THE incredible story of the outlaw Donald Morrison is to be told in a Gaelic Western that is to tour Scotland.

It is inspired by the cowboy and the Gaelic community in Quebec who helped him evade capture during the biggest manhunt in Canadian history.

“Scotland and Canada have an intertwined history and many of those connections are well known but most people, even most Gaels, don’t know about the Gaelic community that lived in Quebec and the remarkable story of how they stood together to defend one of their own,” said playwright Calum L MacLeòid.

Stornoway, Quebec tells the story of Donald (below), the son of Murdo and Sophia Morrison who left Lewis around 1840 in the hope of a better life in Canada.

The National:

They were part of the Gaelic immigrant community of Lac-Mégantic and Donald was born there in 1858. The family struggled to make a living on their poor homestead so, when he was 20 years old, Donald moved West to learn to be a cowboy, becoming skilled at handling horses and guns.

As his father had been forced to mortgage the homestead to a wealthy major to try to make ends meet, Donald sent money home to pay off the debt.

However, Major Malcolm McAulay claimed his debt had not been paid and moved to evict the Morrisons and take over the farm.

Believing his parents had been cheated, Donald hired a lawyer to try to stop the eviction and when this failed he continued to fight for justice. By this time, the homestead had been sold to new owners who complained of harassment and, when their barn burned down, the cowboy became the sole suspect.

Knowing he was a wanted man, Donald went into hiding and an American special constable and known whisky smuggler called Lucius Warren, who boasted he was a better shot, was hired to track him down. His boast was proved wrong when he was shot dead in a “Wild West” shootout, prompting the Canadian authorities to launch a major manhunt. Hundreds of police officers were drafted in from Montreal and a price of $3000 was put on their quarry’s head.

The ten-month manhunt that followed is the longest in Canadian history as the Gaelic immigrant community, appalled at the Morrisons’ treatment and with bitter memories of evictions in Scotland, rallied around to hide the wanted man. Their support was so solid, Donald was able to move around with ease, at times in front of the noses of those who hunted him.

Growing desperate, his would-be captors finally resorted to trickery and pretended to arrange a truce so that Donald could visit his parents. When he emerged again from their cabin, he was ambushed, shot and injured.

Although Donald had acted in self-defence against Warren, he was convicted of his manslaughter and sentenced to 18 years hard labour. He contracted tuberculosis in jail and died in 1894.

The new play is set in Quebec in 1888 where a snowstorm has trapped five people, including Morrison.

MacLeòid said he wanted to breathe life into “unexplored and underrepresented” voices.

“I wanted to explore the struggle between languages and identities in this new country, between Gaels, Canadians, and Quebecois and look at how the displaced and dispossessed in a Scottish context became complicit or actively excited about colonial expansion in a North American context,” he said.

“But I also just wanted to write an absolute riot of a Western. It’s a raw wild ride through an unforgiving Quebec winter.”

Directed by Theatre Gu Leòr’s artistic director, Muireann Kelly, Stornoway, Quebec features live music and is performed in Scottish Gaelic, Québécois, English and BSL, with subtitles.

Produced in association with An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway, the play opens at An Lanntair before heading across Scotland.

The tour will also include Mull Theatre, The Lemon Tree in Aberdeen, the main stage at Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, One Touch Theatre at Eden Court in Inverness and Tron Theatre in Glasgow.

The play is Theatre Gu Leòr’s first full staged touring production post-lockdown.

“We are thrilled that it explores an unsung piece of Canadian and Scottish history,” said Muireann Kelly, of Theatre Gu Leòr.

“Thousands of Gaelic speakers left their homes in the 19th century – seeking a better life in Canada, America and Australia. But the meeting of cultures that took place when they arrived at their destinations is often overlooked.

“To tell the story of Gaelic/Québécois outlaws and bounty hunters, and their complex relationship with colonisation and home is exactly the sort of story we want to tell as a contemporary Gaelic theatre company.”

The play will tour from March 30 until April 15.