Posts Tagged ‘Quebec’

Ay or Nae?

September 18, 2014

Today is the day the Scots vote on staying or leaving the United Kingdom. From a sluggish start the Yes side has had a late surge in support. Now the polls are neck-in-neck with a very real chance this ancient union will break apart.

Unusually for the British media, Canada has been oft-discussed with much reference to the 1995 Quebec referendum. Michael Ignatieff has been on BBC Radio 4’s flagship news programme Today discussing the tactics used to prevent votes in favour of Quebec separation.

For Canadians, it hits home not only with our own separatist movement but also in our history with the major role that Scots played in the construction of Canada, starting with John A. MacDonald. There are over 4 million Canadians with Scottish ancestry.

Do you think Scotland will separate? Do you think there will be an impact on us here in Canada?

How the Sheas (and Neil) arrived in Canada

June 13, 2012

Written by Neil – originally published in Nuacht September 2006

You might think the name Coolcappa describes one of those iced coffee drinks we enjoyed during the summer. In fact it is a small village on the border of Limerick from where my Irish ancestors, the Sheas, set out for the New World in June 1825. (Coolcappa comes from the Irish Cuil Cheapach meaning “corner of the village plots.”) This spring, my wife, Catharine, and I spent a morning there mucking around the parish graveyard in the warm rain, looking for names on the weathered gravestones that might give us a clue about who was left behind. We also chatted with the lovely woman who keeps the grocery store-post office as clean as a whistle and filled with laughter from her wonderful Irish stories.

Coolcappa graveyard.

Of course the Sheas (also called the O’Sheas) are one of those storied Irish families that came from a long lineage working its way back through hill and dale, war and peace to the early bogs and mists of ancient Ireland. Here we catch up with them early in the nineteenth-century when the Sheas had long been farmers in County Limerick. Unfortunately, the economic situation in the early eighteen-twenties was grim. In 1821 the potato crop failed, causing great distress among the lower classes who subsisted mainly on a diet of potatoes and buttermilk.

To deal with this situation the British government decided to underwrite the costs of sending carefully selected families from the south of Ireland to Upper Canada, giving them free land (70 acres) and supplying them with tools and a year’s supply of rations. At one stroke this policy would reduce suffering in Ireland and provide more men for the militia in Upper Canada, still nervous after the war of 1812.

To get this scheme off the ground, the British government contacted the Attorney General of Upper Canada, Sir John Robinson, who turned to his elder brother, the Hon. Peter Robinson, at that time the Member of Parliament for York. Quickly, Peter Robinson travelled to Ireland and began lining up volunteers to leave for the New World. Although only a limited number could be accommodated, many thousands applied, sick of their poverty and lack of prospects at home. And this despite the fact Robinson was peppered with questions concerning the presence of bears, wolves and marauding Indians.

By the summer of 1823, the first group of emigrants sailed from Cork, arriving in Quebec City after a voyage of eight weeks. These settlers then travelled to the Bathurst District, made up of the present day counties of Lanark, Renfrew and Carleton. Many of them settled in Ramsay Township close to the modern towns of Almonte and Carleton Place. The second phase of Peter Robinson’s emigration plan began two years later, in the spring and summer of 1825. It was this group (2,024) that included my ancestors, the Sheas, who were booked on the good ship John Barry with a total passenger list of 253.

Along with Michael 16 (my great-grandfather) there were eight other Sheas in the family. These included Michael’s parents, Thomas (born in Coolcappa 1781) his wife, Bridget (1786), and his siblings Jeremiah (1806), Michael (1808), John (1810), Mary (1813), Thomas (1815), Johanna (1819) and baby Dennis, who was just two years old when the ship salied at the end of May at 10 a.m., the “morning fine and almost calm.”

Each ship in the flotilla (there were nine others beside the John Barry) included a ship’s surgeon, ours being Mr. William Burnie, a Scot, who had graduated from the University of Edinburgh medical school seven years earlier. Almost as important as the medical care he dispensed was the fact that Mr. Burnie kept a diary which gives a vivid account of life on the John Barry.

The voyage was not an easy one. Soon after boarding, the passengers began to experience two discomforts that were to plague them throughout, seasickness and inadequate sanitary facilities. Mr. Burnie wrote: “Two days at sea all the men were up and they sprinkled and scraped the decks. Women generally sick. Up all the beds and every person off the berths deck. Had the decks swept and the under berths cleaned. Washed clothes.” That evening at seven there was a welcome diversion, “music and dancing.”

On Monday morning “Timothy Callaghan was detected taking another man’s flour cake, and punished after being found guilty by twelve of his peers by cleaning the water closet for two days.” Many days the seas were rough and the passengers bilious. “Strong gales with thick fog. At times heavy rain. Heavy sea from S.W. … many sickly. Mrs. Slattery, Callaghan, Groves seasickness. Tim Reagan fever. Sullivan constipation … lime juice to those who wish it.”

Sometimes the nausea boiled over into a quarrel. “A violent fight with much scurrilous gab between Mrs. Owens and Mrs. Blackwell. The former is a noisy, quarrelsome woman, Blackwell little better. Well matched at tongues.” There were several miscarriages: “Another abortion – Dennis Mahoney jaundice, Pat Regan fever, Mrs. Condon bowels … Mrs. Grave and Baragy seasick.”

Mr. Burnie quickly established a routine whereby the men scrubbed the decks and “All woman washed clothes and hung them on the proper lines.” Meals soon became a problem because some items were foreign to the settlers (like the Sheas) “ who threw the cheese and plum cake over board or complained they were being poisoned. Cocoa was provided for the men, who rejected it. They preferred tea, which was only doled out to the women.” Several of the men (Michael Shea perhaps) disguised themselves in female clothing in order to get tea for themselves when rations were given out.

Tea was not the only problem. So, apparently, was the cook. On June 8, Mr. Burnie wrote in his journal: “at 1 p.m. Dinner people wrangling with the cook. They say he boils their provisions too much for the sake of the liquid. He denies it, but says they put it in so irregularly that some of it will be overdone. He threatens giving up the cooking. I settled the dispute by allowing everyone to take out his meat when he likes.”

Indeed, with no refrigeration, the diet was barely tolerated and sickness was endemic. As the weather worsened, the male passengers were obliged to take their turn at pumping out the ship several times a day. A number of passengers developed fever. Sanitary conditions were also deteriorating. The latrines were so inadequate that people took to creeping up on deck to relieve themselves at night. The weather worsened. On June 12, the surgeon writes: “Heavy gales and thick with rain. People between decks, some praying, some crying out murder, some swearing. A few believe the sailors to be getting out boats and leaving them.”

After making Newfoundland on June 19, the surgeon made a list of the ill including “Mrs. Regan who brought forth a daughter in the 7th month” and, ominously, “the baby Dennis Shea.” On June 27, the surgeon listed his patients as “10 sick, 2 very ill (Dennis being one) … People dined on deck. Weather fine and clear.” It was not fine for “baby Dennis.” His parents and eight siblings surrounded his cot, telling their beads long into the night. It was less than ten days from the sight of Quebec when Surgeon Burnie wrote in his journal: “Midnight departed this life Dennis Shea, aged 17 months 9 days.” Little did his grieving mother, Bridget, know that within a few weeks she would lose another member of her family.

Two days later the John Barry struck a sand bar, began to take on heavy water, many of the passengers panicked and some of the crew threatened mutiny before the officers managed to put things right. On July 7, six weeks after it left Cork harbour, the John Barry docked in Quebec and was boarded by the Harbour Master.

The next day Tom and Bridget Shea and their brood, along with the other passengers boarded the Steam Packet, Swiftsure, for the trip to Montreal. The ship sailed at eight in the morning the temperature being 88 degrees. The next day the emigrants from one of the other ships arrived in eight bateaux. “I consider his people more unruly than mine,” Mr. Burnie wrote with satisfaction. Beyond Three Rivers they “reached The Cedars where we buried the [Mahoney] child in the church yard. Indians very troublesome, wanting money for drink.  Others tossing the luggage about and squabbling with the people.”

That was the surgeon’s last entry. The Sheas and the rest then made their way overland to Lachine where the bateaux were waiting to transport them to Prescott and on to Kingston.

Meanwhile Peter Robinson himself had gone to the Newcastle District (later renamed Peterborough after himself but then known as Scotts Plains) to reconnoitre a travel route before returning to Prescott to pick up his charges. “On the eleventh of August, I embarked 500 on board a Steamboat and landed them the next day at Cobourg, a distance of one hundred miles; the remainder of the settlers were brought up the same way, the boat making a trip each week.”

The route from Cobourg to Rice Lake (and then on to Scotts Plains at the head of the Otonabee river) was a thick wasteland of rocks and trees, an almost impenetrable forest. We can only try to imagine how Thomas and Bridget Shea and their six children would view this forbidding wilderness, most of it unknown except to native people. I find it hard to imagine myself although it is in this very area that I and many other descendants of Thomas and Bridget grew up. We went to Cobourg for school picnics, swam in Rice Lake and at least once a year excitedly looked forward to seeing the races at the Peterborough Exhibition.

Meanwhile, as he recounted, the resourceful Peter Robinson had “two scows” made, which were “transported on wheels from Lake Ontario to the Rice Lake.” No wonder Robinson found it difficult to recruit the manpower necessary to trundle these scows, each 56 feet long, on wheels over twelve miles of makeshift road laboriously cut out of the wilderness.

At last after much huffing and puffing, everyone arrived at Scott’s Plains, now downtown Peterborough. Lots were chosen and it is my understanding that Tom and Bridget and their children settled some miles from Peterborough in Asphodel township on what later was called the Shea line running between Norwood and Hastings on the Trent River, a road that Catharine and I discovered again on a sunny August day this summer.

Sady, in 1826, not long after they arrived in Asphodel, another tragedy struck the family. Bridget, who had lost her baby, Dennis, almost within sight of Quebec City a few months before, now lost her husband Tom who was drowned in Rice Lake at the young age of 45, leaving her a widow, aged 40, with six children.

Fortunately, Bridget’s eldest don “Darby” (Jeremiah) was old enough to qualify for land. Bridget, now listed by the authorities as the “Widow Shea” received one cow, two blankets, three axes, meat, flour and other necessities. At the time of his father’s death, Michael, my great-grandfather was 17. He would have worked with his brothers clearing the forest and caring for his mother. About 10 years later, he married Ann Myles, 20, from Cork, the daughter of Thomas Myles and Honorah Connell. Not quite two years later their first child, Catherine, was born. Michael and Ann went on to have ten more children including William born in 1850 and Jeremiah in 1856.

William Shea was my grandfather. He grew up on a farm in Asphodel Township not far from where I later lived in the village of Hastings. He was a spare man over six feet tall with a trim white moustache who for many years had been a motorman on the street cars in Peterborough before returning to Asphodel to take up farming in earnest, living in one of those impressive solid red brick houses just outside Norwood at the western end of the Shea line. He had married Bridget McCarthy, born in 1856, and they had two children, my mother, Irene and her sister, Geraldine.

My grandfather, who spent many happy hours fishing for pickerel in the Trent River, died at the age of 89 in Hastings just as war was breaking out in 1939. His father, Michael, died at the age of 83 in Asphodel in 1891. It was just over 60 years since he had left Coolcappa to board the John Barry at the city of Cork for the wilds of Asphodel.

Originally published in Nuacht September 2006


April 25, 2012

Former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has raised a storm in Canada with an interview he gave in Britain in which he said Quebec will “eventually” separate.  Even now, he said, Quebec is master in its own house.

“Now effectively …. we’re almost two separate countries.”

Later Ignatieff said he was a strong federalist and that he had been taken out of context.  It is hard to see how.

Will Quebec separate?

What do you think?


February 17, 2012

Quebec patents, politicians and music lovers are outraged that an elementary school music teacher chose to censor part of a song by French musical Edith Piaf because of a reference to God.  In preparing for  a concert by 11-year-olds the following line was cut, “God reunites those who love each other.”One liberal cabinet minister says this amounts to outright censorship.  The school board defended its action by saying it was preferable to study the issue of God at home or in school in an ethics course.

Does this seems like censorship to you?

Should God be cut from song?

What do you think?


February 9, 2012

I thought Canada had put capital punishment behind us by a parliamentary vote in 1976.

Apparently not.  A new poll, just out, reveals that 61 per cent of Canadians support reinstating capital punishment.  Thirty-four per cent are opposed.  The poll found opponents of the death penalty were mostly in Quebec (45 per cent),  another sign of the enlightenment of this province.

That a solid majority of Canadians would want to bring back the rope after an absence of nearly 35 years is mind-boggling.  Are we that savage a nation?  Capital punishment is an act of barbarity perpetrated in cold blood by the civil arm.

I would consider bringing capital punishment back with one condition.  All executions must be open to the public in large venues like the Roger Stadium in Toronto or the Olympic stadium in Montreal.

Then we could see with our own eyes what our savagery had wrought.

Can you see any reason why a majority of Canadians would want to bring back the rope?

Should Canada restore capital punishment?

What do you think?


January 21, 2012

Bernard Drainville, a heavyweight separatist told Le Devoir this week that the P.Q. could disappear.  He was visibly moved by the party’s current state of disintegration. But he likelihood that the PQ could be reduced to a small rump in the National Assembly is not beyond possibility in the party’s current dysfunctional state.

In addtion more polls suggest that an increasing number of Quebeckers – verging on a majority – are coming around to the idea this would be no big loss.

Behind Marois’s back is Gilles Duceppe holding the stiletto

This is the same Duceppe who has zero experience in government beyond running his own party with a tight fist, a tendency that would be bound to sew yet more dissension in the Parti Quebecois.

In the light of this and much more, it’s tempting to think that in just disappearing, the P.Q would be doing itself, alon with the rest of us, a blessed favour.

Could  the PQ disappear?

What do you think?


December 19, 2011

Saturday morning, Jacques  Martin, who speaks French was  fired as coach of the Canadiens.  He was replaced by Randy Cunneyworth who is unilingual English.

The decision has ignited a firestorm of criticism. Former players and team executives, nationalist groups and the francophone fraternity of sports writers were quick with condemnation, saying bilingualism is a necessary qualification for the post. Sportswriter  Philippe Cantin led the charge. “It’s not simply a hockey team.  It’s an institution. Like all institutions, it has responsibilites that go beyond being a hockey team in the market”. One of  those responsibilities is that the coach should speak French.

Let’s put this in perspective.  Can you imagine the Toronto Maple Leafs hiring a coach who can’t speak English?

Should the coach of the Canadiens be able to speak French?

What do you think?


December 16, 2011

A Quebec organization for the moderate use of alcohol is urging the province to institute random roadside breathalyzer tests.  Random tests would allow police to stop any driver at random and issue a roadside breathalyzer test, even if there is no reason to suspect that there is alchohol in the system.  The current practice requires that police have reasonable suspicions of intoxification such as erratic driving or running a red light.

The Quebec report cites statistics from Ireland, New Zealand and Australia that demonstrates how the introduction of random testing dramatically reduced the number of alcohol related deaths on the road.  Currently 43 nations use random breath testing, including France, Italy, Finland and Russia.

However, the Quebec Bar is opposed to random testing. The Bar argues that the practice  violates basic civil liberties which insure security from unreasonable searches or seizure.

A study by Mothers Against Drunk Driving shows that 77 per cent of Canadians support random testing.

One Montreal citizen says, “Testing someone, or searching them or invading their property with no reason to suspect anything just makes me feel too much like being in a police state.”

Still, deaths from drunk driving on the roads is an epidemic.  Surely any intitiative that will reduce this carnage should be explored.

Should we have random breathalyzer tests?

What do you think?


November 7, 2011

It is 30 years almost to the day since “the night of the long knives” in Ottawa.  That was when Trudeau, Chretien and the anglo premiers ganged up on Rene Levesque and decided to repatriate the Constiution and add a Charter of Rights and freedoms even if Quebec was left out of the deal.

So for three decades now Quebec has been bound by thee repatriated Constitution and the Bill of Rights but has not signed it.

There were repeated efforts to make the deal palatable to Quebec — Meech Lake, the Charlottetown Accord.  They all failed partly because Trudeau opposed giving Quebec “special status”.

A new survey, just out, found that 63 per cent of respondents from across the country now agree with the statement: “There are no constitutional changes that can ever satisfy the majority of  Quebecers.”Fifty-seven per cent of Quebecers agreed that constitutional changes won’t satisfy most residents of their province.  Thirty per cent are still convinced major amendments could resolve outstanding issues and lead to Quebec finally signing the Constitution Act of 1982.

Should Quebec sign the Constitution and become a full part of the Canadian family?

What do you think?


October 19, 2011

It’s that time again when the number of seats in the  Commons must be changed to reflect the population changes. Ontario will increase by 13 seats, down by five from what it was supposed to have.  British Columbia will receive five more seats, down from its original allotment of seven.  Alberta will increase its count to six.  Quebec will increase its count by two seats to keep its numbers in the House from dropping below its 23 per cent share of the population.

With its delayed and altered seat distribution bill, the conservative government appears to be struggling with how to reward the growing and more dynamic areas without alienating Quebeckers. The tensions thus produced could escalate if Quebec fails to win one of the two enormous shipbuilding contracts that could be announced as early as today.

Should Quebec get more seats?

What do you think?