Bay Boys homecoming
Orkney Island's descendants to gather

Arthur Milnes
Northern News Services

NNSL (Nov 16/98) - Though it has been hundreds of years and still an ocean away, numerous North Americans will be heading home come the end of May -- home, that is, to Scotland's Orkney Islands.

In both the 18th and 19th centuries, Orcadians, by many accounts, built the Hudson's Bay Co.

In turn, these pioneers -- men with names like Firth, Loutitt, Mowatt, Flett and others -- went on to become true Northern pioneers when it came to the development of what is now the NWT.

Many thousands of people across North America can trace their family trees back to the 65 islands -- located about 12 kilometres off Scotland's coast -- which make up the Orkneys.

A Winnipeg based travel company has now spent three years organizing the Orkney Homecoming, set for May 31 to June 9, 1999.

A spokesperson for the Great Canadian Travel Co. says Northerners should register soon if they wish to participate in the historic gathering.

"We hope for 400 to 500 participants and space is filling fast," says Max Johnson. "The islands'capacity for tourists is small and we have most of the accommodations locked. By Dec. 31, we have to give back unused rooms, so now is the time to act."

Johnson says the North's strong ties with the Hudson's Bay Co. make the Orkneys of interest to many North of 60.

"The North resonates with Orcadian names," he says. "There are strong cultural ties -- most Northern fiddle music originated in the islands...Many Orcadians came to Canada in the 18th and 19th centuries with the Hudson's Bay Co. and, thus, gravitated to the more remote settlements in both the southern provinces and the NWT. For many, it is a real roots attraction."

One Northerner with just such roots is Yellowknife's George Gibson. He and his wife Carol, who have lived in the North for 27 years, are eagerly looking forward to their trip.

"I've always wanted to go back to the islands and look up the roots," he says. "I've never been (to the Orkney Islands) before."

Gibson's great-grandfather, Alexander, left the Orkney's for a five-year contract in Canada with the Hudson's Bay Co. in 1823. Alexander was 23.

He arrived home in the Orkneys after his "five years" were up in 1849. He was 44 and served at isolated posts in Quebec.

George Gibson has researched his great-grandfather through the Hudson's Bay Co.'s archives in Winnipeg. He even found a factor's diary which detailed his ancestors daily activities for a year-and-a-half in the 1830s.

Like many others across the continent, it's obvious that Gibson is anxious to see his "home" across the sea.

Anyone seeking further information should contact the Great Canadian Travel Co. in Winnipeg.