Irish Canadian

Irish Canadian

Infobox Ethnic group
group = Irish Canadians

poptime = 4,354,155
14% of the Canadian Population
popplace = Ontario, Western Canada, Atlantic Canada, Quebec
langs = English, French, Irish
rels = Roman Catholic, Protestant
related = Irish, Irish Americans

Irish Canadians are immigrants and descendants of immigrants who origninated in Ireland. The 2006 census by Statcan, Canada's Official Statistical office revealed that the Irish were the 4th largest ethnic group with 4,354,155 Canadians with full or partial Irish descent or 14% of the nation's total population. [] This was a large and significant increase of 531,495 since the 2001 census, which counted 3,822,660 respondents quoting Irish ethnicity. []

Irish in Canada

Irish have a long and rich history in Canada dating back centuries. The first recorded Irish presence in the area of present day Canada dates from 1536, when Irish fishermen from Cork travelled to Newfoundland.

After the permanent settlement in Newfoundland by Irish in early 1800s, overwhelmingly from Waterford, increased immigration of the Irish elsewhere in Canada began in the decades following the War of 1812. Between the years 1825 to 1845, 60% of all immigrants to Canada were Irish; in 1831 alone, some 34,000 arrived in Montréal.

But the peak period of entry of the Irish to Canada occurred during and shortly after the Great Irish Famine in the mid 19th century; a great number of them settled in the first ariving provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. During this time, Canada was the destination of the most destitute Irish people, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. This was because the fare to Canada was much lower than those to the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

The majority arrived in Grosse Isle, an island in present day Quebec which housed the immigration reception station. Thousands died or were treated in the hospital (equipped for less than one hundred patients) in the summer of 1847; in fact, many boats that reached Grosse-Île had lost the bulk of their passengers and crew, and many more died in quarantine on or near the island. From Grosse-Ile, most survivors were sent to Montréal. The orphaned children were adopted into Quebec families and accordingly became Québécois, both linguistically and culturally. Most of these immigrants continued on to settle in Canada West (formerly Upper Canada, now Ontario) or the United States. []

Compared with the Irish in the United States or the United Kingdom who fled famine, a good number of the Irish in Canada settled in rural areas and not in the cities, though there were many exceptions (especially in Quebec and New Brunswick, see below for more information). The Irish in Canada still faced a large amount of racism and persecution, both from the Irish Republican Brotherhood's raids on British army posts in Canada (then known as British North America) from the United States, and due to long-standing feelings of anti-Irish racism among Canadian Protestants. Although the Irish-Canadian community did in part condemned the attacks on the British Army in Canada in support of their hopes for a peaceful new country, many more were torn between loyalty to their new home and the memory of harsh British rule in Ireland.

Thomas D'Arcy McGee, an Irish-Montreal journalist, became a Father of Confederation in 1867. An Irish Republican in his early years, he would moderate his view in later years and become a passionate advocate of Confederation. He was instrumental in enshrining educational rights for minority Catholics in the Canadian Constitution. In 1868, he was assassinated in Ottawa. It was claimed a Fenian named Patrick J. Whelan was the assassin, attacking McGee for his recent anti-Raid statements (even though McGee first permanently fled Ireland to America to escape a warrant for his arrest on charges of aiding the 1848 Uprising in Tipperary, while editing a nationalist newspaper called "Nation"). This was later called into question, with many believing that Whelan was falsely accused as a scapegoat in the assassination.

After Confederation, Irish Catholics faced more oppression, probably because of their faith rather than their ethnicity. This was especially true in the mainly Protestant province of Ontario, which was under the political sway of the already entrenched anti-Catholic Orange Order, Ottawa excepted. The anthem "The Maple Leaf Forever," written and composed by Scottish immigrant and Orangeman Alexander Muir, reflects the British Loyalist outlook of many Canadians of the time.


The following statistics are from the 2006 Census of Canada. []

Benevolent Irish Society

In 1806, The Benevolent Irish Society (BIS) was founded as a philanthropic organization in St. John's, Newfoundland. Membership was open to adult residents of Newfoundland who were of Irish birth or ancestry, regardless of religious persuasion. The BIS was founded as a charitable, fraternal, middle-class social organization, on the principles of "benevolence and philanthropy", and had as its original objective to provide the necessary skills which would enable the poor to better themselves. Today the society is still active in Newfoundland and is the oldest philanthropic organization in North America.

The Irish Benevolent Society

In 1877, a breakthrough in Irish Canadian Protestant-Catholic relations occurred in London, Ontario. This was the founding of the Irish Benevolent Society, a brotherhood of Irishmen and women of both Catholic and Protestant faiths. The society promoted Irish Canadian culture, but it was forbidden for members to speak of Irish politics when meeting. This companionship of Irish people of all faiths quickly tore down the walls of sectarianism in OntarioFact|date=February 2007. Today, the Society is still operating.

Irish in Quebec

Irish established communities in both urban and rural Quebec. Irish immigrants arrived in large numbers in Montreal during the 1840s and were hired as labourers to build the Victoria Bridge, living in a tent city at the foot of the bridge. Here, workers unearthed a mass grave of 6000 Irish immigrants who had died at nearby Windmill Point in the typhus outbreak of 1947-48. The Irish Commemorative Stone or "Black Rock," as it is commonly known, was erected by bridge workers to commemorate the tragedy.

The Irish would go on to settle permanently in the close-knit working-class neighbourhoods of Pointe-Saint-Charles, Griffintown and Goose Village, Montreal. With the help of Quebec's Catholic Church, they would establish their own churches, schools, and hospitals. St. Patrick's Basilica was founded in 1847 and served Montreal's English-speaking Catholics for over a century. Loyola College (Montreal) was founded by the Jesuits to serve Montreal's mostly Irish English-speaking Catholic community in 1896. Saint Mary's Hospital was founded in the 1920s and continues to serve Montreal's present-day English-speaking population. The St. Patrick's Day Parade in Montreal is the oldest in North America, dating back to 1824. It annually attracts crowds of over 600,000 people.

The Irish would also settle in large numbers in Quebec City and establish communities in rural Quebec. However, most would move on to larger North American cities.

Many Irish immigrants would also assimilate into French-Canadian society. After the disaster at Grosse-Île (see above), many Irish children were left as orphans in a new country. The Catholic Church would arrange for these children to be adopted by French Canadians in Lower Canada. These children kept their Irish surnames (Caissie to Kessy, Riel to Reilly..). [Taïeb Moalla, [ "Les Irlandais du Québec : à la croisée de deux cultures"] , in, retrieved on February 3, 2007] A common Catholic religion also allowed Irish immigrants to intermarry with French Canadians, and children would often speak French as a first language.

Today, many Québécois have a name of Irish origin. Examples are Daniel Johnson, Claude Ryan, and the late Georges Dor (born Georges-Henri Dore). The Irish constitute the second largest ethnic group in the province after the French Canadians and one estimate suggests that as many as 30 percent of the French-speaking Quebeckers have some Irish ancestry. [Taïeb Moalla, [ "Les Irlandais du Québec : à la croisée de deux cultures"] , in, retrieved on February 3, 2007]

Irish in Ontario

From the times of early European settlement in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Irish had been coming to Ontario, in small numbers and in the service of New France as missionaries, soldiers, geographers and fur trappers.

After the creation of British North America in 1763, Protestant Irish, both Irish Anglicans and Ulster-Scottish Presbyterians had been migrating over the decades to Upper Canada, some as United Empire Loyalists or directly from Ulster.

In the years after the War of 1812, an increasing numbers of Irish, a growing number Catholic, were venturing to Canada to obtain work on projects such as canals, roads, railroads and in the lumber industry. The labourers were known as ‘navvies’ and built much of the early infrastructure in the province. Settlement schemes offering cheap (or free) land brought over farmer families. Ulster and Munster (particularly Tipperary and Cork) were frequent sources of these migrants.

The Great Irish Famine 1845-1849, had a large impact on Ontario. At its peak in the summer of 1847, boatloads of sick migrants arrived in desperate circumstances on steamers from Quebec to Bytown (presently Ottawa), and to ports of call on Lake Ontario, chief amongst them Kingston and Toronto, in addition to many other smaller communities across southern Ontario. They came from the land estates in counties such as Sligo, Galway, Clare and Cork. Quarantine facilities were hastily constructed to accommodate them. Nurses, Doctors, Priests, Nuns, compatriots, some politicians and ordinary citizens aided them. Thousands died in Ontario that summer alone, mostly from Typhus.

An economic boom and rapid growth in the years after their arrival allowed many men to obtain steady employment on the rapidly expanding railroad network, construction in the cities or in the logging industry, some venturing to the more remote parts of eastern, central and northern Ontario. Women would often enter into domestic service. Others farmed the relatively cheap, arable land of southern Ontario. There was a strong Irish rural presence in Ontario in comparison to their brethren in the northern US, but they were also numerous in the towns and cities. Later generations of these poorer immigrants were among those who rose to prominence in unions, business, law, the arts and politics.

With Canadian Confederation in 1867, Catholics were granted a separate school board. Through the late 19th and early 20th century, Irish immigration to Ontario continued but a slower pace, much of it family reunification. Out migration of Irish in Ontario (along with others) occurred during this period following economic downturns, available new land and mining booms in the US or the Canadian West. The reverse is true of those with Irish descent who migrated to Ontario from the Maritimes and Newfoundland seeking work, mostly since World War II.

Today, the impact of the heavy 19th century Irish immigration to Ontario is evident as those who report Irish extraction in the province number close to 2 million people or almost half the total Canadians who claim Irish ancestry. In 2004, March 17 was proclaimed “Irish Heritage Day” by the Ontario Legislature in recognition of the immense Irish contribution to the development of the Province.

There are many communities in Ontario that are named after places and last names of Ireland: Ballinafad, Ballyduff, Ballymote, Cavan, Connaught, Connellys, Dalton, Donnybrook, Dublin, Dundalk, Dunnville, Enniskillen, Erinsville, Galway, Hagarty, Irish Lake, Kearney, Keenansville, Kennedys, Killarney, Limerick, Listowel, Lucan, Maguire, Malone, McGarry, Moffat, Mullifarry, Munster, Navan, New Dublin, O'Connell, Oranmore, Quinn Settlement, Ripley, Shamrock, South Monaghan, Waterford and Westport.

Irish in New Brunswick

The Miramichi River valley, received a significant Irish immigration in the years before the potato famine. These settlers tended to be better off and better educated than the later arrivals, who came out of desperation. Though coming after the Scottish and the French Acadians, they made their way in this new land, intermarrying with the Catholic Highland Scots, and to a lesser extent, with the Acadians. Some, like Martin Cranney, held elective office and became the natural leaders of their augmented Irish community after the arrival of the famine immigrants. The early Irish came to the Miramichi because it was easy to get to with lumber ships stopping in Ireland before returning to Chatham and Newcastle, and because it provided economic opportunities, especially in the lumber industry.

Long a timber-exporting colony, New Brunswick became the destination of thousands of Irish immigrants in the form of refugees fleeing the potato famines during the mid-19th century as the timber cargo vessels provided cheap passage when returning empty to the colony. Quarantine hospitals were located on islands at the mouth of the colony's two major ports, Saint John (Partridge Island) and Chatham-Newcastle (Middle Island), where many would ultimately die. Those who survived settled on marginal agricultural lands in the Miramichi River valley and in the Saint John River and Kennebecasis River valleys, however, the difficulty of farming these regions saw many Irish immigrant families moving to the colony's major cities within a generation or to Portland, Maine or Boston.

Saint John and Chatham, New Brunswick saw large numbers of Irish migrants, changing the nature and character of both municipalities. Today, Chatham as part of the amalgamated city of Miramichi continues to host a large annual Irish festival. Indeed, Chatham is one of the most Irish communities in North America.

Irish in Prince Edward Island

For years, Prince Edward Island had been divided between Irish Catholics and British Protestants. In the latter half of the 20th century, this sectarianism diminished and was ultimately destroyed recently after two events occurred. First, the Catholic and Protestant school boards were merged into one secular institution; second, the practise of electing two MLAs for each provincial riding (one Catholic and one Protestant) was ended.

Irish in Newfoundland

Unlike in Ontario, in Newfoundland Irish Catholics settled in the cities (mainly St. John's), while British Protestants settled in small fishing communities. Over time, the Irish Catholics became wealthier than their Protestant neighbours, which gave incentive for Protestant Newfoundlanders to join the Orange Order. In 1903, Sir William Coaker founded the Fisherman's Protective Union (F.P.U.) in an Orange Hall in Herring Neck. Furthermore, during the term of Commission of Government (1934-1949), the Orange Lodge was one of only a handful of "democratic" organizations that existed in the Dominion of Newfoundland. In 1948, a referendum was held in Newfoundland as to where the colony was headed; the Irish Catholics mainly supported independence for Newfoundland, while the Protestants mainly supported joining the Canadian Confederation. Newfoundland then joined Canada by a 52-48% margin, and with an influx of Protestants into St. John's after the closure of the east coast cod fishery in the 1990s, the main issues have become one of Rural vs. Urban interests rather than anything religious.

To Newfoundland, the Irish gave the still-familiar family names of southeast Ireland: Walsh, Power, Murphy, Ryan, Whelan, Phelan, O'Brien, Kelly, Hanlon, Neville, Bambrick, Halley, Dillon, Byrne and FitzGerald. Irish place names are less common, many of the island's more prominent landmarks having already been named by early French and English explorers. Nevertheless, Newfoundland's Ballyhack, Cappahayden, Kilbride, St. Bride's, Port Kirwan and Skibereen all point to Irish antecedents.

Along with traditional names, the Irish brought their native tongue. Newfoundland is one of the few places outside Ireland where the Irish language was spoken by a majority of the population as their primary language. In fact Newfoundland Irish is its own distinct dialect. Newfoundland is the only place outside Europe with its own distinctive name in the Irish language, "Talamh an Éisc", "the land of fish". The family names, the features and colouring, the predominant Catholic religion, the prevalence of Irish music – even the accents of the people – are so reminiscent of rural Ireland that Irish author Tim Pat Coogan has described Newfoundland as "the most Irish place in the world outside of Ireland".Tim Pat Coogan, "Wherever Green Is Worn: The Story of the Irish Diaspora", Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.]

Irish in Nova Scotia

Many Nova Scotians who claim Irish ancestry are of Presbyterian Ulster-Scottish descent. Settlement was centred in Colchester County, Nova Scotia. Common surnames included Archibald, Barnhill, Bell, Blair, Brown, Campbell, Cameron, Carter, Chisholm, Clark, Cook, Corbett, Cox, Creelman, Crow, Davison, Delaney, Daly, Dickie, Dickson, Dunlap, Durning, Faulkner, Fisher, Fletcher, Fraser, Fulmore, Fulton, Gamble, Graham, Hamilton, Healy, Henderson, Higgins, Hill, Johnson, Johnston, Kennedy, Lahey, Langille, Lewis, MacAleese, Marsh, McBurnie, McCully, McCurdy, McDonald, McIntosh, McKay, McKenzie, McLaughlin, McLean, McLelan, McLellan, McLeod, McNutt, Miller, Moore, Morrison, Murphy, Murray, Nelson, Peppard, Ross, Rutherford, Smith, Spencer, Simpson, Staples, Stevens, Stewart, Taylor, Thompson, Vance, Williams, Wilson, and Wright. O'Brien and Ryan are also surnames from the period suggesting some of the families to arrive may have been Catholic. However, many Scottish immigrants who settled in that area are from the Highlands and many are Catholic making it hard to distinguish Irish and Scottish people.

Catholic Irish settlement in Nova Scotia was traditionally restricted to the urban Halifax area. However, there are also Irish village settlements throughout parts of Guysborough County, such as the Erinville/Salmon River district, as well as on Cape Breton Island, in places such as New Waterford, Rocky Bay, the Lower Rover inhabitants area, and Glacebay, all still very rich in Irish culture.

Irish in the Prairies

Irish migration to the Prairie Provinces had two distinct components: those who came via eastern Canada or the United States, and those who came directly from Ireland. Many of the Irish-Canadians who came west were fairly well assimilated, in that they spoke English and understood British customs and law, and tended to be regarded as a part of English Canada. However, this picture was complicated by the religious division. Many of the original "English" Canadian settlers in the Red River Colony were fervent Irish Loyalist Protestants, and members of the Orange Order. They clashed with Catholic Metis leader Louis Riel's provisional government during the Red River Resistance, and as a result Thomas Scott was executed, inflaming sectarian tensions in the east. At this time and during the course of the following decades, many of the Catholic Irish were fighting for separate Catholic schools in the west, but sometimes clashed with the Francophone element of the Catholic community during the Manitoba Schools Question. After World War I and the de facto resolution of the religious schools issue, any eastern Irish-Canadians moving west blended in totally with the majority society. The small group of Irish-born who arrived in the second half of the 20th Century tended to be urban professionals, a stark contrast to the agrarian pioneers who had come before.

ee also

* List of Ireland-related topics:* Irish diaspora:* Irish Americans:* Irish Australian:* Irish (ethnicity)
* Coat of Arms of Canada


External links

* [ Newfoundland: The Most Irish Place Outside of Ireland]
* [ The Shamrock and the Maple Leaf: Irish-Canadian Documentary Heritage at Library and Archives Canada]
* [ The Irish in Canada]
* [ Canada's AUBRY family traced to a BRENNAN who was the first Irish immigrant]
* [ Tec Cornelius Aubrenan: The First Irish Immigrant in Canada]
* [ The Canadian Association for Irish Studies (CAIS)]
* [ Irish Association of Manitoba (IAM)]
* []
* [ Historica’s Heritage Minute video docudrama about “Orphans.”] [ (Adobe Flash Player.)]

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