Not Caledonia as in Scotland, but the name of the Caledonia coal mines in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. This song takes place in a land that was originally populated by settlers expatriated to Nova Scotia during the Highland Clearances.
Scatarie is an island abandoned by people whose fishing has dried up. To this day it remains uninhabited. Boularderie is an island near to Caledonia, inhabited by the upper classes.
When First I Came to Caledonia was collected in Songs and stories from Deep Cove, Cape Breton by Amby Thomas in 1979.
When first I came to Caledonia I got loading at number three And I got lodgings with Donald Norman He had a daughter she made good tea
And it was me and me brother Charlie Two bigger shavers you ne'er did see We're spearing eels in the month of April And starving slaves out on Scatarie
I went to Norman to buy some brochan A cake of soap and a pound of tea But Norman said that I couldn’t have them 'Til fish got plenty on Scatarie
So I went down to the big harbour I only went for to see the spray I spied a maid from Boularderie over She looked to me like the queen of May
I set foot on the deepest ocean
As far from land as once I could be
A-sailing over the darkest ocean
A woman's love would never bother me
If I had pen from Pennsylvania
And I had paper so snowy white
And I had ink of a rosy morning
A true love letter to you I'd write
I set my head to a cask of brandy
And it’s a dandy I do declare
‘Cause when I’m drinking I’m sad and thinking
How could I gain a young lady fair
released July 27, 2016
When First I Came to Caledonia (Trad. Cape Breton, arr. Tannara)