Political Impact PDF Print E-mail
Following the famine - Canada

The Political Impact Following the Famine 

In 1887, Judge J. J. Curran wrote:

“Today the position of the Irish Catholic community of Montreal is one of influence, power and prestige. The assessment rolls are evidence of the interest they command to the extent of millions of dollars. Their hold on commerce and manufactures, their representation in the Judiciary, in the Senate and commons of the Dominion, in the Local Legislature, at the Aldermanic Board (town council), in the various offices of trust and emolument connected with public affairs and their place in the learned professions, by men of their race and creed, leave no room for cavil, Census returns are scarcely needed to establish numerical strength….”

from “Rise and Progress of the Irish Catholic community in the City of Montreal and vicinity” In Golden Jubilee of Rev. Father Dowd and Toupin

Both the Irish Protestant and Irish Catholic communities were absorbed quickly into the municipal, provincial, and federal political life of Canada. At the municipal (town government) level, six Montreal mayors were of Irish origin. At the provincial level, many Premiers have been of Irish descent, even in French Canada. For instance, in the late 20th century, Premier Daniel Johnston and his two sons were all Premiers of Quebec and represented three separate political parties. At the federal level, Brian Mulroney, a former Prime Minister, is possibly the most famous modern leader of Irish origin. Many different views about the Irish political impact can be found in newspapers and books. Be careful while researching this topic. For example, some scholars downplay the conflict and violence of Canada’s 19th century political story while others emphasize these aspects.

As often happens with immigrant groups today, the Irish brought some of their quarrels to Canada. Montreal’s largest riot in the 1850’s involved; Irish Protestants protecting Gavazzi, a renegade priest; Irish Catholics trying to stop the ex-priest from speaking; and a Scots Presbyterian regiment, the Cameronians, shooting both sides by mistake more than intention. Orange (Protestant) and Green (Catholic) riots became an aspect of Canadian life in the 19th century. The Irish Protestant-Catholic divide mirrored the English Protestant-French Catholic divide. To some degree, the Irish bridged the French-English divide and changed ethnic conflict into political conflict. For example, modern scholars often portray 19th century conflicts over who should pay and control the schools as a French-English dispute. In fact, many of Canada’s educational disputes were Catholic disputes within a Church forced to absorb an Irish component into the older French component. The Irish became a force to be reckoned with partly because of their numbers but also because they transformed the Catholic Church from a French institution into a French and English institution. While Irish Protestants were more numerous than Irish Catholics in Canada, their political impact on the English Protestant community has been less studied. Despite many books to the contrary, Irish Catholics were not only the employed class but were sometimes the employing class in Canada. Similarly, Irish Protestants were often the employed class and not always the employer class they have been labeled, especially in Quebec.

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