Scottish emigrants on Vancouver Island - History Scotland expert blog

29 April 2022
imports_CESC_portrait-of-kenneth-mckenzie_24572.jpg Kenneth McKenzie
Theresa Mackay explores the history of Craigflower Manor on Vancouver Island, once a home to emigrant Scots and now a cultural gathering place for the Scottish diaspora. ...

Theresa Mackay explores the history of Craigflower Manor on Vancouver Island, once a home to emigrant Scots and now a cultural gathering place for the Scottish diaspora.

Sunday, early afternoon, warm with a slight wind off the Gorge Waterway tidal inlet. My shoes crunch as I walk the pebble path towards Craigflower Manor, a two-storey Georgian-style home built from 1853-6, now painted cream with a flat green trim and designated a National Historic site of Canada.

The 2.76 acres it sits on was once home to a busy 900 acre working farm with 21 dwellings for employees and several outbuildings, many long since demolished. A grunt in the distance interrupts the sound of my feet and I turn to see the local heavy-event athletes practicing the stone put at the far end of the scrubby lawn.

As I pause to watch, I wonder if Kenneth McKenzie and his family, original leaseholders of the site and emigrants to Victoria, British Columbia from East Lothian, ever imagined that 21st century Scottish diaspora would call the McKenzie property their cultural gathering place.


Now with 80,000 people and a regional district population of 345,000 {1}, there is evidence that Scottish culture has been alive and well in this city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island since at least 1863, just 10 years after the arrival of the McKenzie family and 20 years after the establishment of Fort Victoria as the Pacific headquarters for the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC).

A group of Scottish immigrants formed the Caledonian Benevolent Association (CBA), a predecessor to the modern-day Victoria Highland Games Association (VHGA), and the following year the CBA held their first Scottish cultural event of 'about 50 [people] (some of whom were dressed in Highland garb).' {2}

In 1865 they declared that 'steps are being taken to hold an annual Gathering for competition in Highland games, etc.'{3} Today the VHGA continues the tradition of producing the annual Victoria Highland Games & Celtic Festival, the largest display of Scottish culture in Western Canada. The event attracts top-level pipe bands, dancers and athletes from across North America and upwards of 25,000 attendees, including HRH The Duke of York as Chief of the Games in 2013.

In 2014 after a comprehensive adjudication process, the VHGA finally secured a permanent location when the Government of British Columbia, owners of the historic Craigflower Manor and Lands, named the VHGA as the sole managing tenant. This gave Victoria’s largest cultural group a much-needed home base from which to share Scottish arts, culture, history and heritage- and the story of Kenneth McKenzie and Scottish settlers to the region.

Stepping through the manor’s back door I drop my bag and begin opening the window coverings to let the natural light in, a must in this historic house museum given its lack of modern overhead lighting. Arriving in Kenneth’s office I see his painted portrait, something befitting of a man who was the HBC’s first farm bailiff on Vancouver Island, then a British colony that was in need of settlement and territorial staking.

Born in 1811 to a surgeon and his wife, Janet, Kenneth McKenzie (below left) grew up in Haddington, Scotland, at Renton Hall, the inspiration for the Craigflower Manor design and today a privately owned dwelling.

After schooling in Edinburgh and then returning to manage his father’s estate, at age 41 he signed a contract with the Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company, a subsidiary of HBC, to oversee a farm in Victoria that would be partially responsible for supplying the Fort.

In August 1852, after travelling to Gravesend, near London, Kenneth loaded his wife Agnes, 29, their four daughters and two sons, ranging in age from infant to 10 years, as well as a contingent of Scottish families recruited to work the farm, onto the Norman Morrison, a teak HBC ship. Bound for the Colony of Vancouver Island, the voyage would take five months, most of those during inhospitable weather. {4}


Upon arrival in January 1853, Kenneth began the three-year task of building Craigflower Manor and setting up the farm, including a lime kiln, brickworks, sawmill, bakery, blacksmith’s shop, school and homes for the workers.

During this time, Agnes, known to fire her horse pistol at night to ward of any impending threat to her family, bore two more sons.

Now a family of ten, she and Kenneth welcomed the comforts of their new manor as they set about welcoming HBC officials and Royal Navy brass through the grand entrance and into their high-ceilinged dining room overlooking the waterway.

I lift the blind on Kenneth’s office window and look out at the athletes sharing a joke as they practice for the Victoria Highland Games. Over 160 years has passed since the McKenzie family came to Canada to create a new future. The home to emigrating Scots of yesterday and the cultural gathering place for Scottish diaspora today, the Craigflower Manor and Lands reminds us of the impact Scotland had, and continues to have, on Canada.


1. Statistics Canada, ‘Victoria, British Columbia (Code 5917034) and Capital, British Columbia (Code 5917) (table),’ Census Profile, 2011 Census, Catalogue no. 98-316-XWE (Ottawa, 2012) pd/prof/index.cfm?Lang=E, accessed July 5, 2014 11:19 am.

2. ‘Caledonian Benevolent Association’, The Daily British Colonist, No. 146, 29 November 1864 (Victoria, 1864), p. 2.

3. ‘Caledonian Benevolent Association’, The Daily British Colonist, No. 25, 11 July 1865 (Victoria, 1865), p. 2.

4. N. de Bertrand Lugrin, Pioneer Women of Vancouver Island 1843-1866 (Victoria, 1928), p. 74.

(Images copyright Theresa Mackay)

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Originally published 8 July 2014. Refreshed 29 April 2022.

Theresa Mackay is Executive Director of the British Columbia Museums Association, the professional organization for museums in the province, owner of Larchgrove Marketing Group, named after her ancestral home in Glenlivet, and Associate Faculty at the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, Royal Roads University. She is an MLitt candidate in Highlands and Islands history with University of the Highlands and Islands and blogs about having Scotland in her soul at Theresa played a key role in the application to secure Craigflower Manor and Lands for the Victoria Highland Games Association.