From the year 1845 until the early 1850’s, Ireland was hit with one of the most devastating travesties: the potato famine. Disease was spread upon Ireland’s main crop, the potato, which caused Ireland’s agricultural economy to hit rock bottom. It also caused many deaths among the Irish through starvation. To avoid death and start a new life, many Irish had to flee to The United States and Canada. Though many died while traveling across the Atlantic, thousands made it to land. With no money and no place to live, the Irish were about to make a big change in North America. Bringing only their religion and agricultural experience with them, the Irish fleeing the famine increased the power of the Catholic Church in Canada, catalyzed the effects of the industrial revolution, and strengthened the economy through the creation of thousands of jobs.
To understand how the Irish famine brought change to Canadian society, one must first understand the state Canada was in prior to the famine. The fact is, before famine hit Ireland, the Irish had already been steadily migrating to Canada. After the war of 1812, Canada was looking to increase its population. The British government did this with grants to the poor people of Cork, Ireland. These grants would allow the Irish to come over to Canada with a plot of land waiting for them. Canada wanted to increase their population density, specifically throughout Upper and Lower Canada, to form a strong backbone for a militia, incase the United States chose to invade again. This migration also helped the Canadian economy. The timber trade was very popular among the Irish immigrant workforce, as was the trading of wheat. Factories and steam railways were beginning to be built, as well as establishments for small businesses. This post-war era allowed for Canada to work on increasing population, as well as strengthening the economy. This would be the economic foundation on which off of the Irish famine immigrants built. Ireland, which was a strongly religious, but separated country, brought over both Catholics and Protestants. The Protestants, who came from Northern Ireland, had slightly more wealth than those with Catholic beliefs in the south. Prior to the events of the potato famine, when ships came over, each religion managed to settle in different areas of Canada. The Protestants seemed to have settled more along the east coast, in Maritime Provinces, while the Catholics settled in Lower and Upper Canada. No matter where the Irish settled, pre-famine Canada was dominantly Protestant. The Irish Catholics were likely to settle in rural areas because of their expertise in farming. In doing so, they were dispersing themselves amongst Protestants, unable to form a strong Catholics community. They were unable to form parishes and strengthen the church, as the Protestant population dominated their communities. Traveling to Canada seemed to appeal more to the wealthier Protestants than to the Catholics, which also contributed to the causing an uneven religious population. However, both Protestants and Catholics brought their faith to Canada with them, and did not the let the fact that they were living in a new land diminish their beliefs.
Even though there was a steady rate of migration from Ireland to Canada pre-famine, the years during the famine of the mid 19th century saw the biggest population increase of all. From 1825 until the mass immigration of 1845, an average of 111,000 Irish came to Canada every 5 years. In the years of the famine, 1845-1849, Canada saw 230,100 Irish arrive. These Irish, unlike those who arrived before them, arrived because of the potato famine. Disease had struck back home, and with the potato crop economy collapsing, many used the last of their money was used to sail across the Atlantic, in hopes of a new start.
The largest group of immigrants arrived in 1847. Dozens of boats arrived each week at the Canadian ports, dropping off hundreds of Irish at a time....
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