In Grand Anse, at the intersection of Route 4 and the road to Dundee, once stood a majestic old home known as McPherson House. In the days of stage coach and rail transportation, McPherson House stood as a welcome stopover for weary travellers.
In the early 1800s, a number of settlers from the highlands and islands of Scotland came to the Maritimes seeking new opportunities. Among these was Alexander McPherson, who in 1812, along with his wife Catherine, secured a lot of land at Grand Anse. He was followed by his parents John and Isabella and his brother Farquhar. Not long after settling there, Alexander and his father died leaving two widows with seven children to raise.
In the summer of 1827, it was announced that a new road would be built between the Grandique Ferry on Lennox Passage and the Ship Harbour Road. In short order, this new highway would be linked to St. Peter’s and eventually to Sydney. The road cut through the McPherson property making their home strategically located. The house soon became one of Cape Breton’s earliest inns on the long road from the Gut of Canso to Sydney.
Couriers running between Arichat or Sydney and the Gut of Canso were the first to recognize the convenience of McPherson House so when the Arichat and Sydney couriers were required to transfer mail, McPherson House became the logical choice. The service, however, proved more of a nuisance and when, after five years, Catherine McPherson requested an annual remuneration of five pounds, she was turned down.
Over the years, McPherson House played host to many of the most important people in the province. One of these was Judge John G. Marshall, appointed to the bench in 1823 as Chief Justice of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas at Sydney, a position he held for 18 years. The Chief Justice was required to travel extensively across Cape Breton and in doing so, he paid particular attention to the condition of the roads. His reports in this regard did much to bring about improvements in travelling conditions.
Another leading citizen of the time, who frequented McPherson House, was Dr. Andrew Madden of Arichat. He was an Irishman who had studied at the University of Glasgow. He served the people of the area for 40 years at a time when disease was a constant threat. In fact in 1800-1801, smallpox endangered the lives of nine-tenths of the population on the island.
Prominent politicians such as Laurence Kavanagh and James C. McKeagney were patrons of the inn. Kavanagh served as representative from Cape Breton in the House of Assembly in Halifax from 1820 to 1830. He became the first English speaking Roman Catholic to serve in the legislature.
McKeagney is remembered for the role he played in the Confederation debate. He was elected the first Member of Parliament for Cape Breton County on an anti-Confederation ticket even though he had privately assured Bishop Colin MacKinnon of Arichat that he would support a union.
In 1872, he sought re-election as an anti-confederation candidate although he agreed to support Premier Charles Tupper who sought to extend discussions on the issue.