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Essays

Urban Communities

The Irish in Urban Canada

K.J. James
University of Guelph, Ontario

Much has been written about the rural Irish in Ontario and New Brunswick, and how their experiences suggest pronounced contrasts between patterns of Irish settlement in nineteenth-century British North America and the United States. This welcome emphasis on rural aspects of the Irish-Canadian experience reminds us that they, like most people in British North America and Canada until the first decades of the twentieth century, lived predominantly in rural areas. It has also highlighted contrasts with the Irish-American experience, which dominates scholarship on Irish immigration. But it has also sometimes understated the extent and influence of the Irish in urban Canada. After all, while it is true that the majority of Irish in Upper Canada/Canada West (now Ontario) emigrated before the Famine, and tended to favour rural areas, in many parts of British North America, including Lower Canada/Canada East (now Québec), the Irish were predominantly urban migrants. Read more »

Politics and the Irish in Rebellion-era Montréal

K.J. James
University of Guelph, Ontario

Many urban Irish cultural institutions incorporated Catholics and Protestants, and their politics were dynamic and far from mere reproductions of social institutions and divisions found in Ireland. Irish immigrants did not align themselves exclusively -- in their political orientations or cultural associations -- with fellow-religionists. Even after the middle of the nineteenth century, when there was a greater tendency for Irish associational culture to be aligned with sectarian cleavages, factionalism and fierce conflicts within Catholic and Protestant organizations belied the unity of these populations. The experience of Saint Patrick's Society of Montréal, one of Irish Canada's oldest and most storied institutions, offers us insight into an associational culture that originally cut across denominational cleavages. Even after it was re-established as an exclusively Catholic institution in 1856, it suffered from internal division. Read more »