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Irish Immigration to Canada

The Irish began immigrating to North America in the 1820s, when the lack of jobs and poverty forced them to seek better opportunities elsewhere after the end of the major European wars. When the Europeans could finally stop depending on the Irish for food during war, the investment in Irish agricultural products reduced and the boom was over. After an economic boom, there comes a bust and unemployment was the result. Two-thirds of the people of Ireland depended on potato harvests as a main source of income and, more importantly, food. Then between the years of 1845 and 1847, a terrible disease struck the potato crops.

The plague left acre after acre of Irish farmland covered with black rot. The failure of the potato yields caused the prices of food to rise rapidly. With no income coming from potato harvests, families dependent on potato crops could not afford to pay rent to their dominantly British and Protestant landlords and were evicted only to be crowded into disease-infested workhouses. Peasants who were desperate for food found themselves eating the rotten potatoes only to develop and spread horrible diseases. Entire villages were quickly homeless, starving, and diagnosed with either cholera or typhus.

InterpretingK,online) The lack of food and increased incidents of death forced incredible numbers of people to leave Ireland for some place which offered more suitable living conditions. Some landlords paid for the emigration of their tenants because it made more economic sense to rid farms of residents who were not paying their rent. Nevertheless, emigration did not prove to be an antidote for the Famine. The ships were overcrowded and by the time they reached their destination, approximately one third of its passengers had been lost to disease, hunger and other complications.

However, many passengers did survive the journey and, as a result, approximately 1. 5 million Irish people immigrated to North America during the 1840s and 1850s. (Bladley, online) As a consequence of famine, disease (starvation and disease took as many as one million lives) and emigration, Irelands population dropped from 8 million to 5 million over a matter of years. (Bladley, online) Although Britain came to the aid of the starving, many Irish blamed Britain for their delayed response and for centuries of political hardship as basis for the cause of the Famine.

The Famine even affected Ireland in years to come by changing its social and cultural traditions profoundly. The Famine also prompted new trends of immigration, hence shaping the histories of both North America and Britain. It also called for an urgent political change in the Irish system (the Irish Republic resulted). When the first ships arrived on the ports of Canada, quarantine shelters that were prepared for emigrants became so overcrowded that military tents outside shelters were used temporarily. The tents were often floored with wooden boards and patients were supplied with cots.

These tents provided adequately during fine weather, but provided insufficient protection when it was cold and damp. Gradually, as more emigrants arrived, even the tents became overcrowded and emigrants were forced to sleep without shelter on bare ground with no cover except for the clothes they wore. The desperate need for accommodation prevented their immediate removal from quarantine vessels. Their confinement on board caused emigrants to contract more disease that was spread further as a result of lack of ventilation and lack of medical aid on ships as doctors and nurses were desperately needed at hospitals.

The overcrowded sheds were unsuitable for hospital services, and, despite the number of complaints about the conditions of quarantines, nothing could be done. More hospitals were built, but remained unfinished, as carpenters refused to complete construction for fear of disease. Yet more emigrants who already suffered from disease were suffering from exposure to inclement weather as a result of having to stay outside. Even inside the hospital, the rooms were overcrowded, and, in an attempt to fit more people indoors, hallways became congested.

During the busiest months of emigration, May and June, as many as 30 vessels arrived at a time, carrying some 5,000 passengers each time. Although only approximately 500 of these were sick, the remaining healthy passengers still had to be cleared and legally determined as healthy in order to be allowed into the city. (ODriscoll and Reynolds, p. 352) Since hospitals were so overcrowded and there was a significant shortage in staff, those who had to wait eventually contracted disease. In order to prevent the spread of disease to Canadian citizens, constables were employed to control the movement of emigrants to inland.

However, a number of emigrants who were likely fearing contagion, went to inland without permission. To make the situation worse, food was unfairly distributed as portions were given only to those who collected it for themselves. Yet some who were able to obtain food were unable to cook and ate half-cooked food, contaminated meat, unripe fruit, and water that was unfit to drink. These actions are what caused diarrhoeal and dysenteric affections which have been very fatal among children and adults. (ODriscoll and Reynolds, p. 5)

At the quarantine stations, little could be done to prevent the spread of the epidemic. Through the spring and summer of 1847, the epidemic raged out of control, but with the arrival of autumn and the coming of the cold weather, it gradually subsided. (ODriscoll and Reynolds, p. 167) The officials in Canadian quarantines showed lack of anticipation in not expecting the mass of immigration or the horrible condition of arriving emigrants. Since proper preparations were not made in advance, officials were forced to use emergency measures in order to deal with the crisis.

However, when one considers the arrival of so many ill emigrants into a population so small, it is no wonder they were so overwhelmed with problems posed by the sudden mass immigration to Canada. As if the suffering forced upon the Irish during the Famine was not enough, after leaving quarantines, emigrants had to tolerate stereotyping. Irish Canadians were generally portrayed in negative ways. For a long time after arriving in Canada, they were represented as a member of a sub-human species, similar to apes and baboons.

They were also portrayed as stupid, wild, mad, and uncivilized human beings. (ODriscoll and Reynolds, p. 230) Irish emigrants and who migrated to Canada during the Famine and generations after made many significant contributions to Canada. Many recognized figures who contributed to the history of Canada were, in fact, Irish Canadians. Francis Collins, Robert Baldwin, Timothy Eaton, Nellie Mclung, and Samuel McLaughlin are but a few of the many Irish Canadian figure we have to thank for what Canada is today. h Francis Collins was responsible for the freedom of the press we know today.

He enabled people to look to newspapers as informational and educational tools, rather than limited pieces of information screened by the government. Prior to Francis Collins movement, writers who criticized government figures were quickly imprisoned without trial. Collins was jailed for publishing his newspaper, The Freeman, but still wrote and published his writings while in jail. After a long trial, he finally won the case with the help of outside public support. Thanks to Francis Collins, Canadians now have freedom of speech, a Charter of Rights, and liberty of press.

Robert Baldwin became the personification of integrity and humility in Canadian politics. He was the father of the Responsible Government and has become the symbol of political moderation in Canadian history. h Timothy Eaton(1834-1907) emigrated to Canada in 1854 and opened, in 1869, a small store on the south-west corner of Yonge and Queen which became the foundation of a renowned retail organization serving all of Canada. He constantly contributed to charity and helped those in need, making not only a contribution to Canada, but to the benefit of humanity.

Nellie Letitia Mooney Mclung(1872-1951) was an activist and a campaigner for female suffrage. She was a nationally known feminist and social reformer. Mclung was the first woman member of CBCs Board of Governors and deserves great thanks from Canadian women for her contributions to the womens movement in Canada. h Robert Samuel McLaughlin(1871-1972), the founder of General Motors, made significant contributions to the advancement of Canadian culture and society as well as to the Canadian economy.

He was the benefactor of Queens University, the city of Oshawa, Knox College, and the planetarium to University of Toronto, which still bears his name. He was also the founder of McLaughlin foundation, which has done much to improve the quality of medical education in Canada. (ODriscoll and Reynolds, pp. 654) The Irish Canadian community has repaid their debt to Canada by proving themselves to be productive and showing to us that the hardship many Canadians took on in order to accommodate emigrants was worthwhile. Their gratefulness is evident in the reputations they have established as Irish Canadian citizens.

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