Progress of the Irish in Canada

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER VI (8) start of chapter

What but the manly vigour for which the Irish race are now proverbial in the countries to which they have migrated, could have so speedily overcome the difficulties of a first settlement in the wilderness? Not a few of those who sailed from Cork in 1825 have passed away, after a life of hard and ceaseless toil, and others now stand, as it were, on the brink of the grave; but their sons and their grandsons, their daughters and their granddaughters, flourish in the midst of prosperity and comfort, of which those who went before them were the creators. The shanty and the wigwam and the log hut have long-since given place to the mansion of brick and stone; and the hand-sleigh and the rude cart to the strong waggon and the well-appointed carriage. Where there was but one miserable grist mill, there are now mills and factories of various kinds. And not only are there spacious schools under the control of those who erected and made use of them for their children, but the 'heavy grievance' which existed in 1825 has long since been a thing of the past.

The little chapel of logs and shingle—18 feet by 20—in which the settlers of that day knelt in gratitude to God, has for many years been replaced by a noble stone church, through whose painted windows the Canadian sunlight streams gloriously, and in which two thousand worshippers listen with the old Irish reverence to the words of their pastor. The tones of the pealing organs swell in solemn harmony, where the simple chaunt of the first settlers was raised in the midst of the wilderness; and for miles round may the voice of the great bell, swinging in its lofty tower, be heard in the calm of the Lord's Day, summoning the children of St. Patrick to worship in the faith of their fathers. Well may the white-haired patriarch, as he remembers the sailing from Cork, the passage across the mighty ocean, the journey up the St. Lawrence, the cutting of the road between the two lakes, the difficulties of the shallows, and the dangers of the rapids of the Otanabee, the camp in the wilderness, the fever and the ague that racked his bones in the early years, the hard toil and stern privations; well may he be surprised at what he now beholds—at the wondrous change wrought by the skill and courage of man, animated by the most potent of all incentives—the spirit of hope and the certainty of reward.

Twenty-five miles west of Peterborough, another town has sprung up within a few years—sprung out of the forest, as if by enchantment; and of this town a majority of its inhabitants are the descendants of those who left Cork in 1825, and of their friends or relatives who followed them in a few years after. There is not in Canada a prettier town than Lindsay, in which may be seen a curious structure, rather out of place in the midst of brick and stone. Carefully fenced round, and kept in a state of preservation, is an old log shanty, which is regarded by a considerable portion of the inhabitants with affectionate veneration. This was the temple in which they worshipped God when the soil on which the prosperous town of Lindsay now stands was covered with juniper and pine. Near this 'old church' is seen its successor—a splendid brick edifice of Gothic architecture, erected at a cost of $20,000. And not a gun-shot's distance from the old church is a fine block of shops, equal in style to any buildings in Montreal, which cost their owner some hundred thousand dollars. Twenty-five years ago he was a poor lad, not worth sixpence in the world; but he possessed what rarely fails in the long run—industry, honesty, intelligence, and steadiness.

To finish the history of these Irish immigrants, it may be mentioned that the discovery of gold in their neighbourhood has amazingly enhanced the value of real estate; so that those who desire, in the true American spirit, to push on, and seek a more extended field for their operations, may part with their property at prices which would enable them to purchase whole tracts of land in other places.

Proceeding farther West, we may behold the first hard struggle of people and of pastor, to reclaim the soil from the sterility of nature, and maintain the faith in the midst of the wilderness.

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