Focus on Irish in Canada

Ahead of Canada Day tomorrow (1st July) and the 150th anniversary of the nation’s foundation, we’ve been taking a closer look at Hiberno-Canadian connections featured at EPIC.

As Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau noted recently on Irish immigration to Canada:

“Every generation comes with different waves of immigration. We have always been open to people who want to build a better world for themselves. Whatever their background is we don’t discriminate, we just look for people who are likely to be able to succeed. That is what we build our immigration system on.”

Canada’s reputation as a welcoming nation for immigrants, Irish or otherwise, is renowned around the world, but the Irish connection with Canada has always been a particularly strong one. Several of the ‘Fathers of the Confederation’, the founding figures in the formation of the modern Canadian state, were Irish emigrants.

Today over 4.5 million Canadians or 15% of the Canadian population claim Irish descent. The oldest St. Patrick’s Day in Canada takes place in Montreal and has been running since 1824. This year saw over 500,000 in attendance. The only Gaeltacht located outside of Ireland (Gaeltacht Bhuan Mheiriceá Thuaidh) is found in Tamworth, Ontario. Four Prime Ministers of Canada (Sir John Thompson (4th PM, first Roman Catholic to hold the office), Louis St Laurent (12th PM), Brian Mulroney (18th PM) and Paul Martin (21st PM)) are of Irish descent.

We’ve already taken a look at Thomas D’Arcy McGee, one of the ‘Fathers of the Confederation’, but there are many more notable figures and stories to tell.

Abbe Thomas Quinn (1841-1923) (Featured in Arriving in a New World)
Thomas Quinn, a famine victim whose family were tenant farmers on the Strokestown Estate in Roscommon, owned by Major Denis Mahon. When Quinn was aged 7, Mahon forced over 3,000 of his starving tenants to emigrate paying their passage to the cheapest destination, Canada.

Travelling in 1847 on the so-called ‘coffin ships’ with no money and barely any clothes, these people were easy victims of disease. Quinn’s parents died of typhus on the journey, among 196 passengers on board who didn’t make it. The ship was quarantined at Grosse Ile, in Quebec, which was overwhelmed by sick and destitute arrivals from Ireland. But Thomas and his brother were fortunate enough to be adopted by a French Canadian family and both went on to become priests – Thomas rising to high office.

Anne Carey (b.1955) (Featured in Arriving in a New World)
On the night of Anne and Brendan’s engagement, September 28, 1972, Anne was informed that her father had been shot dead during an outbreak of violence connected to the Troubles. Anne raced home to find a man lying dead on the sidewalk; although there were clear semblances, luckily for Anne, the man was not her father but another
man with the same name.

As the Troubles of Northern Ireland escalated, the West Belfast couple witnessed one of the worst times in the history of the country. In the years following, Brendan was assaulted and shot and Anne witnessed her boss get shot. Anne and Brendan began saving money, for a wedding and for emigration. In September 1974, 19 year old Anne married Brendan Carey in Belfast on Brendan’s 21st birthday, and less than a year later they boarded a plane for Canada, leaving their family and friends behind.

Constantine Scollen (1841-1902) (Featured in Belief Galley)

Joined the Oblates and in 1862 went to Canada. He lived among and evangelised the indigenous people of the Canadian Prairies. Also worked to record local languages and was involved in negotiations between the government and the indigenous people. Later worked in the USA, serving as a parish priest in Montana, Wyoming, Ohio and Illinois.

Timothy Eaton (Featured in Hunger, Work & Community)
Timothy Eaton was born in County Antrim, Ireland, to Scottish Protestants. He emigrated at twenty years old, settling in Ontario, Canada. He was an apprentice shopkeeper who founded one of Canada’s most significant retail businesses – the Eaton’s department store. The store was famous for its money-back guarantee and mail order catalogue, which brought everything from corsets to milking machines to thousands of remote communities. At its peak during World War II, it employed 70,000 people.

Nellie Cashman (Featured in Hunger Work & Community)
In 1850, when Nellie Cashman was still a child, her family emigrated from Ireland to America to escape the famine. In 1874, Nellie followed the gold trail and travelled to Canada at the beginning of the Klondike Gold Rush in the region of Yukon. There she opened a boarding house for miners in the Cassiar Mountains. Cashman was a devout Catholic, and most of the money she earned from lodgers went to build a hospital and a church. She became known as the ‘Angel of the Cassiar’ when during a severe snowstorm, despite warnings from the Canadian Army, she led a rescue party deep into the mountains to save and nurse back to health 77 trapped miners.

Helen Mooney aka Nellie McClung (Featured in Hunger, Work & Community)
Nellie McClung was born in Ontario in Canada in 1873, the daughter of an Irish immigrant father and a Scottish mother. A social reformer, author, teacher and politician, her literary works expressed great sympathy for women who endured often harsh conditions in the rural setting. Her most famous work was influenced by her witnessing of these conditions in wartime, and is titled ‘In Times like These’. She also wrote ‘Sowing the Seeds of Danny’ which became a national bestseller, and a number of her short stories and articles were published in magazines in Canada and the USA. She also served as a teacher and co-founded the Political Equality League. Largely due to her efforts in Manitoba, women there were given the right to vote in 1916, the first place Canadian State to do so. Later, in Alberta, she was elected as a Liberal to the Alberta Legislative Assembly.

Geraldine Heaney (b.1967) (Featured in Changing the Game)


Irish-Canadian ice hockey coach and former defenceman. Heaney was a member of the Canadian national team in the first seven Women’s World Championships, winning gold each time. She is a two-time Olympian, winning silver at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games (the first time womens Ice Hockey featured at the Olympics) and gold in 2002
Winter Olympic Games.

A pioneer of women’s hockey, Heaney is credited with aiding the growth of the sport. Heaney is among the first women to be inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Hall of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame. In 2014 she was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.

The Irish Rovers (formed 1963) (Featured in Music & Dance)
Celtic Folk band founded in Toronto, Canada in 1963. They have produced over 40 albums in North America with many more internationally. The band has regularly toured Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia and as young Irish immigrants themselves, the Rovers became so much a part of the Canadian culture that in 1976 Canada’s Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (father of the current Prime Minister) personally asked them to become Canadian citizens so they could officially represent Canada around the world. By 1989 they had hosted three international television series, recorded 25 albums and had represented Canada at five world Expos.

John Kinder Labatt (1803-1866) (Featured in Eating & Drinking)
John Kinder Labatt was born in County Laois, Ireland, and immigrated to Canada in the 1830s. He initially established himself as a farmer near London, Upper Canada, in 1834. In 1847, he invested in a brewery with his business partner, Samuel Eccles. Eccles later retired, and Labatt bought his interest. Labatt changed the name to the London Brewery, and acted as a brewer and dealer in barley, malt, and hops. Labatt died in 1866, and the brewery passed down through the family. It became a public company, controlled by the family trust until 1964. At this point, it was one of the largest breweries in Canada.

Emma Donoghue (b.1969) (Featured in Storytelling)
Emma Donoghue was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1969. She settled in Ontario, Canada, in 1998. She is a novelist and author of short-stories. He novel ‘Room’ was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2010. Her screenplay for the subsequent film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

To celebrate Canada Day and the 150th anniversary of the founding of Canada, EPIC is giving FREE entry to all Canadians this 1st of July, 2017. Simply show a valid form of Canadian ID (passport, driver’s licence, Tim Horton’s loyalty card, etc) at our ticket desk, no advance booking required, eh.