How the Survivors pushed on

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER VIII (14) start of chapter

A portion of the survivors pushed on to the West, their march still tracked by fever, and marked by new-made graves. The majority stopped at various places on the way, or spread over Central and Western Canada, many settling on Crown lands placed at their disposal by the Government, but others hiring themselves as farm labourers, not having, as yet, the energy to face the forest, and engage in a struggle for which disease and sorrow had rendered them for a time unequal. But in half a dozen years after might be seen, along the shores of the lakes, and on the banks of the great rivers and their tributaries, prosperous settlements of those fever-hunted exiles, who, flying in terror from their own country, carried plague and desolation with them to the country of their adoption. It was remarked of them that, though they bravely rallied, and set about their work as settlers with an energy almost desperate, many seemed to be prematurely old, and broke down after some years of ceaseless toil; but not before they had achieved the great object of their ambition—made a home and realised a property for those who, with them, survived the horrors of the passage, and the havoc of the quarantine and the fever-shed.

Even to this day the terror inspired in the minds of the inhabitants through whose districts the Irish emigrants passed in the terrible years of 1847 and 1848 has not died out. I was told of one instance where, little more than a year since, whole villages were scared at the announcement, happily untrue, that 'the poor Irish were coming, and were bringing the fever with them.' It was scarcely a subject for the pleasantry of the wag.

As explorers and pioneers, the Irish have been as adventurous and successful as any others in Canada. As lumbermen, they have pushed far in advance of the footsteps of civilisation. Twenty-five years since they were to be found in the forests along the banks of the Moira, which empties itself into the Bay of Quinte, cutting down the great trees, 'making timber,' then guiding it down the rapids, and bringing it to Quebec. And among the most fearless and daring, as well as skilful, of the navigators of the tremendous rapids of the St. Lawrence are the Irish. The Canadian, though dexterous with the axe, is occasionally rather apt to depend on his prayers in a moment of emergency; whereas the Irishman, who, to say the least, is fully as pious as the Canadian, acts on the wise belief that Providence helps those who help themselves. At the head of the Ottawa, which is the great lumbering centre of Canada, the Irish have principally settled the town of Pembroke, in which reside many who, once enterprising lumbermen and bold raftsmen, are now living at their ease, in the enjoyment of their hard-earned wealth. There is one in particular, who went miles up the river beyond Pembroke, and brought his family into the almost impenetrable forest. Twenty years ago he was a raftsman, earning 16 dollars a month, and he is now one of the richest men on the river. Within twelve miles of Pembroke, at Fort William, a station belonging to the Hudson Bay Company, the keenest competitors with the Company in the purchase of furs are Irishmen. Following up the Ottawa, to French River, which empties itself into Lake Huron, along that river and the small tributaries of the Ottawa, are to be found thriving Irish settlements of not more than six years' date. In fact, the Irish have penetrated everywhere, and have proved themselves bold and self-reliant, and, even perhaps in a greater degree than the other nationalities, have displayed the most wonderful faculty of adapting themselves to every possible circumstance. This faculty, whether of adapting themselves to natural circumstances or to political institutions, specially distinguishes the Irish race.

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