Friday, June 04, 2010

"Well Mother I am started to till the soil in Canada" - John Thompson from Ballyfrench, May 1925

John in Canada.jpg

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, you can read this post in full on my blog)

My grandfather's brother, John Thompson, emigrated from Ballyfrench, County Down to Canada in 1925 (he's wearing the hat in the pic above). A few weeks ago one of his letters surfaced among some family papers:

c/o Robert Barker, Almonte, Ontario, RR No 1, Canada

Dear Mother,
Just a few lines to let you know that I arrived allright in Canada and in the best of health at present hoping this will find you all enjoying good health. Well Mother I am started to till the soil in Canada I got a start made on Tuesday so I did not get any holidays on this side. The emigration Officers were at Quebec when we landed there and sent every one their own way so I never saw Davies since we left Quebec so I think he has gone another route so I am about 250 miles from Toronto and about 30 miles from Ottowa of course this place I am in is miles from nowhere. I suppose there will be word from the rest of the boys that went out before - you might get me Wm Bell's address I suppose he is in a fine place too. We landed that night Saturday in Quebec about ten o'clock and had to stop aboard all night and got off the next morning at eight oclock. Well Mother I think this is all the news for this time only. Hope to hear from you soon again with love to all. From your Son John Thompson.

From an Ulster Peninsula to a Canadian Island
A 1904 Business Directory for Almonte is available here - Almonte is in Lanark County and even today still has a Highland Games event each year. About a 2 1/2 hr drive from Almonte is Amherst Island, Lake Ontario. Between 1820 and 1880, 105 families emigrated from the Parish of St Andrews (in the middle of the Ards Peninsula) to Amherst Island. The island was owned by the 3rd Lord Mount Cashell, who also owned estates in Cork, Tipperary, but his largest estate was nearly 50,000 acres in mid Antrim – at Kells, Cullybackey and the countryside around Ballymena. In the 1830s and 1840s he bought over 20,000 acres in “Upper Canada”, following in the footsteps of a number of Scottish gentlemen who had done the same (for example, a William Dickson from Scotland had bought 94,000 acres there in 1816).

The majority of the emigrants were Presbyterians, and until 1851 their minister - an Ulster missionary called Rev McLeiche – preached in the open air. A church was built that year. Cashell sold the island in 1857 to his second cousin, Major Robert Perceval-Maxwell, whose parents owned the Finnebrogue estate near Killyleagh and another at Groomsport. They built churches, schools (where the textbooks from the Ards were used), formed an Orange lodge and also a pub called the "County Down Inn".

There are many detailed stories about specific families, from Adairs to Watsons, in A New Lease on Life, by Catherine Anne Wilson (McGill-Queens University Press, 1994). Some of the Cashell and Perceval-Maxwell papers of the Amherst Island tenants are held at PRONI.

NB - Mary Becker and Lena McVea run both the Ards Peninsula DNA project and also the Amherst Island DNA project.

Here's a Googlemap to show where Amherst Island is:

View Larger Map


Philip Robinson said...

Nice one Mark, your great uncle John looks like a character from "The Man Frae the Ministry"!

I remember the girl Wilson doing research over here in Ballywalter. Amherst Island sounds like it is worth a 'hamecoming' visit.

Ulster-Scot.Com said...

From outside Groomsport in Co Down and know the Maxwell Estate there.

Trevor Mitchell