By Steve Hubrecht

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Radium resident Elizabeth Stuart is proud of her roots. So proud, in fact, that a few weeks ago she flew half way across the world and trekked up lofty Cairngorm Summit in the Scottish highlands to commemorate her ancestor John Roy Stuart.

John Roy Stuart, a descendant of the Barons of Kincardine, is a legendary figure in the highlands: he was an officer in the ‘Black Watch’ infantry unit of the Jacobite Army during the risings of the early to mid-1700s, including the famous 1745 uprising led by Bonnie Prince Charles.  

Elizabeth Stuart has always been proud of her last name, but she didn’t realize just how close her connection was to such a famous Scot until she began researching her family’s history 30 years ago.

“He (John Roy Stuart) was a true, Rob Roy-like figure,” Elizabeth told the Pioneer. As a result of her research Elizabeth made several trips to Scotland in the past. During one such trip she met Seamus Grant, a retired professor of Gaelic studies at Aberdeen University. Grant was delighted to meet Elizabeth, since he organizes an annual hike up Cairngorm Summit in honour of John Roy Stuart. He promptly invited Elizabeth along on the next such hike.

Alas, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and travel plans had to be put on hold. Finally this summer, Elizabeth flew back to Scotland. She was there for three weeks, and timed her visit to coincide with the trek up Cairngorm on August 20.

“It was a real honour to be invited. I learned so much more about my ancestry through this group, who are all historians,” said Elizabeth. “It was a great day. Normally it is very windy and terrible weather. But not that day, the weather was wonderful.”

On the way up the group pointed out various parts of the land that once belonged to the Barons of Kincardine, and told Elizabeth stories relating to these sights. At the top Grant read poems and sang Gaelic songs written by John Roy Stuart. Then the group unfurled a modern version of the green banner of Kincardine.

“It was an amazing trip. I was very glad to be over there, steeped in history, with other people who are very much in the know about the history of the clan system,” said Elizabeth. “It’s an interesting history, really: about the resistance of the Scottish highlanders to the yoke of the English for centuries . . . there was a lot of bloodshed, so it is certainly a bittersweet history . . . it’s funny that the English were trying to stamp out the clan system, the Scottish traditions. But these days, what do you think of when you think of Scotland? You think of kilts and tartans, bagpipes and Highland games. Those traditions are still going strong.”

In some ways it’s still an unfolding history, noted Elizabeth, pointing to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum (45 per cent of Scots voted for independence, 55 per cent voted to stay as part of the United Kingdom) and ongoing talks in Scottish Parliament for a second independence referendum in the wake of the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union (a majority of voters in England and Wales wanted to leave the EU, but a clear majority of voters, 62 per cent in Scotland voted to remain in the EU).

Nearly three decades after the final Jacobite rising was defeated by the English, Elizabeth’s fifth great grandfather, Dr. James Stuart (John Roy Stuart’s cousin) emigrated across the Atlantic. They arrived in upper parts of colonial New York province (now New York state) in 1774. Dr. James Stuart had served as surgeon with the British military during the Seven Years War. But in upper New York, he, his wife and six children worked a 100-acre farm.

But, in 1775, barely a year after emigrating, the American Revolution broke out. American revolutionaries took over the farm, taking livestock, farming equipment and even Dr. James Stuart’s surgical tools. In 1777 he began again serving with the British military. In 1783, when the revolution ended, with the U.S. now independent, the British government gave Dr. James Stuart 900 acres of land near Cornwall, Ontario. He moved his family there and became a practicing physician. 

Elizabeth’s fourth great grandfather moved from Cornwall to the town of Blenheim, in the Chatham-Kent area of southwestern Ontario. That’s where Elizabeth grew up too, going into a career in education. That career eventually took her to Alberta, and then to B.C., where she worked at schools in what is now called Rocky Mountain School District 6, working with students with learning challenges and as an education psychologist. 

“I’m really glad I was finally about to go and do it (hiking to Cairngorm Summit),” she told the Pioneer. “I would encourage anyone to research their family history, to look up their genealogy. There are so many options to do that today, with DNA ancestry tests and things like that. For me it’s been very rewarding.”