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The Geography of the Irish Emigration to Canada

by Familia Ulster Genealogical Review: No. 04, 1988


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by C. J. Houston

"The images of the Irish rarely fit the reality of their circumstances. Irish emigrants in particular are portrayed as impoverished peasants at home who made good in the new world and whose liberation from poverty and ignorance depended on extraordinary shocks to the economic and social order of Ireland.

In the record of Irish emigration to Australia, small numbers of transported convicts and exotic exile around Botany Bay have set an image that the great masses of free Irish immigrants have not completely dispelled.

Similarly, the Canadian Irish have acquired a romantic and epic aura as a result of the Famine, and their experiences in the quarantine and death sheds of the emigrant stations of Grosse Isle near Quebec and Partridge Island outside the harbour of Saint John, New Brunswick. In the popular imagination, famine, typhus, and involuntary exile for those leaving late in the 1840s has easily outweighed the safe passages and reasoned decisions of the much greater masses that had been going to Canada since 1818 and who were in fact following in the eighteenth century paths of pioneer voluntary emigrants to America."

This article presents a summary of the emigration to Canada from the mid­-18th century to the mid-19th, the period in which the basic character of Irish Canada was established.