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- Irish Race in the Past and the Present - 110/134 -


the rapid increase of French-Canadians by birth, Catholicity would lose first its preeminence, and, perhaps, after a while, occupy a very inferior rank.

The religion professed by the many millions connected with the centre of unity has never shrunk from an equal contest, and is sure of victory when left free and untrammelled; but in Canada it should be observed that, had it not been for the coming of the Irish, the whole of the Catholic population would have spoken French, being surrounded and absorbed almost by sectarians of every hue, all speaking English. The strange spectacle would there have shown itself--a spectacle, perhaps, never witnessed hitherto-- of a Catholic and Protestant language. The separation of the two camps would have rested chiefly upon this peculiar basis; and there can be no doubt that, with the vigorous youth of the United States, developing so rapidly in the South, and destined to carry with it the English tongue over all the Northern continent, together with the spread of the English and Scotch North and West, the French language was destined to become circumscribed within narrower and narrower limits, and its final disappearance in America would be probably only a work of time.

If it is permitted us to study, love, and admire the designs of Providence among men, who shall say that it is presumption to assert that God's was the hand which directed the Irish exiles and set them in their place, in order to prevent the sad spectacle of a land settled by holy people, belonging almost exclusively to God and to Christ, endeared to the true Church by so many labors endured for the spread of truth, and memorable by so many heroic virtues practised in those frozen wilds and dreary forests, from falling sooner or later into the hands of the most unrelenting enemies of the papacy?

It cannot be presumptuous to attribute it to the designs of Providence, as otherwise it is impossible to discover any reason whatever which might influence the Irish in selecting that desolate spot for their place of exile. They came, therefore, in great numbers, to set themselves under the spiritual control of priests unable to understand either their native language or the borrowed English they brought with them; they came, confident that all the Catholic churches built prior to their coming would be open to them, and that the pastors of those French congregations would receive them, not as strangers, but as long- lost children, at last let loose from a land of bondage, come to share the freedom secured by the settlers.

The statistics of immigration having been accurately kept since 1815, it is easy to ascertain the number of Irish people who landed in Canada during the precise period under investigation. And, although a certain number, which increased with the years, did not remain in the country where they first landed, but pushed on immediately, or shortly after, south to the United States, still, a large proportion settled permanently in the country.

Half a million English-speaking persons arrived in Canada between the years 1815 and 1839. At that time there was no distinction made between the three different classes coming respectively from England, Scotland, and Ireland; but, when this classification afterward came to be made, the Irish formed a steady three-fourths of the whole. Applying this proportion to the time under consideration, we have the large amount of three hundred and seventy-five thousand. The number was afterward considerably increased, although a greater number still went directly to the United States; so that it is ascertained that within ten years, from 1839 to 1849, four hundred and twenty- eight thousand Irish people arrived in Canada; that is to say, at a rate of fifty thousand a year.

The country in which they settled was certainly large, as it comprised not only Canada proper, but also the British provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the large islands in the vicinity. But, as the Irish, contrary to their former custom, now prefer to dwell in large towns and assemble together rather than find themselves, as it were, lost in a sparsely-peopled district, the population of important cities, such as Quebec and Montreal, and of the growing western towns of Toronto, Kingston, and others, was very sensibly affected by their arrival. The English was no longer to be an exclusively Protestant tongue; and, as the more rapid increase of the Irish by birth would soon equalize numbers, and give them eventually the preponderance, it was clear that the country would ultimately remain Catholic, even supposing that the French tongue should be finally forgotten.

The first extensive emigration to the large cities of Canada was also owing to the fact that, the eastern provinces not having come under the stipulation of the capitulation treaty, the penal laws were still unrepealed in that district. Toward the beginning of this century we find Father Burke, wishing to open a school for Catholic children at Halifax, Nova Scotia, threatened with the enforcement of the law by the then governor of the province, if he persevered in his attempt, a threat which was only prevented from being carried into execution by the liberal spirit of the Protestant inhabitants. The flow of emigration to the colonies south and east of the St. Lawrence was, consequently, of a much later, in fact, for the most part, of quite recent date.

In Newfoundland the case was still worse. That region had been ceded to Great Britain by France, in 1713, at the Treaty of Utrecht; and, although that treaty stipulated that freedom of worship should be guaranteed, nevertheless, the country remained closed to Catholic clergymen, the stipulation being nullified by the treacherous clause "as far as the laws of England permitted. "Hence, the French Catholics with their clergy were soon obliged to leave the colony, and as late as 1765, according to Mr. Maguire ("Irish in America"), the governor of the island was issuing orders worthy of the reign of Queen Anne. In the words of Dr. Murdock, Bishop of St. John's, Newfoundland, "the Irish had not the liberty of the birds of the air to build or repair their nests; they had behind them the forest or the rocky soil, which they were not allowed, without license difficultly obtained, to reclaim and till. Their only resource was the stormy ocean, and they saw the wealth they won from the deep spent in other lands, leaving them only a scanty subsistence."

The Irish had therefore to fall back on the cities of Lower Canada, where, moreover, they found numerous churches and priests. Hence, Quebec was their first place of refuge, and they soon formed a large percentage of the population. Montreal was their choice from the first, where they arrived in crowds, attracted by the intense pleasure they felt at the happy chance of living and dying in a really Catholic city, where, turn in what direction they would, their eyes were gladdened by the sight of magnificent churches, colleges, convents, hospitals, with the cross, the symbol of their faith, surmounting nearly all the public edifices of the city.

Western Canada was as yet an uninviting field for the Irish. A large number of Scotchmen and "Orangemen" had already settled there, when the British Government, having adopted the scheme of emigration for Ireland, offered them favorable conditions for transport and settlement. It was on the west chiefly that an invasion of English Protestantism threatened, and the Catholics of Ireland were, in the dispensation of Providence, to meet that danger. It is no surprise, then, to find the English Government itself made subservient to designs very different from its own, offering in 1825 to bear the whole expense of establishing large bodes of Irishmen on these wilds--wilds then, but full of promise for the future. Among other colonies transported bodily, Mr. Maguire tells of four hundred and fifteen families, comprising two thousand individuals, all from the south of Ireland, genuine "Irish in birth and blood," transported from Cork harbor to Western Canada, on board British ships, under the auspices of the government. Their story will well repay the reading, and above all their remonstrance to the governor of the province, after they had surmounted the first difficulties of their new position: "We labor under a heavy grievance, which, we confidently hope, your Excellency will redress, and then we will be completely happy, viz., the want of clergymen to administer to us the comforts of our holy religion, and good schoolmasters to instruct our children."

In spite, however, of the efforts made by British statesmen to direct the flow of Irish emigration to the northern part of the American Continent, the number of those who voluntarily crossed the Atlantic to settle directly in the United States was steadily increasing. Not only did they find there perfect freedom of religion, but the absence of clergymen was being gradually less felt, and each new bishopric created became a centre of religious life and vigor.

Moreover, the new republic had turned out to be the most energetic and enterprising nation which the world had yet seen. A whole continent lay before it to subdue, and at once the young giant prepared to grapple with the truly gigantic difficulty. With the arrival of every "packet-boat," Europe was astonished to hear of the amazing vitality displayed by a nation of yesterday, composed of a few millions of individuals, who had already spread their frontiers as far north as the whole line of the great lakes, as far west as the Pacific coast, and southward to the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana fell in, and, from a state of torpidity in which it had slumbered, the vast territory which then went by that name waked suddenly into a prodigiously active life. At the very beginning of the century, the Missouri had been navigated to its source, and Lewis and Clarke, crossing the high ridge of the Rocky Mountains, had descended the Columbia to its mouth, and settled the boundary of the United States along the far-spreading Pacific. The mighty Mississippi, in the midst of that splendid domain, belonged from source to mouth to the republic, and, with its tributaries, was already alive with numerous steamboats, passing up and down, bearing their life and all its belongings with them, and the (at that time more numerous still) flatboats, carried down the stream, to reach, in due time, New Orleans.

There was small thought of hindering "foreigners" from coming to take a share in the giant enterprise. All the inhabitants were in fact foreigners to the soil; and the new-comers, no matter from what country they came, had just as good a right to sit at the common board as the first-landed. It was felt and wisely acknowledged to be the real interest of the young nation to welcome as great a number as Europe could send.

Thus have we already seen large numbers of Irishmen laboring along the Erie Canal. There was not a public work undertaken at the time in which they did not bear a welcome hand. And what race of men could be found better fitted for such work? It would indeed be interesting to show from good statistical tables what share Irishmen have really had in building up the prosperity of


Irish Race in the Past and the Present - 110/134

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