In my last couple of blog posts I have tried to capture a taste of the Irish Catholic immigration and settlement experience in Ontario, Canada (then Canada West) as they escaped the Irish famine of the late 1840’s. In doing so, I have shared the stories of my Irish Catholic roots. In this post, I will pass along the story of a young, married John Foley, my great grandfather.
On Thursday, April 26, 1894 a small announcement appeared in the Toronto Star newspaper. Under the heading of “A Wedding” it read, “Mr. John Foley and Miss Fitzgerald were quietly married yesterday evening in St. Joseph’s church, Leslie street, by Father Fagan. After the ceremony an adjournment was made to the residence of the bride’s parents, Brooklin [sic] avenue, where supper was served and the happy couple received the congratulations of their friends.” As I recounted in my last post, John and Mary Jane had three children, two boys and a girl, over the next five years before Mary Jane died suddenly of septic poisoning.
At the time of Mary Jane’s death, John and his children were living at 25 Blong Avenue in Toronto’s east end. In 1901, John and his children were still at the same address but had been joined by Mrs. O’Sullivan, an Irish Catholic widow, and her two children. Mrs. O’Sullivan served as the housekeeper and 1901 version of a ‘nanny’ for the Foley children. Living next door on Blong Avenue was John’s brother Thomas, his wife Kate and their children. Thomas worked for his younger brother as a teamster while John by this point in time had begun building his contracting business.
The next few years brought about significant change for the family. In October 1903, John Foley re-married. His new bride was Annie Teresa McElroy, the daughter of an Irish Catholic family. Annie had been born north of the city of Toronto in the then village of Thornhill, Ontario to Henry McElroy and Mary McTague. At the time of her marriage to John Foley, Annie has been a resident of the village of East Toronto, an area that was eventually amalgamated with the city in 1908. It was in East Toronto that John and Annie decided to live and raise their children. John moved the family to a large house on what was originally named Catharine Avenue. Later, during the amalgamation process when the city recognized there already existed a Toronto street named Catharine, the city proposed to re-name the street in East Toronto as Foley Avenue. A humble John Foley refused the honour of having a street named after him and the street was named Pickering Street.
John and Annie can be found living at 96 Pickering Street in the 1911 Canada Census with the three children from John’s marriage to Mary Jane and with the addition of a new son John Joseph Foley, born in 1905. My mother was the daughter of the one Foley girl (Gertrude Ellen Foley O’Neill pictured above right) and she often spoke of her Foley uncles: Gerald, Clarence, and John. Unfortunately Uncle John Foley passed away in 1949 and so was not part of a favourite Foley anecdote concerning my parent’s wedding. Following the church ceremony, the wedding party was receiving the well wishes of guests on the sidewalk in front of the church prior to their departure to a formal wedding reception. My father was approached by Uncle Gerald and Uncle Clarence who were both sobbing, tears running down their cheeks. They grabbed my father, hugged him tightly and said “You poor b&#@&.” (I’ll let you fill in the blank) We all still laugh about the incident and perhaps only my father knows of which they were speaking!