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The Irish in Canada

by James J. Walsh, M.D., Ph.D., Litt.D., Sc.D.
From the book 'The Glories of Ireland' Edited By Joseph DUNN, Ph.D and P.J. LENNOX. Litt.D.,
Professors at the Catholic University of America 1914.
Transcribed & Compiled by Teena

When Wolfe captured Quebec and Canada came under British rule, some of the best known of his officers and several of his men were Irish. After the Peace was signed many of them settled in Canada, not a few of them marrying French wives, and as a consequence there are numerous Irish, Scotch, and English names among the French speaking inhabitants of Lower Canada. Two of Wolfe's officers, Colonel Guy Carleton, born at Strabane in the county Tyrone, and General Richard Montgomery, born only seven miles away at Convoy, in the same county, were destined to play an important role in the future history of Canada. Montgomery was in command of the Revolutionary Army from the Colonies, when it attempted to take Quebec, and Carleton, who had been a trusted friend of General Wolfe, was in command of the Canadian forces. The two men were the lives of their respective commands, and with the death of Montgomery, Carleton's victory was assured. Carleton was made Governor-in-Chief of Canada, and during the trying years of the early British rule of New France and the American Revolution, his tact did more than anything else to save Canada for the British. Bibaud, the French historian, says, "the man to whom the administration of the government was entrusted had known how to make the Canadians love him, and this contributed not a little to retain at least within the bounds of neutrality those among them who might have been able, or who believed themselves able, to ameliorate their lot by making common cause with the insurgent colonies." Shortly after being made governor, Carleton went to England and secured the passage of the Quebec Act through the English parliament, which gave the Canadian French assurance that they were to be ruled without oppression by the British Government. Subsequently, in 1786, Carleton, as Lord Dorchester, became the first governor-general of Canada, being given jurisdiction over Nova Scotia and New Brunswick as well as Upper and Lower Canada, and to him more than to any other is due the early loyalty to the British crown in the Dominion.

After the army the next important source of Irish population in Canada were the loyalists who after the Revolution removed from the United States to the British Dominions in America. There were probably many thousands of them, more than enough to make up for the French who left Canada for France when the territory passed over to England. Among the Irish loyalists who went to Canada was the Rev. John Stuart, who had become very well known as a missionary in the Mohawk Valley before the Revolution, and who, though born a Presbyterian, was destined to win the title of the "Father of the Church of England in Upper Canada." When the first Canadian parliament met in December 1792, Edward O'Hara was returned for Gaspe, in Lower Canada, and D'Arcy McGee could boast that henceforward Lower Canada was never without an Irish representative in its legislative councils.

When the question of settling Upper Canada with British colonists came up, Colonel Talbot, a county Dublin man, was the most important factor. He obtained a large grant of land near what is now London and attracted settlers into what was at that time a wilderness. The tract settled under his superintendence now comprises twenty-nine townships in the most prosperous part of Canada. The maritime Provinces had been under British rule before the fall of Quebec and contained a large element of Irish population. In Newfoundland in 1753 out of a total population of some thirteen thousand, Davin says that there were nearly five thousand Catholics, chiefly Irish. In 1784 a great new stimulus to Irish immigration to Newfoundland was given by Father O'Connell, who in 1796 was made Catholic bishop of the island. Newfoundland, for its verdure, the absence of reptiles, and its Irish inhabitants, was called at this time "Transatlantic Ireland", and Bonnycastle says that more than one half of the population was Irish.

In 1749 Governor Cornwallis brought some 4,000 disbanded soldiers to Nova Scotia and founded Halifax. Ten years later it was described as divided into Halifax proper, Irishtown or the southern, and Dutchtown or the northern, suburbs. The inhabitants numbered 3,000, one-third of whom were Irish. They were among the most prominent men of the city and province. In the Privy Council for 1789 were Thomas Corcoran and Charles Morris. Morris was president of the Irish Society and Matthew Cahill the sheriff of Halifax in that year. A large number of Irish from the north of Ireland settled in Nova Scotia in 1763, calling their settlement Londonderry. They provided a fortunate refuge for the large numbers of Irish Presbyterians who were expelled from New England by the intolerant Puritans the following year. They also welcomed many loyalists who came from New York and the New England States after the acknowledgment of the independence of the American Colonies by Great Britain. Between the more eastern settlers around Halifax and those in the interior, the greater part of the population of Nova Scotia was probably Irish in origin.
It was in the Maritime Provinces that the first step in political emancipation for Catholics under British rule was made. In 1821 Lawrence Cavanaugh, a Roman Catholic, was returned to the Assembly of the Province for Cape Breton. He would not subscribe to the declaration on Transubstantiation in the oath of office tendered him, and as a consequence was refused admittance to the Assembly. But he was elected again and again, and six years afterwards Judge Haliburton, better known by his 'nom de plume of "Sam Slick", in an able speech, seconded the motion to dispense with the declaration, and Cavanaugh was permitted to take the oath without the declaration.

The War of 1812 brought over from Ireland a number of Irish soldiers serving in the British army, many of whom after the war settled down and became inhabitants of the country. They were allotted farm lands and added much to Canada's prosperity. A type of their descendants was Sir William Hingston, whose father was at this time a lieutenant adjutant in the Royal 100th Regiment, "the Dublins." Sir William's father died when his son was a mere boy, but the lad supported his mother, worked his way through the medical school, saved enough money to give himself two years in Europe, and became a great surgeon. He was elected three times mayor of Montreal, serving one term with great prestige under the most trying circumstances. He afterwards became a senator of the Dominion and was knighted by Queen Victoria.

Prince Edward Island was settled mainly by the Scotch and French, and yet many Irish names are to be found among its old families. It was ceded to Great Britain in 1763, and the first Governor appointed was Captain Walter Patterson, whose niece, Elizabeth Patterson, was married to Jerome Bonaparte in Baltimore in 1803. Captain Patterson was 'so ardent an Irishman' that through his influence he had an act passed by the Assembly changing the name of the island to New Ireland, but the home Government refused to countenance the change. At this time the island was known as St. John's, and the name Prince Edward was given to it in honor of the Duke of Kent in 1789. One of the most popular governors of the island was Sir Dominick Daly, knighted while in office. He was a member of a well known Galway family, and first came to America as secretary to one of the governors. He afterwards became provincial secretary for Lower Canada.

Canada suffered from the aftermath of the revolutions which took place in Europe during the early part of the nineteenth century. The year 1837 saw two revolutions, one in Upper, the other in Lower, Canada, though neither of them amounted to more than a flash in the pan. As might be expected, there were not a few Irish among the disaffected spirits who fostered these revolutions. Their experience at home led them to know how little oppressed people were likely to obtain from the British Government except by a demonstration of force. There were serious abuses, especially "the Family Compact", the lack of anything approaching constitutional guarantees in government, and political disabilities on the score of religion. However, most of the Irish in Canada were ranged on the side of the government. Sir Richard Bonnycastle, writing in 1846, said "The Catholic Irish who have been long settled in the country are by no means the worst subjects in this transatlantic realm, as I can personally testify, having had the command of large bodies of them during the border troubles of 1837-8. They are all loyal and true." Above all Bonnycastle pledged himself for the loyalty of the Irish Catholic priesthood.

One of the Irishmen who came into prominence in the rebellions of 1837 was Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan, the editor of the 'Vindicator', the newspaper by means of which Papineau succeeded in arousing much feeling among the people of Lower Canada and fomented the Revdlution. O'Callaghan escaped to the United States and settled at Albany, where he became the historian of New York State. To him, more than to any other, we owe the preservation of the historical materials out of which the early history of the State can be constructed. Rare volumes of the Jesuit Relations, to the value of which for historical purposes he had called special attention, were secured from his library for the Canadian library at Ottawa.

Towards the middle of the nineteenth century, when the population of Ireland reached its highest point of over 8,000,000, the pressure on the people caused them to emigrate in large numbers, and then the famine came to drive out great crowds of those who survived. In proportion to its population Canada received a great many more of these Irish emigrants than did the United States. Unfortunately the conditions on board the emigrant sailing vessels in those days cost many lives. They were often becalmed and took months to cross the ocean. My grandmother coming in the thirties was ninety-three days in crossing, landing at Quebec after seven weeks on half rations, part of the time living on nothing but oatmeal and water. Ship fever, the dreaded typhus, broke out on her vessel as on so many others, and more than half the passengers perished. Many, many thousands of the Irish emigrants thus died on ship-board or shortly after landing.

In 1912, the Ancient Order of Hibernians erected near Quebec a monument to the victims. In spite of the untoward conditions, emigration continued unabated, and in 1875, in the population of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, it was calculated that the Irish numbered 846,414 as compared with 706,369 English and 549,946 Scotch (Hatton, quoted by Davin in 'The Irishman In Canada'). It had become clear that Canada would prosper more if united than in separate provinces jealous of each other. The first move in this direction came from the Maritime Provinces, where the Irish element was so much stronger than elsewhere, and when a conference of the leading statesmen of these Provinces was appointed to be held at Charlottetown, P.E.I., September 1864, representatives of Upper and Lower Canada asked to be allowed to be present to bring forward a plan for a Federation of all the British Provinces in North America. The British North America Act was passed, and received the royal assent, the queen appointing July 1, 1867 as the formal beginning of the Dominion of Canada.

Among the men who were most prominent in bringing about federation and who came to be known as the Fathers of Confederation were several distinguished Irishmen. Thomas D'Arcy McGee was the best known and probably did more than any other Canadian to make the idea of confederation popular by his writings and speeches. He had come to Canada as a stranger, edited a newspaper in Montreal, and was elected to the Assembly after a brief residence, in spite of the opposition cries of "Irish adventurer" and "stranger from abroad," was subsequently elected four times by acclamation, and was Minister of Agriculture and Education and Canadian Commissioner to the Paris Exposition of 1867. His letters to the Earl of Mayo, pleading for the betterment of conditions in Ireland, were quoted by Gladstone during the Home Rule movement as "a prophetic voice from the dead coming from beyond the Atlantic."

Another of the Fathers of Confederation was the Honorable Edward Whalen, born in the county Mayo, who as a young man went to Prince Edward Island, where he gained great influence as a popular journalist. He was an orator as well as an editor, and came to have the confidence of the people of the island, and hence was able to do very much for federation. A third of the Fathers of Confederation from the Maritime Provinces was the Honorable, afterwards Sir, Edward Kenny, who, when the first Cabinet of the New Dominion was formed, was offered and accepted one of the portfolios in recognition of the influence which he had wielded for Canadian union. At all times in the history of Canada the Catholic hierarchy has been looked up to as thoroughly conservative factors for the progress and development of the country. After the Irish immigration most of the higher ecclesiastics were Irish by birth or descent, and they all exerted a deep influence not only on their own people but on their city and province. One of the Fathers of Confederation was Archbishop Connolly, of Halifax, of whom the most distinguished Presbyterian clergyman of the Lower Provinces said the day after his death: "I feel that I have not only lost a friend, but as if Canada had lost a patriot; in all his big-hearted Irish fashion he was ever at heart, in mind, and deed, a true Canadian." Among his colleagues of the hierarchy were such men as his predecessor Archbishop Walsh, Archbishop Lynch, the first Metropolitan of Upper Canada when Toronto was erected into an archbishopric, Bishop Hogan of Kingston, Archbishop Hannan of Halifax, Archbishop Walsh of Toronto, and Archbishop O'Brien of Halifax, all of whom were esteemed as faithful Canadians working for the benefit of their own people more especially, but always with the larger view of good for the whole commonwealth of Canada.

The Irish continued to furnish great representative men to Canada. The first governor, Guy Carleton, was Irish, and his subsequent governor-generalship as Lord Dorchester did much to make Canada loyal to Great Britain. During the difficult times of the Civil War in the United States, Lord Monck, a Tipperary man, was the tactful governor-general, "like other Irish Governors singularly successful in winning golden opinions" (Davin). Probably the most popular and influential of Canada's governors-general was Lord Dufferin, another Irishman. Some of the most distinguished of Canadian jurists, editors, and politicians have been Irishmen, and Irishmen have been among her great merchants, contractors, and professional men. In our own time Sir William Hingston among the physicians, Sir Charles Fitzpatrick among the jurists, and Sir Thomas George Shaughnessy among the administrative financiers are fine types of Irish character.

REFERENCES: Davin: The Irishman in Canada (Toronto, 1877); McGee: Works; Tracy: The Tercentenary History of Canada (New York, 1908); Walsh: Sir William Hingston, in the Amer. Catholic Quarterly (January, 1911), Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan, in the Records of the Amer. Catholic Historical Society (1907); McKenna: A Century of Catholicity in Canada, in the Catholic World, vol. 1, p. 229.