It is intriguing to contemplate that Scotland’s game has crossed the ocean, to one of the most Scottish of counties in North America, that of Inverness.
What was to become the community of Inverness was first settled by Highland Scots in the very early 1800’s. These pioneers established farms and settlements and were subsequently joined by friends and relatives who shared their pioneering spirit, their Gaelic language and, in some cases, their religious beliefs. They came to the future community of Inverness and to the lands surrounding it as a hopeful people. They were not going back to Scotland, which they had left for a variety of complicated reasons, and had their eyes firmly focused on a future in the new land. They were the vanguard of thousands who were to follow them. The present county of Inverness was established in 1837 and its inhabitants were largely engaged in agriculture and fishing.
When the first settlers landed near today’s Cabot Links, they did not come for a game of golf, but they did realize that they had come to a beautiful place and encouraged others to join them. And join them they did. They came, as I said, as a hopeful people: to unite with their friends and relatives, to appreciate the sea-washed landscape, or more practically in the later years, to dig for coal. They were all a hopeful people.
In 1863 coal was first discovered at the “Big River” near the northern extremity of the present links. The development of coal mining proceeded fitfully until the advent of the American industrialist William Penn Hussey. With the appearance of Hussey the “boom” began. In 1894, through an Act of Incorporation, he acquired much of the coal producing land after raising capital in England, Scotland, France and Switzerland. After Hussey’s departure in 1899 the venture was sold to the “Inverness Railway and Coal Company.” The railway builders MacKenzie and Mann established a rail link between the Strait of Canso and the coalfields of Inverness. The two Inverness avenues above the present links still bear their names. The first passenger train left for the Strait of Canso in June of 1901, although the major intended cargo was coal, rather than people.
For close to a decade coal really was “king” of the region. By 1904, the year Inverness was incorporated as a town, the major mine was down 2500 feet, much of it under the present links and extending farther beneath the sea. There were 482 coal miners employed and the town had grown in population to 3000. The miners received $1.25 a day and worked six days per week to a total of 70 hours. It is difficult, as we prepare to play golf, to contemplate daily wages of $1.25 as paid in 1904. It is difficult also to imagine our relatives and ancestors at work beneath the fairways and greens of today’s links.
Yet we must remember that Inverness now, as Inverness then, is and was a community of hope. Individuals do not leave their homes to consciously make their lives worse. They leave for a future that they hope will be better, both for themselves and for those whom they love. When the weary miners of the lowland Scottish coalfields saw the opportunity to come to Inverness, Canada for $1.25 a day many of them said “Yes, I will go.” So did the Belgians and others from Hungary, France and Italy, as did the mainland Nova Scotia miners from Stellarton and Springhill, as well as the Highlanders from rural Inverness County. Perhaps many of them did not really know where they were going, but it is likely that they followed a hopeful beacon, going to an unknown life that they hoped would be better than the known life they were forever leaving far behind. It is nice to know that their descendents may carry golf clubs on these new and hopeful links and that the quality of hope is more enduring than wages of $1.25 a day. So many things are relative to their time and place.
As this new and exciting course links the community to the sea, so also does it link the present to the past. It is also the realization of a hopeful vision kindled more than two decades ago. Cabot Links welcomes golfers from all over the world. It is unique in its location and in its present and in its past. Beneath these vibrant links others once walked and worked. All are and were a hopeful people. Come and bring your clubs. May your score be what you hope.