Coming to Canada – An Irish Family Experience, Part 2

In my last post, I concluded with the Foley family escaping much of the Irish ghetto environment that grew in parts of the city of Toronto during the 1850’s. Readers Eileen and Joan wanted to read more so here is some more!

William and Bridget Foley along with their six children: Mary Anne, Thomas, William, James, John (my great grandfather), and Catherine, can be found living in Barrie, Ontario in the 1871 Canada Census. William was listed as a ‘Labourer’ while James and John are listed as ‘going to school.’

The unsubstantiated family story I grew up with holds that William and Bridget died when John was about 12 years of age or around 1876. Although civil registration was mandatory in Ontario as of 1869, there is no death registration for either William or Bridget that I have found. The same family story suggests that John fended for himself, living off the land, spending time in the bush, only to emerge to try his hand at some business initiative. When these initiatives failed, John is said to have returned to the country alone to start over.

Eventually it is known that John saved enough money to buy a horse which he teamed with a horse he rented. He became the equivalent of today’s truck driver, using his team of horses to pull a wagon or sleigh to deliver goods for manufacturers and retailers. The photo to the left (from the Ontario Archives collection) shows a group of teamsters around 1900 delivering to and picking up from the Paterson Bros. store on Danforth Road near Dawes Road in Toronto’s east end. Perhaps an unidentified John Foley is amongst the group?

Even though his life improved with his success as a teamster, John experienced difficult times (see my post from August 2009 about John Foley’s loss of his team). With his success as a teamster, John was able to look to adding additional responsibility and stability to his life. In 1894, John married Mary Jane Fitzgerald, who was born in Canada but of a proud Irish family.

Mary Jane’s grandfather (and my third great grandfather), Daniel was born in Waterford, Ireland in 1804. According to ‘History of Toronto and County of York, Ontario‘, volume 2, published in 1885, Daniel immigrated to New York State in 1825 and settled in Cape Vincent where he lived until 1843. He moved his family to what was then the town of York (now the city of Toronto) but died in 1844. Daniel’s sons Joseph, the youngest, and Lewis (my second great grandfather) both owned land in what is now Toronto’s east end on which they gardened and grew fruit. Their lands and homes can be seen clearly labeled and marked on period maps of the city of Toronto.

Both John Foley’s and Mary Jane Fitzgerald’s Irish families had arrived in Toronto but each had very different immigration experiences. John and Mary Jane had three children before tragedy struck yet again. In 1898, at the age of about 30 and after bringing two sons into the world, Mary Jane gave birth to a daughter, my grandmother Gertrude Ellen Foley. One year and one week later, on April 16, 1899, Mary Jane Foley died of septic poisoning.

Mary Jane was buried with her parents in Toronto’s St. Michael’s Cemetery, a Roman Catholic, ten acre cemetery opened in about 1855 to accommodate the Irish Catholics who survived the famine, survived the coffin ships, but who died after their arrival in Toronto due to illness. So great was the rate of death amongst the Irish famine survivors that St. Michael’s Cemetery was ‘closed’ in 1900 when it reached capacity with about 29,000 people buried there, leaving Roman Catholics in the city of Toronto to find a new cemetery location.

One thought on “Coming to Canada – An Irish Family Experience, Part 2

  1. Ian I am enjoying every bit of this! My closest grandmother, who I was named after, was born to Irish immigrants. She was raised in Eastern Toronto. Born in 1917.
    Not only do I have a personal interest in the topic, I enjoy your style of writing and find myself wanting to read more when I get to the end.
    But that's the trick isn't it?? Keep the audience wanting more.
    I look forward to the next post.

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