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  Helmsdale & the Highland Clearances

The village of Helmsdale is a product of the Highland Clearances, having been planned to provide accommodation and employment to those evicted from their lands to make way for sheep.

Early in the 19th century the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland decided that they needed to "improve" their estates to make them more productive and profitable. They were advised that the best course of action would be to clear their tenants from the straths and glens and turn the land over to sheep farming. The people themselves were to be moved to planned settlements, such as Helmsdale, on the north and east coasts.

Clearances took place throughout Sutherland and are remembered as the most notorious of all the clearances throughout the Highlands. The Strath of Kildonan runs north west from Helmsdale for over twenty miles. Today there are very few houses in the strath but two hundred years ago it was very different with a relatively large population living in many small scattered communities throughout the glen. In 1811 the population was recorded as 1,574. Between 1813 and 1819 the strath was forcibly cleared of its inhabitants. Many went to live in the new settlements built on the coast but others decided to emigrate to the new world. Many left for Canada, and it was Kildonan settlers who founded what is now the city of Winnipeg in Manitoba. By 1831 the population of the Strath of Kildonan was reduced to just 257 people.

Today in Helmsdale on a hill just to the south west of the road bridge stands a statue which commemorates the people who were forced to leave their homes & lands and had to emigrate to the new world. The monument was originally planned as a 30 foot tall sculpture to stand on top of Creag Bun-Ullidh, the hill above Helmsdale. Its size and position would have rivalled the 100 foot statue to the notorious First Duke of Sutherland on Ben Bhraggie above Golspie.

However these plans fell through but the original 10 foot tall bronze sculptures have been mounted on a stone plinth. The inscription reads

The Emigrants

Commemorates the people of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland who, in the face of great adversity, sought freedom, hope and justice beyond these shores. They and their descendants went forth and explored continents, built great countries and cities and gave their enterprise and culture to the world. This is their legacy.

Their voices will echo forever thro the empty straths and glens of their homeland.

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Highland Clearances

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