadian Customs at Kingston, Ontario, which he accepted. MacColl remained in this post for thirty years and was superannuated about the year 1880. His first wife was Frances Lewthwaite whom he married in Toxteth, Liverpool on May 6, 1847. He later married Isabella MacArthur in Kingston. He had nine children from one or both marriages. He died on 24 July 1898 in Toronto and was buried in Kingston.
Dr. Norman McLeod, editor of Good Words, wrote as follows:
Evan MacColl’s poetry is the product of a mind impressed with the beauty and the grandeur of the lovely scenes in which his infancy has been nursed. We have no hesitation in saying that the work is that of a man possessed of much poetic genius. Wild indeed and sometimes rough are his rhymes and epithets, yet there are thoughts so new and striking—images and comparisons so beautiful and original—feelings so warm and fresh that stamp this Highland peasant as no ordinary man.
MacColl had written numerous poems, mainly of a lyrical character, while in Canada. One of the most noted is his "Robin", written for the occasion of the Burns Centennial celebration in Kingston. The poem's easy and melodious expression is in excellent imitation of Burns’ own style. He had been for many years the bard of the St. Andrew’s Society of Kingston, and his anniversary poems are greatly appreciated by all Scotsmen. His poetic gifts were inherited by his daughter, Miss Mary J. MacColl, who published a meritorious little volume of poems entitled "Bide a wee," highly commended for their sweetness and delicacy.