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Wee bit of history of the Irish in Sudbury - Michael Quinn

Date Published | Mar. 15, 2007
By Michael Quinn

The roots of the Sudbury’s Irish run deep into the core of the city’s history. Many of Sudbury’s pioneers, from the most successful business to the labourers on the railroad, in the lumber camps, or in the mines, were Irish immigrants or their parents were.

Because of rebellions and consecutive years of famine in Ireland, Canada saw steady influxes of Irish immigrants for almost a century, beginning in the late 1700s.

By the 1850s the Irish were the second largest ethnic group in Ontario and, because many arrived with only the clothes on their backs, they soon became the dominant wage-labour force in the province.

The census of 1901 was the first to classify Sudbury’s ethnic population. There were almost 1,300 Irish residents in the Sudbury area, out of a total population of 6,200 and they were the third largest ethnic group.

The first known Irishman to gaze upon, what was then, the majestic northern landscape of the Sudbury area, was among the men on the survey and construction crews of the Canadian Pacific Railway who hacked through the Cambrian Shield, laying a steel route to the Pacific.

Early in 1883, William Allen Ramsey, chief surveyor for the CPR, whose father had immigrated to New Brunswick from Belfast, Ireland, led his party through what would was to be the future Sudbury. They had originally surveyed the railway line to run along the south shore of Ramsey Lake, but on their return trip they got lost because of bad weather and had to survey a new route, where the present railway runs, parallel to Howey Dr.

What confused Ramsey and his crew, however, was the fact they had somehow lost the lake. Without too much of a search, they realized it was behind the hilly terrain and they joking referred to it as “Lost Lake”. The name was later changed to Ramsey Lake in the Irishman’s honor.

Thomas Flanagan, a blacksmith with the CPR, noticed that some rock appeared to contain copper. Testing confirmed this. In February 1884 the now famous Murry mine was bought for one dollar an acre. He got no share of the rich claim. In 1883, the CPR bought 470 acres of land from the Ontario government for $170. It was called Sudbury Junction. It was the CPR headquarters for two years as the rail lines moved west.

On July 1 1883, a horse-drawn supply cart hobbled over the tote road leading from Sturgeon Falls to Sudbury. The cart carried an Irishman, James McCormick, his wife, Susan (nee McGuire) and their daughters Susan, Molly and Nelly. Because they arrived on the same day as Dr. and Florence Howey, the McCormicks share the distinction of being Sudbury’s first permanent settlers.

McCormick, a contractor with the railroad, built a boarding house downtown to serve visiting CPR employees. This large log building later became the Balmoral Hotel, owned by this Irish man.

In 1884 McCormick became the first reeve of McKim township, which at that time, included the village of Sudbury (incidentally McKim township was named for Robert McKim, an Irishman, who was an MPP for Wellington North).

McCormick also built and operated a saw mill on Junction Creek, and in 1890 he built on McCormick’s Hall on Elgin St. . The city’s McCormick ward was named in his honour.

In the years 1883 to 1885, a lot of preparation was going on to get ready for the influx of workers. Bob Burns was setting up the CPR store across from Dan Dunn’s boarding house. Andrew McNaughton, the magistrate, was planning a court house and jail.

Father Jean-Baptiste Nolan was building a Jesuit mission St. Anne of the Pines. The McCormick girls made the first vestments for the priests and baked the wafers for the mass.

In May of 1884, Susan McCormick married Robert Burns and theirs was the first marriage to be celebrated in the chapel of St. Anne.

In October of 1883, an Anglican lay leader, Gowan Gillmore, from County Sligo, Ireland, held the first Anglican church service in Sudbury. Gillmore chose the site of the church, where it now stands on Larch St. The church was completed in 1890 and the bell tower in 1894.

In 1883, John Frawley who was born in Sheenboro, Que., to Irish parents became Sudbury’s first merchant when he pitched his tent store on what was to become Elm St.

In 1889 John was joined by his brother, Patrick, and his wife, Minnie, (nee McGinnis). Together they opened a men’s store, called the Blue Front Store.

John was a member of Sudbury’s first board of trades which was established in 1895, and in 1897 he established a bicycle club in Sudbury.

Patrick was the first president of the Sudbury Board of Education and his wife was Sudbury’s first woman cyclist.

In August of 1885, Robert Arthur, a surgeon with the CPR, arrived in Sudbury, an Irish descendant born in Picton. In 1888 Dr. Arthur and Dr. Struthers opened the Algoma and Nipissing hospital on Elm St. across from the present Days Inn.

Arthur later became a mayor of Sudbury (1922-1923).

In 1885, the CPR moved its construction crew and headquarters west of Sudbury. Consequently, the village noticed a sharp decline in population to about 300 people mainly lumber men and prospectors.

In 1886 Samuel Ritchie, an Irishman from Akron, Ohio, became the moving force in the development of Sudbury’s mining industry. Ritchie was the founder and first president of the Canadian Copper Company which later became Inco.

Ritchie was an astute business person. He bought Metcalf’s and McAllister’s claims of 1,300 acres in Copper Cliff for $13,000, then sold the same claims to his own company for $1 million. In 1886 his mine had a payroll of 65 employees.

The first public school in Sudbury was established in 1890. The first two teachers were Miss Evans and Miss Donohue. The school was located on Cedar St in the old CPR telegraph office.

During this time in Sudbury’s history several other people of Irish heritage played prominent roles such as John Miles Boland, John G Henry, James Alexander Orr, Florance Orr, John Dickson, Frank Cochrane, W. McVittie, Wilbur Cochrane, Faustina Kelly, Kathleen (Kit) Coleman, William Andrews, David Brown, John Mackey, Major Robert McKessock, Thomas Travers, Charles Dorian, Robert Carlin and William Edar.

And the four founding members of the Irish Heritage Club of Sudbury are Mel O’Reilly, Tony Ford, Pat Weir and John Quinn.

Michael Quinn is vice-president of the Irish Heritage Club of Sudbury.


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