A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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THE FORCE OF HOPE: The Legacy of Father McGauran
Immigration History
The Famine Irish:

The Great Irish Famine of 1846 to 1852 was a truly horrific human disaster. The potato crop fell to the blight and the Irish starved, waiting for a miracle. Poorhouses were overwhelmed, soup kitchens could not feed the hungry, hundreds of thousands died, orphans wandered motherless, and then cholera and typhus pulled the half-living into the fever pits - the mass graves. Emigration was the only hope. As many as two million Irish fled their homeland and another million are believed to have died trying. Hundreds of thousands came to Canada.

These Famine immigrants were the poorest of Ireland's poor, barely able to pay the one or two pound passage, unable to buy enough food to sustain themselves on the voyage over. Some had their tickets paid by landlords eager to evict them and be free of the taxes the English forced them to pay. Many Irish packed onto Canadian timber ships that otherwise would have made an empty and unprofitable return home to their Canadian port(5).

Of the Famine Irish, many didn't stay in Canada long. They continued on to the United States. Those who did stay supplied a pool of cheap labour that helped fuel Canada's economic expansion through the 1850's and 1860's. They erected bridges across the St. Lawrence into Montreal and heaved an industrialized nation into being(6).

Before the two main waves of immigration, the Irish had come to Canada only in moderate numbers. The Irish may have made up as much as five percent of the population of New France. In fact, some French Canadian and Acadian surnames derive from a corruption of Irish names such as Riel (from Reilly) and Caissie (from Casey). There was also a sizeable Irish population in Newfoundland that began arriving in the 18th century(7).

After the Famine the number of Irish immigrants to Canada decreased drastically (Irish in Canada, Vol 1, p34). In the sixty years following the famine, 1851 and 1910, four million Irish left their homeland, compared with two million during the five-year Famine period. An estimated twenty percent of these emigrants went no further than Britain(8).

ENDNOTES:
8 - The Irish in Canada, Volume I
edited by Robert O'Driscoll and Lorna Reynolds (Celtic Arts of Canada, Toronto, 1988).

6,7 - The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(McClelland & Stewart Inc., Toronto, 1998).

5,8 - The Irish Famine, an Illustrated History
by Helen Litton (Wolfhound Press, Dublin, 1996)

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