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Irish Canadian

Irish Canadians
Irlando-Canadiens (French)
Gael-Cheanadaigh (Irish)
Total population
15 % of the Canadian population
Regions with significant populations
Ontario 2,069,110
British Columbia 643,465
Alberta 565,120
Quebec 428,570
Nova Scotia 201,655
Newfoundland and Labrador 110,365
English · French · Irish
Christianity (Roman Catholicism, Protestantism)
Related ethnic groups
Irish, Ulster-Scots, Scottish-Canadians, English-Canadians Welsh Canadian, Irish Americans, English, Scotch-Irish Canadians

Irish Canadians (Irish: Gael-Cheanadaigh) are Canadian citizens of Irish descent, which include descendants who trace their ancestry to immigrants who originated in Ireland and Northern Ireland. 1.2 million Irish immigrants arrived, 1825 to 1970, at least half of those in the period from 1831–1850. By 1867, they were the second largest ethnic group (after the French), and comprised 24% of Canada's population. The 1931 national census counted 1,230,000 Canadians of Irish descent, half of whom lived in Ontario. About one-third were Catholic in 1931 and two-thirds Protestants.[1]

The Irish immigrants were largely Protestant before the famine years of the 1840s, although some Catholics came in the colonial period to both Canada and the United States, when the Catholics arrived in large numbers. However, most Catholic Irish after 1850 usually headed to the United States, due to better economic prosperity and less British association of the British Empire. They also went to England, Australia or New Zealand.[2] The Catholic Irish in particular often came with their own language and culture, but in Canada they were gradually assimilated into the Anglophone or Francophone communities.

The 2006 census by Statistics Canada, Canada's Official Statistical office revealed that the Irish were the 4th largest ethnic group with 4,354,000 Canadians with full or partial Irish descent or 14% of the country's total population.[3] This was a large and significant increase of 531,495 since the 2001 census, which counted 3,823,000 respondents quoting Irish ethnicity.[4] According to the National Household Survey 2011, the population of Irish ancestry has increased since 2006 to 4,544,870.[5]


  • Irish in Canada 1
    • Catholics 1.1
  • Demographics 2
  • Irish in Quebec 3
  • Irish in Ontario 4
    • Famine in Ireland 4.1
    • Confederation 4.2
    • 20th century 4.3
    • Present 4.4
  • Irish in New Brunswick 5
  • Irish in Prince Edward Island 6
  • Irish in Newfoundland 7
  • Irish in Nova Scotia 8
  • Irish in the Prairies 9
  • Protestant and Catholic tension 10
  • Notable Irish Canadians 11
  • See also 12
  • Notes 13
  • Further reading 14
  • External links 15

Irish in Canada

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 19th century, 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 Montreal.

But the peak period of entry of the Irish to Canada in terms of sheer numbers occurred in the 1830–50 period when 624,000 arrived, or 31,000 a year; smaller numbers arrived in Newfoundland. Besides Upper Canada (Ontario), the Maritime colonies of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, especially Saint John, were popular destinations.

During this time, Canada was the destination of the most destitute Irish Catholics cleared from land estates and leaving the crowded docks of Liverpool, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Passage fares to Canada were much lower than those to the United States and Australia, due to such factors as distance and the use of empty, returning timber ships to transport masses of emigrants.[6]

Most of the Irish immigrants who came to Canada and the United States in the nineteenth century and before were Irish speakers, with many knowing no other language on arrival.[7]


The great majority of Irish Catholics arrived in Grosse Isle, an island in Quebec in the St. Lawrence River, which housed the immigration reception station. Thousands died or arrived sick and were treated in the hospital (equipped for less than one hundred patients) in the summer of 1847; in fact, many ships 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 Montreal, where the existing Irish community mushroomed. The orphaned children were adopted into Quebec families and accordingly became Québécois, both linguistically and culturally.

Many of the families that survived continued on to settle in Canada West (now Ontario) or the United States (many to Chicago and the Midwest).[8]

In comparison with the Irish who went to the United States or Britain, the Irish in Canada tended to settle in rural areas rather than the cities.[9]

The Catholic Irish and Protestant (Orange) Irish were often in conflict from the 1840s.[10] In Ontario, the Irish fought with the French for control of the Catholic Church, with the Irish generally successful. In that instance, the Irish sided with the Protestants to oppose (unsuccessfully) the demand for French language Catholic schools.[11]

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 Catholics as a minority group in the Canadian Constitution. In 1868, he was assassinated in Ottawa. Historians are not sure who the murderer was, or what were his motivations. One theory is that a Fenian, Gaylord O'Neiel Whelan, was the assassin, attacking McGee for his recent anti-Raid statements. Others argue that Whelan was used as a scapegoat.[12]

After Confederation, Irish Catholics faced more hostility, especially from Protestant Irish in Ontario, which was under the political sway of the already entrenched anti-Catholic Orange Order. The anthem "The Maple Leaf Forever," written and composed by Scottish immigrant and Orangeman Alexander Muir, reflects the pro-British Ulster loyalism outlook typical of the time. The tensions had subsided, however, by 1900.

There were several important and symbolic steps for integration of the Irish-Catholic community. One example was the political success of Sir John Sparrow David Thompson, KCMG, PC, QC (1845 – 1894. Thompson was a lawyer, judge, politician, and university professor, who served as the fourth Prime Minister of Canada from December 5, 1892 until his death in office on December 12, 1894, as well as the fifth Premier of Nova Scotia in 1882. He was the first Catholic to hold the office of Prime Minister. Similarly, Ontario's first Premier was a Roman Catholic of Scottish ancestry. John Sandfield Macdonald (1812 – 1872) was the first Premier of the province of Ontario. He served as both premier and Attorney-General of Ontario from July 16, 1867, to December 20, 1871. From Canada's inception Roman Catholics in English-speaking Canada were determined to be full and equal participants with their Protestant neighbours.


The following statistics are from the 2006 Census of Canada.[3]

Canadians of Irish descent by province and territory
Province/Territory Irish Canadian
Percentage of population
Alberta 539,160 16.6%
British Columbia 618,120 15.2%
Manitoba 151,915 13.4%
New Brunswick 150,705 21.0%
Northwest Territories 4,860 11.8%
Nova Scotia 195,365 21.6%
Newfoundland and Labrador 107,390 21.5%
Nunavut 1,220 4.2%
Ontario 1,988,940 16.5%
Prince Edward Island 39,170 29.2%
Quebec 406,085 5.5%
Saskatchewan 145,480 15.3%
Yukon 5,735 19.0%
Canada 4,354,155 13.9%

The graph excludes those who have only some Irish ancestry. Historian and journalist Louis-Guy Lemieux claims that about 40% of Quebecers have Irish ancestry on at least one side of their family tree.[3] Shunned by Protestant English-speakers, it was not uncommon for Catholic Irish to settle among and intermarry with the Catholic French-speakers. Considering that many other Francophones throughout Canada likewise have Irish roots, in addition to those who may simply identify as Canadian, the total number of Canadians with some Irish ancestry would exceed 20% of the Canadian population.

Irish in Quebec

Victoria Bridge under construction in Montreal, as photographed by William Notman.

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 6,000 Irish immigrants who had died at nearby Windmill Point in the typhus outbreak of 1847-48. 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 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 one of 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, particularly in Pontiac, Gatineau and Papineau where there was an active timber industry. 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. Some of these children kept their Irish surnames (Caissie from Kessy, Riel from Reilly, etc.).[13] 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 French Canadians and one estimate suggests that as many as 40 percent of French-speaking Quebecers have some Irish ancestry.[13]

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.[14]

In the years after the Peterborough as a regional centre.

The Irish were instrumental in the building of the Rideau Canal. Alongside French-Canadians, thousands of Irish laboured in difficult terrain. Hundreds, if not thousands, died because of malaria.[16]

Famine in Ireland

The Great Irish Hunger 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 (soon to be 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 such counties as Sligo, Clare, Cavan, Dublin, Wicklow, Limerick 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.

How permanent a settlement was depended on circumstances. A case in point is Irish immigration to North Hastings County, Canada West, which happened after 1846. Most of the immigrants were attracted to North Hastings by free land grants beginning in 1856. Three Irish settlements were established in North Hastings: Umfraville, Doyle's Corner, and O'Brien Settlement. The Irish were primarily Roman Catholic. Crop failures in 1867 halted the road program near the Irish settlements, and departing settlers afterward outnumbered new arrivals. By 1870, only the successful settlers, most of whom were farmers who raised grazing animals, remained.[17]

In the 1840s the major challenge for the Catholic Church was keeping the loyalty of the very poor Catholic arrivals. The fear was that Protestants might use their material needs as a wedge for evangelization. In response the Church built a network of charitable institutions such as hospitals, schools, boarding homes, and orphanages, to meet the need and keep people inside the faith.[18] The Catholic church was less successful in dealing with tensions between its French and the Irish clergy; eventually the Irish took control.[19][20]

Toronto had similar numbers of both Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics. Riots repeatedly broke out from 1858–1878, culminating in the Jubilee Riots of 1875. The Irish population essentially defined the Catholic population in Toronto until 1890, when German and French Catholics were welcomed to the city by the Irish, but the Irish were still 90% of the Catholic population. However, various powerful initiatives such as the foundation of Society of St. Vincent de Paul) and House of Providence created by Irish Catholic groups strengthened the Irish identity, transforming the Irish presence in the city into one of influence and power.

An economic boom and rapid growth in the years after their arrival allowed many Irish 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.

Redclift (2003) concluded that many of the one million migrants, mainly of British and Irish origin, who arrived in Canada in the mid-19th century benefited from the availability of land and absence of social barriers to mobility. This enabled them to think and feel like citizens of the new country in a way denied them back in the old country.[21]

Akenson (1984) argued that the Canadian experience of Irish immigrants is not comparable to the American one. He contended that the numerical dominance of Protestants within the national group and the rural basis of the Irish community negated the formation of urban ghettos and allowed for a relative ease in social mobility. In comparison, the American Irish in the Northeast and Midwest were dominantly Catholic, urban dwelling, and ghettoized. There was however, the existence of Irish-centric ghettos in Toronto (Cabbagetown, Trinity Niagara, the Ward) at the fringes of urban development, at least for the first few decades after the famine and in the case of Trefann Court, a holdout against public housing and urban renewal, up to the 1970s. This was also the case in other Canadian cities with significant Irish Catholic populations such as Montreal, Ottawa and Saint John but these ghettos, like the American ones, were not Irish in totality.[22]

Likewise the new labour historians believe that the rise of the

  • The Irish Canadian Society
  • Newfoundland: The Most Irish Place Outside of Ireland
  • The Shamrock and the Maple Leaf: Irish-Canadian Documentary Heritage at Library and Archives Canada
  • 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.)
  • Irish Around Canada (IAC)

External links

  • Akenson, Donald H. The Irish in Ontario: A Study in Rural History (McGill-Queen's University Press, 1984)
  • Akenson, Donald H. Small Differences: Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants, 1815–1922: An International Perspective (Mcgill-Queen's Studies in the History of Religion) (1991) excerpt and text search
  • Cadigan, Sean T. (1991). "Paternalism and Politics: Sir Francis Bond Head, the Orange Order, and the Election of 1836". Canadian Historical Review 72 (3): 319–347.  
  • Clarke, B. P. Piety and Nationalism: Lay Voluntary Associations and the Creation of an Irish-Catholic Community in Toronto 1850–1895 (1993).
  • Currie, Philip (1995). "Toronto Orangeism and the Irish Question, 1911–1916". Ontario History 87 (4): 397–409. 
  • Duncan, Kenneth. "Irish Famine Immigration and the Social Structure of Canada West," Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 12 (1965): 19-40
  • Elliott, Bruce S. Irish Migrants in the Canadas: A New Approach (McGill-Queen's University Press, 1988)
  • Elliott, Bruce C. "Irish Protestants," in Paul Robert Magocsi, ed. Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples (1999), 763-83
  • Hedican, Edward J. "What Determines Family Size? Irish Farming Families in Nineteenth-Century Ontario," Journal of Family History 2006 31(4): 315-334
  • Houston, Cecil J., and William J. Smyth. Irish Emigration and Canadian Settlement. Patterns, Links and Letters (University of Toronto Press, 1990), geographical study
  • Houston, Cecil J.; Smyth, William J. (1980). The sash Canada wore: A historical geography of the Orange Order in Canada. University of Toronto Press.  
  • Jenkins, W. "Between the Lodge and the Meeting-House: Mapping Irish Protestant Identities and Social Worlds in late Victorian Toronto," Social and Cultural Geography (2003) 4:75-98.
  • Jenkins, William (2013). Between Raid and Rebellion: The Irish in Buffalo and Toronto, 1867-1916. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University.
  • Jenkins, W. "Patrolmen and Peelers: Immigration, Urban Culture, and the 'Irish Police' in Canada and the United States," Canadian Journal of Irish Studies 28, no, 2 and 29, no, 1 (2002/03): 10-29.
  • McGowan, M, G. The Waning of the Green: Catholics, the Irish, and Identity in Toronto 1887–1922 (1999)
  • Magocsi, Paul R. Encyclopedia of Canada's peoples (1999) 1334pp covering all major groups; Irish on pp 734–83; excerpt and text search
  • Mannion, John J. Irish Settlements in Eastern Canada: A Study of Cultural Transfer and Adaptation (University of Toronto Press, 1974)
  • Murphy, Terrence, and Gerald Stortz, eds. Creed and Culture. The Place of English-Speaking Catholics in Canadian Society 1750–1930, (McGill-Queen's University Press, 1993)
  • O’Driscoll, Robert & Reynolds, Lorna (eds.) (1988). The Untold story: The Irish in Canada, Volume II. Celtic Arts of Canada. ISBN 978-0-9217-4500-6
  • Punch, Terence M. Irish Halifax: The Immigrant Generation, 1815–1859 (Halifax: International Education Centre, Saint Mary's University, 1981);
  • See, Scott W. (1983). "The Orange Order and Social Violence in Mid-nineteenth Century Saint John". Acadiensis 13 (1): 68–92. 
  • See, Scott W. (1993). Riots in New Brunswick: Orange Nativism and Social Violence in the 1840s. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.  
  • Senior, Hereward (1972). Orangeism: The Canadian Phase. Toronto, New York, McGraw-Hill Ryerson.  
  • Toner, Peter M. "The Origins of the New Brunswick Irish, 1851," Journal of Canadian Studies 23 #1-2 (1988): 104–119
  • Wilson, David A. (ed.) (2007). The Orange Order in Canada. Four Courts Press.  
  • Wilson, David A. "The Irish in Canada (Ottawa: Canadian Historical Association, 1989), short overview
  • Wilson, David A., ed. Irish Nationalism in Canada (2009) excerpt and text search

Further reading

  1. ^ David A. Wilson, Irish nationalism in Canada (2009) p. 165 online
  2. ^ Elliott (1999) pp 764-5
  3. ^ a b "Ethnocultural Portrait of Canada - Data table". 2010-10-06. Retrieved 2011-01-28. 
  4. ^ "Ethno-Cultural Portrait of Canada, Table 1". Retrieved 2011-01-28. 
  5. ^ "National Household Survey (NHS) Profile, Canada, 2011". National Household Survey. April 2, 2014. Archived from the original on April 2, 2014. Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  6. ^ Thomas P. Power, ed., The Irish in Atlantic Canada, 1780-1900 (Fredericton, NB: New Ireland Press, 1991)
  7. ^ O’Driscoll & Reynolds (1988), p. 711.
  8. ^ """J.A. Gallagher, "The Irish Immigration of 1847. Retrieved 2011-01-28. 
  9. ^ Donald Harman Akenson, Irish in Ontario: A Study in Rural History (McGill-Queen's Press-MQUP, 1984)
  10. ^ Scott W. See, Riots in New Brunswick: Orange nativism and social violence in the 1840s (Univ of Toronto Press, 1993)
  11. ^ Francess G. Halpenny, ed. (1990). Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Springer. p. 332. 
  12. ^ David A. Wilson (2011). Thomas D'Arcy McGee: The Extreme Moderate, 1857-1868. MQUP. pp. 381–83. 
  13. ^ a b Taïeb Moalla, Les Irlandais du Québec : à la croisée de deux cultures, in, retrieved on February 3, 2007
  14. ^ Akenson, Irish in Ontario: A Study in Rural History (1984) ch 1
  15. ^ "Migration, Arrival, and Settlement before the Great Famine | Multicultural Canada". Retrieved 2011-01-28. 
  16. ^ Watson, Ken. "Rideau Canal Waterway - Memorials". Rideau Canal Waterway - Memorials. Retrieved July 26, 2011. 
  17. ^ Pauline Ryan, "A Study of Irish Immigration to North Hastings County," Ontario History 1991 83(1): 23-37
  18. ^ Murray Nicholson, "The Growth of Roman Catholic Institutions in the Archdiocese of Toronto, 1841-90," in Terrence Murphy and Gerald Stortz, eds, Creed and Culture: The Place of English-Speaking Catholics in Canadian Society, 1750 – 1930 (1993) pp 152-170
  19. ^ Paula Maurutto, Governing Charities: Church and State in Toronto: Catholic Archdiocese, 1850-1950 (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001)
  20. ^ Mark G. McGowan, Michael Power: The Struggle to Build the Catholic Church on the Canadian Frontier (2007)
  21. ^ Michael R. Redclift, "Community and the Establishment of Social Order on the Canadian Frontier in the 1840s and 1850s: An English Immigrant's Account," Family and Community History 2003 6(2): 97–106
  22. ^ Akenson, Irish in Ontario: A Study in Rural History (1984).
  23. ^ Murray W. Nicolson, "The Irish Experience in Ontario: Rural or Urban?" Urban History Review / Revue d'histoire Urbaine 1985 14(1): 37-45
  24. ^ Mark G. McGowan, The Waning of the Green: Catholics, the Irish, and Identity in Toronto, 1887-1922 (1999)
  25. ^ Paul R. Magocsi, Encyclopedia of Canada's peoples(University of Toronto Press, 1999) pp 745-47, 764-67
  26. ^ Archibald Bremner, City of London, Ontario, Canada: The Pioneer Period and the London of To-day (1900) p 69
  27. ^ Livio Dimatteo, "The Wealth of the Irish in Nineteenth-Century Ontario," Social Science History 1996 20(2): 209-234
  28. ^ Peter Baskerville, "Did Religion Matter? Religion and Wealth in Urban Canada at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: An Exploratory Study," Histoire Sociale: Social History 2001 34(67): 61-95
  29. ^ Adrian Ciani, "'An Imperialist Irishman': Bishop Michael Fallon, the Diocese of London and the Great War," CCHA Study Sessions (Canadian Catholic Historical Association) 2008 74: 73-94
  30. ^ Giles, Jonathan, ‘The Call of the Wild Geese: An Ethnography of Diasporic Irish Language Revitalization in Southern and Eastern Ontario’:
  31. ^ Jan 2007.Irish Emigrant"Canada to have first Gaeltacht."
  32. ^ O’Driscoll & Reynolds (1988), p. 712.
  33. ^ Driscoll, Marilyn, ‘The Irish Language in New Brunswick’:
  34. ^ Tim Pat Coogan, "Wherever Green Is Worn: The Story of the Irish Diaspora", Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.
  35. ^ "Ethnic origins, 2006 counts, - Newfoundland and Labrador". Statistics Canada. Retrieved 1 January 2013. 
  36. ^ Terrence M. Punch, "Finding Our Irish," Nova Scotia Historical Review 1986 6(1): 41-62
  37. ^ Eldon Hay, "Cornwallis Covenanter: The Reverend William Sommerville," Journal of the Canadian Church Historical Society 1995 37(2): 99–116
  38. ^ Terrence M. Punch, "The Irish Catholic, Halifax's First Minority Group," Nova Scotia Historical Quarterly 1980 10(1): 23-39
  39. ^ Steve Murdoch, "Cape Breton: Canada's 'Highland' Island?" Northern Scotland 1998 18: 31-42
  40. ^ George Sheppard, "Starvation, Moral Ruin and a Frozen Grave: An Irish View of Victorian Canada," Beaver 1990 70(5): 6–14
  41. ^ Michael Cottrell, "The Irish in Saskatchewan, 1850–1930: A Study Of Intergenerational Ethnicity," Prairie Forum; 1999 24(2): 185-209
  42. ^ Scott W. See, "'An Unprecedented Influx': Nativism and Irish Famine Immigration To Canada," American Review Of Canadian Studies 2000 30(4): 429-453
  43. ^ Willeen G. Keogh, "Contested Terrains: Ethnic and Gendered Spaces in the Harbour Grace Affray," Canadian Historical Review 2009 90(1): 29-70
  44. ^ Cecil Houston and William J. Smyth, "The Orange Order and the Expansion of the Frontier in Ontario, 1830–1900," Journal of Historical Geography 1978 4(3): 251-264
  45. ^
  46. ^ Rosalyn Trigger, "Irish Politics on Parade: The Clergy, National Societies, and St. Patrick's Day Processions in Nineteenth-Century Montreal and Toronto," Histoire Sociale: Social History 2004 37(74): 159–199.


See also

Notable Irish Canadians

In Montreal in 1853, the Orange Order organized speeches by the fiercely anti-Catholic and anti-Irish former priest Alessandro Gavazzi, resulting in a violent confrontation between the Irish and the Scots. St. Patrick's Day processions in Toronto were often disrupted by tensions, that boiled over to the extent that the parade was cancelled permanently by the mayor in 1878 and not re-instituted until 110 years later in 1988. The Jubilee Riots of 1875 jarred Toronto in a time when sectarian tensions ran at their highest.[45] Irish Catholics in Toronto were an embattled minority among a Protestant population that included a large Irish Protestant contingent strongly committed to the Orange Order.[46]

The Orange Order, with its two main tenets, anti-Catholicism and loyalty to Britain, flourished in Ontario. Largely coincident with Protestant Irish settlement, its role pervaded the political, social and community as well as religious lives of its followers. Spatially, Orange lodges were founded as Irish Protestant settlement spread north and west from its original focus on the Lake Ontario plain. Although the number of active members, and thus their influence, may have been overestimated, the Orange influence was considerable and comparable to the Catholic influence in Quebec.[44]

Tensions between the Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics were widespread in Canada in the 19th century, with many episodes of violence and anger, especially in Atlantic Canada and Ontario.[42][43]

Protestant and Catholic tension

About 10% of the population of Saskatchewan during 1850–1930 were Irish-born or of Irish origin. Cottrell (1999) examines the social, economic, political, religious, and ideological impact of the Irish diaspora on pioneer society and suggests that both individually and collectively, the Irish were a relatively privileged group. The most visible manifestations of intergenerational Irish ethnicity - the Catholic Church and the Orange Order - served as vehicles for recreating Irish culture on the prairies and as forums for ethnic fusion, which integrated people of Irish origin with settlers of other nationalities. The Irish were thus a vital force for cohesion in an ethnically diverse frontier society, but also a source of major tension with elements that did not share their vision of how the province of Saskatchewan should evolve.[41]

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.

While some influential Canadian politicians anticipated that the assisted migrations of Irish settlers would lead to the establishment of a 'New Ireland' on Canada's prairies, or at least raise the profile of the country's potential as a suitable destination for immigrants, neither happened. Sheppard (1990) looks at the efforts in the 1880s of Quaker philanthropist James Hack Tuke as well as those of Thomas Connolly, the Irish emigration agent for the Canadian government. The Irish press continued to warn potential emigrants of the dangers and hardships of life in Canada and encouraged would-be emigrants to settle instead in the United States.[40]

Irish in the Prairies

Murdoch (1998) notes that the popular image of Cape Breton Island as a last bastion of Scottish Highland and specifically Gaelic culture distorts the complex history of the island since the 16th century. The original Micmac inhabitants, Acadian French, Lowland Scots, Irish, Loyalists from New England, and English have all contributed to a history which has included cultural, religious, and political conflict as well as cooperation and synthesis. The Highland Scots became the largest community in the early 19th century, and their heritage has survived in diminished form.[39]

There were also rural Irish village settlements throughout most of Guysborough County, such as the Erinville (meaning Irishville) /Salmon River Lake/Ogden/Bantry district (Bantry being named after Bantry Bay, County Cork, Ireland but abandoned since the 19th century for better farmland in places like Erinville/Salmon River Lake). In this area Irish last names are prevalent and an Irish influence is apparent in the accent, the traditional music of the area, food, religion (Roman Catholic) and lingering traces of the Irish language. In Antigonish County there are other villages of Irish provenance, and still others can be found on Cape Breton Island, in places such as New Waterford, Rocky Bay and Glace Bay.

Catholic Irish settlement in Nova Scotia was traditionally restricted to the urban Halifax area. Halifax, founded in 1749, was estimated to be about 16% Irish Catholic in 1767 and about 9% by the end of the 18th century. Although the harsh laws enacted against them were generally not enforced, Irish Catholics had no legal rights in the early history of the city. Catholic membership in the legislature was nonexistent until near the end of the century. In 1829 Lawrence O'Connor Doyle, of Irish parentage, became the first of his faith to become a lawyer and helped to overcome opposition to the Irish.[38]

Many Nova Scotians who claim Irish ancestry are of Presbyterian Ulster-Scottish descent. William Sommerville (1800–1878) was ordained in the Irish Reformed Presbyterian Church and in 1831 was sent as a missionary to New Brunswick. There, with missionary Alexander Clarke, he formed the Reformed Presbytery of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in 1832 before becoming minister of the West Cornwallis congregation in Grafton, Nova Scotia, in 1833. Although a strict Covenanter, Sommerville initially ministered to Presbyterians generally over a very extensive district.[37] Presbyterian centres included Colchester County, Nova Scotia.

About one Nova Scotian in four is of Irish descent, and there are good tracing facilities for genealogists and family historians.[36]

Irish in Nova Scotia

It should be noted that most of the Irish migration to Newfoundland was pre-famine (late 18th century and early 19th century), and two centuries of isolation have led many of Irish descent in Newfoundland to consider their ethnic identity as "Newfoundlander," and not "Irish," although they are aware of the cultural links between the two.

According to the Statistics Canada 2006 census, 21.5% of Newfoundlanders claim Irish ancestry (other major groups in the province include 43.2% English, 7% Scottish, and 6.1% French). In 2006, Statistics Canada have listed the following ethnic origins in Newfoundland; 216,340 English, 107,390 Irish, 34,920 Scottish, 30,545 French, 23,940 North American Indian etc.[35]

Accordingly, the largest single religious denomination by number of adherents according to the 2001 census was the Roman Catholic Church, at 36.9% of the province's population (187,405 members). The major Protestant denominations make up 59.7% of the population, with the largest group being the Anglican Church of Canada at 26.1% of the total population (132,680 members), the United Church of Canada at 17.0% (86,420 members), and the Salvation Army at 7.9% (39,955 members), with other Protestant denominations in much smaller numbers. The Pentecostal Church made up 6.7% of the population with 33,840 members. Non-Christians made up only 2.7% of the total population, with the majority of those respondents indicating "no religion" (2.5% of the total population).

According to the 2001 Canadian census, the largest ethnic group in Newfoundland and Labrador is English (39.4%), followed by Irish (39.7%), Scottish (6.0%), French (5.5%), and First Nations (3.2%). While half of all respondents also identified their ethnicity as "Canadian," 38% report their ethnicity as "Newfoundlander" in a 2003 Statistics Canada Ethnic Diversity Survey.

The United Irish Uprising occurred during April 1800, in St. John's, Newfoundland where up to 400 Irishmen had taken the secret oath of the Society of the United Irishmen. The Colony of Newfoundland rebellion was the only one to occur which the British administration linked directly to the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The uprising in St. John's was significant in that it was the first occasion on which the Irish in Newfoundland deliberately challenged the authority of the state, and because the British feared that it might not be the last. It earned for Newfoundland a reputation as a Transatlantic Tipperary–a far-flung but semi-Irish colony with the potential for political chaos. Seven Irishman were hung by the crown because of the uprising.

The family names, the features and colouring, the predominant Catholic religion, the prevalence of Irish music – even the dialect and accent 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".[34]

Along with traditional names, the Irish brought their native tongue. Newfoundland is the only place outside Europe with its own distinctive name in the Irish language, Talamh an Éisc, "the land of fish". Eastern Newfoundland was one of the few places outside Ireland where the Irish language was spoken by a majority of the population as their primary language. Newfoundland Irish was of Munster derivation and was still in use by older people into the first half of the twentieth century. It has influenced Newfoundland English both lexically (in words like 'angishore' and 'sleveen') and grammatically (the 'after' past-tense construction, for instance).

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, Houlihan, Hogan Dillon, Byrne, Quigley, Burke, 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, Waterford Valley, Windgap and Skibereen all point to Irish antecedents.

Newfoundland Irish Catholics, mainly from the southeast of Ireland, settled in the cities (mainly Dominion of Newfoundland. In 1948, a referendum was held in Newfoundland as to its political future; the Irish Catholics mainly supported a return to independence for Newfoundland as it existed before 1934, 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 ethnic or religious.

In 1806, The

Irish in Newfoundland

For years, Prince Edward Island had been divided between Irish Catholics and British Protestants (which included Ulster Scots from Northern Ireland). 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 practice of electing two MLAs for each provincial riding (one Catholic and one Protestant) was ended.

Irish in Prince Edward Island

As in Newfoundland, the Irish language survived as a community language in New Brunswick into the twentieth century. The 1901 census specifically enquired as to the mother tongue of the respondents, defining it as a language commonly spoken in the home. There were several individuals and a scattering of families in the census who described Irish as their first language and as being spoken at home. In other respects the respondents had less in common, some being Catholic and some Protestant.[33]

By 1850, the Irish Catholic community constituted Saint John's largest ethnic group. In the census of 1851, over half the heads of households in the city registered themselves as natives of Ireland. By 1871, My 55 per cent of Saint John's residents were Irish natives or children of Irish-born fathers.

Saint John has often been called "Canada's Irish City". In the years between 1815, when vast industrial changes began to disrupt the old life-styles in Europe, and Canadian Confederation in 1867, when immigration of that era passed its peak, more than 150,000 immigrants from Ireland flooded into Saint John. Those who came in the earlier period were largely tradesmen, and many stayed in Saint John, becoming the backbone of its builders. But when the Great Irish Potato Famine raged between 1845-1852, huge waves of Famine refugees flooded these shores. It is estimated that between 1845 and 1847, some 30,000 arrived, more people than were living in the city at the time. In 1847, dubbed "Black 47," one of the worst years of the Famine, some 16,000 immigrants, most of them from Ireland, arrived at Partridge Island, the immigration and quarantine station at the mouth of Saint John Harbour.

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

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. The difficulty of farming these regions, however, saw many Irish immigrant families moving to the colony's major cities within a generation or to Portland, Maine or Boston.

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. They were commonly Irish speakers, and in the eighteen thirties and eighteen forties there were many Irish-speaking communities along the New Brunswick and Maine frontier.[32]

Irish Memorial on Middle Island, Miramichi, New Brunswick

Irish in New Brunswick

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, Killaloe, Killarney, Limerick, Listowel, Lucan, Maguire, Malone, McGarry, Moffat, Mullifarry, Munster, Navan, New Dublin, O'Connell, Oranmore, Quinn Settlement, Ripley, Shamrock, Tara, South Monaghan, Waterford and Westport.

With the downturn of Ireland's economy in 2010, Irish people are again coming to Canada looking for work. Some are coming on work and travel visas.

Ontario sustains a network of Irish language enthusiasts, many of whom see the language as part of their ethnic heritage.[30] Ontario is also home to Gaeltacht Bhuan Mheiriceá Thuaidh (the Permanent North American Gaeltacht), an area which hosts cultural activities for Irish speakers and learners and has been recognized by the Irish government.[31]

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.


Ciani (2008) concludes that support of World War I fostered an identity among Irish Catholics as loyal citizens and helped integrate them into the social fabric of the nation. Michael Francis Fallon contributed to these changes as bishop of London. Fallon's primary motive, however, was to advance the cause of Irish Catholics in Canada and abroad. He largely ignored the interests of French Canadian Catholics, was a vocal opponent of bilingual education, and consistently favored those of Irish heritage for advancement in the Church and government. As a result, French Canadians did not participate in Fallon's efforts to support the war effort and became more marginalized in Canadian politics and society.[29]

20th century

By 1901 Ontario Irish Catholics and Scottish Presbyterians were among the most likely to own homes, while Anglicans did only moderately well, despite their traditional association with Canada's elite. French-speaking Catholics in Ontario achieved wealth and status less readily than Protestants and Irish Catholics. Although differences in attainment existed between people of different religious denominations, the difference between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants in urban Canada was relatively insignificant.[28]

Some writers have assumed that the Irish in 19th-century North America were impoverished. DiMatteo (1992), using evidence from probate records in 1892, shows this is untrue. Irish-born and Canadian-born Irish accumulated wealth in a similar way, and that being Irish was not an economic disadvantage by the 1890s. Immigrants from earlier decades may well have experienced greater economic difficulties, but in general the Irish in Ontario in the 1890s enjoyed levels of wealth commensurate with the rest of the populace.[27]

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. Today, the Society is still operating.[26]

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.[25]


McGowan argues that between 1890 and 1920, the city's Catholics experienced major social, ideological, and economic changes that allowed them to integrate into Toronto society and shake off their second-class status. The Irish Catholics (in contrast to the French) strongly supported Canada's role in the First World War. They broke out of the ghetto and lived in all of Toronto's neighbourhoods. Starting as unskilled labourers, they used high levels of education to move up and were well represented among the lower middle class. Most dramatically, they intermarried with Protestants at an unprecedented rate.[24]


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