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Irish, Settlement

According to Irish folk tradition, the earliest Irish visitor to Canada was St. Brendan, a monk and navigator who some historians say sailed to North America around 545 A.D. Sustained Irish immigration dates back to the early 1700s, but was relatively light until the Irish potato blight of 1845. Famine, disease and centuries of brutal rule by England led to widespread Irish emigration to Canada.

During the 1840s and 1850s, many thousands of Irish immigrants made their way to Canada in crowded, disease-ridden ships that took anywhere from 45 days to four months to cross the Atlantic. Many died en route or shortly after arriving in Canada. Typhus epidemics took the lives of thousands, some of whom were buried in mass graves near Montreal and Quebec City. Irish immigration was so great that by 1867, the Irish in Canada outnumbered both the English and the Scottish. Only Canadians of French descent were more numerous at this time. Many of the early Irish immigrants engaged in farming or worked as labourers on canal and railway projects. In what is now Alberta, approximately 20 percent of the early fur traders were Irish.

Substantial Irish immigration to the prairies did not begin until the
1880s. Most, however, arrived between the turn of the century and World War I. By 1911, there were 5,820 Irish people in Alberta.

Irish immigration to Canada in the 1920s brought the Irish-Canadian population to 1,231,000, 12 percent of the national population. Irish immigration was also heavy in the post-war period. Today Canada is the home of approximately 3,800,000 Irish Canadians, 461,000 of whom live in Alberta.

The Irish have played a significant role in the development of Canada. Sir Guy Carleton (later Lord Dorchester), the first Governor-in-Chief of British North America, was an Irishman. Other distinguished Irish Canadians include Thomas D'Arcy McGee, Arthur Meighen and Lester Pearson.

Right Honourable Arthur Meighen

Right Honourable Arthur Meighen