Saturday, 1 September 2018

Book Review: Ontario and Quebec's Irish Pioneers

The latest book from Lucille Campey's study of Irish immigration to Canada, which follows her books of Scottish and English immigration, is to be released imminently. The focus, Ontario and Quebec, is bound to attract interest from the many descendants of the "good and talented people" of Irish origin who made an enormous contribution to Canada’s development, focusing on the pioneer period until roughly 1850.

The book follows the format of the previous volumes. As a prelude it covers the push and pull factors that motivated the Irish to migrate and stay. The second chapter, on early migration, starts with Irish settlement during the French colonial period through to the War of 1812.

The heart of the book, in seven chapters, looks at the situation in the various regions where Irish settlement occurred, from Quebec City and environs to southwestern Ontario. Readers with Ottawa Valley ancestry, where the Irish formed "a migration of epic proportions" will be happy to see a 21 page chapter The Ottawa Valley. Quotes from settlers or visitors letters and diaries along with contemporary illustrations bring the story to life. Geoff Campey's 16 maps orient the reader and depict Irish settlement in detail.

The following two chapters, Irish Arrivals During the Great Famine of 1847 and, Sea Crossings, have corresponding chapters in Lucille's previous book on Irish immigration to Atlantic Canada. The point is again made that while the so-called coffin ships did claim many lives, perhaps one third of passengers leaving Irish ports in 1847, the cause was spread of disease — not wilful negligence of shipowners and captains. The book details fake news about the sea crossing in an attempt to "debunk the victim-ridden interpretations of more recent times." A table documents the ships that arrived in Quebec, arrival date, captain, ship quality according to Lloyd's, the number of passengers and number of deaths.

The final chapter, The Irish in Ontario and Quebec, is an overview looking at the major role the Irish played in shaping Ontario’s future and in influencing Quebec’s economic and cultural development.

For those who want to dig further there are more than 50 pages of notes, a 31 page bibliography as well as a comprehensive index.

This book is a valuable addition to the literature on the topic for those looking to understand their own family story in the context of the broader Irish immigration to Quebec and Ontario.

This review is based on a pdf copy from the publisher. I took advantage to do a bit of digital analysis on the text looking at occurrence of the words catholic(s) and protestant(s). Of 318 mentions 202 are catholic(s), that's 63%. That ratio is lowest, 56%, in the chapters on Montreal and environs and the Ottawa Valley.

The most frequently mentioned places in Ireland are: Ulster (39), Limerick (30), Cork (28), Belfast (26), Tipperary (21), Antrim (19), Fermanagh (16), Dublin (15), Wexford (15), Wicklow (14), Kilkenny (14).

The official publication date is 8 September and Lucille will be at the BIFHSGO monthly meeting that day to launch the book and make the main presentation.

Ontario and Quebec's Irish Pioneers: farmers, labourers and lumberjacks, by Lucille Campey
Published by Dundurn, September 2018
$35 (6 x 9 in paperback or pdf digital download)
$16.99 (epub)
416 pp
ISBN 978-1-45974-084-6

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