Early Trials of Irish Immigrants in Canada

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER VI (7) start of chapter

The immigrants or settlers of forty years since suffered from inconveniences that are comparatively rare in the present day, and among the chief and most serious of these was the want of mills to grind the produce of their fields. The difficulty was not to raise the grain, but to convert it into flour, and thus render it fit for the food of man. It is recorded that, at an interview of a Scotch settler with the Governor, he told his Excellency—'We have no mill, sir, and, save your presence, sir, I have to get up at night to chew corn for the children.' Possibly the settlers from Cork were not subjected to a toil so fearful as that endured by the devoted Scotchman; but the only grist mill within reach being at a distance of between fifteen and twenty miles, it was necessary for the person who desired to get his corn ground to convey it to that distance on his back, and to return with it the same distance when it was converted into flour; and frequently would some sturdy Irishman shoulder his bag of grain, and bear it on his back those long and weary miles, his only food some potatoes which his wife had prepared for his toilsome journey. In the winter a hand-sleigh, that could be pushed over the snow, would afford facilities for taking corn to the mill, or for the transport of provisions; but there were states of the weather when the snow, which at other times afforded an easy track, was a source of impediment and danger. For many years the skin of the hog was made into covering for the feet, the hairy side being turned inwards; and as a substitute for tea, which was then a costly luxury, attainable only by the rich, or those within reach of towns, wild peppermint and other herbs were made to take its place.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America