Larkins in Canada

As a glance at the following map would suggest, immigration into Canada started from the East coast, and gradually spread westwards. Irish emigration into Canada long preceded the Great Famine, and was well established during the late 17th and early 18th century.  Two major differences are notable when comparing the emigration patterns into Canada as against that into the United States. The first of these is the seasonality associated with the immigration - much of it by fishermen  from the south-east of Ireland (particularly Wexford & Waterford) seeking temporary work in Newfoundland during the fishing season, and continuing the migration over many years. Of course many stayed, to the extent that locals in part of Newfoundland are said to have a distinct Irish accent reflecting the South-East of Ireland. The second major point of difference with the United States is to be found in the origin of the emigrants - the United States became home to a new population drawn overwhelmingly from dispossessed Catholic tenant farmers; whereas the immigrants to Canada were much more mixed between Protestant & Catholic settlers from all classes. Well documented are the migrations of Buchanan's Protestants, 1817-1818; Talbot's Protestants, 1818; and Peter Robinson's Catholics, 1823 and 1825. While 67% of the Irish immigrants in Ontario in 1871 were Protestant, 65% of Irish immigrants in Quebec and nearly 100% of Irish immigrants in Newfoundland were Roman Catholics. Many references and books document the settlement of the Irish in particular areas of Canada, such as Terrence Punch's Irish Halifax: The Immigrant Generation (Halifax, 1981). Irish emigration to Canada also started much earlier - and this accounts for the greatest differences with other immigrant patterns. There were two great waves of emigration to Canada from Ireland; which can be loosely classified as pre and post Famine.  Both can be said to have a common origin in the enactment of the Penal Laws in Ireland; which discriminated against Catholics and Dissenters equally. The first wave of immigrants was made up of Dissenting Protestants, chiefly from Ulster, who felt betrayed by the Penal Laws. They found ready passage to Canada on the empty cargo vessels returning to Canada having discharged their cargo of timber in British ports. This happy coincidence also found a ready source for many of them in the lumber trade. The second wave followed the same pattern as that of the United States - they were the poor, starving and illiterate survivors of the Great Famine.

As the new post-Famine immigrants approached the Canadian shores, thirty miles down river from Quebec their ships stopped at a three mile long one mile wide island; the quarantine station known as Grosse Ile. All the sick on board must disembark here, they were not permitted to continue on to Quebec. As they landed on Grosse Ile, they might celebrate having survived the threat of starvation in Ireland, and the hell of a coffin ship journey across the Atlantic, but for many thousands it became the island which over 5,000, some say perhaps 20,000, Irish emigrants were never able to leave. 

The GROSSE ILE story
During Black '47 the coffin ships arrived at Grosse Ile much faster than the facility could possibly handle. At one point there were reportedly 40 ships stacked up three kilometres deep with over 13,000 emigrants aboard. Large numbers of the emigrants on almost every ship departing Ireland for Canada had typhus when they boarded, and as the ships continued on their journeys, with the passengers packed together (often the ships were illegally over packed) in filthy conditions, with no facilities for washing, the decease spread like wildfire. British law called for the ships to provide only 7 lbs of food a week for each passenger; often they got even less, and even that was sometimes inedible. Many ships bought used casks for the passengers drinking water which were cheap, and which often leaked or had been used for wine, making the water undrinkable. Like the attempts to count all the famine victims in Ireland, the statistics on how many died in the coffin ships or the quarantine stations of Canada are all estimates. Some say as many as 25,000 may have died either en route to or shortly after arriving in Canada in 1847 alone; fully, one out of every four who began the trip. The statistics of those who died during voyages and those who arrived sick is both appalling and heartrending. One ship reported 158 dead and 186 sick of 596, another 96 dead and 112 sick out of 399, still another 78 dead and 104 sick of 331. If you could have walked on the ocean bottom it would probably have been possible to follow the trail of bodies to Canada.     



In 1909 the ancient order of Hibernians put up a 40 ft. high Celtic cross on Grosse Ile. It has an inscription in three languages. The English version is obviously sanitized in order not to insult the tender sensibilities of the English government, as has been the case so many times in so many famine related events for the last 150 years. It reads: "Sacred to the memory of thousands of Irish immigrants who, to preserve the faith, suffered hunger and exile in 1847-48, and stricken with fever ended here their sorrowful pilgrimage." In the Irish version it says: "Sacred to the memory of thousands of Irish emigrants who ended here their sorrowful pilgrimage. Thousands of the children of the Gael were lost on this island while fleeing from tyrannical laws and an artificial famine in the year 1847-48. Let this monument be a token to their name and honour from the Gaels of America. God save Ireland"  The locals in that area of Canada now call Grosse Ile, Isle des Irlandais.


Those who made it, were hardy survivors.  They had to be. Their descendants today can remember with pride as well as sorrow the sacrifices that made today's generations possible. They went on to make good lives for themselves and their children, and to thrive in various communities across the broad territory of Canada. 

Today, there are clusters of Larkin names amongst the many Irish family descendants located in specific areas of Canada,  especially

Copyright © 2008 Pádraic Ó Lorcáin. All rights reserved.
Revised: 28 Jan 2009 10:39:12.

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