Tuesday, April 03, 2018

From Cavan to Canada - the Ulster-Scots origins of Canada Dry Ginger Ale

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Canada dry label 1906

Canada Dry is one of the world’s biggest soft drink brands. Ginger ale is now enjoying a resurgence, largely thanks to the rapid growth of the gin industry worldwide and in particular here in Northern Ireland. A number of successful local gins, such as Jawbox, recommend mixing the spirit with ginger ale. Ginger ale is said to have been invented in Belfast, perhaps as early as the 1830s.

Canada Dry was founded in 1904 by John James McLauglin (1865-1914), who had set up a drinks company in 1890 having spent time in New York working for a similar firm. McLaughlin's family roots were Ulster-Scots.

His grandfather, also called John (1811-1893), had been born in Knockbride in County Cavan and was baptised at Corraneary Presbyterian Church. He and Eliza Rusk were betrothed and they were among a group of Ulster emigrants who left in 1832. They married in 1834. Their grandson Sam McLaughlin later wrote this account (the two Tyrone references are potentially confusing) –

… Grandfather John McLaughlin came to Canada from County Tyrone on a sailing ship in 1832. He and the 140 other Irish men, women and children on the ship were not "potato famine" immigrants but had been persuaded to come to Canada by an agent for a scheme to populate the Peterborough area. I don't think Grandfather McLaughlin required much persuasion; he was eager for the opportunities offered to an energetic young man by the big new country across the Atlantic,

At Montreal John McLaughlin and his companions transferred to river boats for the hazardous trip up to Lake Ontario. It proved so hazardous that Grandfather nearly did not survive it. His boat was swamped in rough water and all his possessions were lost. When he landed at Cobourg for the overland journey to Peterborough he had only the contents of a thin wallet between himself and destitution.

Grandfather stayed in Peterborough only a short time, then took up a 160-acre grant of crown land in the virgin forest six miles north of Bowmanville. Some of the other Irish settlers took land nearby, and, nostalgically, they called the place Tyrone.

Granddad cut enough trees to build a log cabin and make a clearing to sow his first crop. In that log cabin was born his eldest child, my father Robert McLaughlin ... 

… Granddad was a devout man, and the only activity permitted on Sundays was church-going. But that in itself was an adventure, a complete change of scene, a transition from the "Little Ireland" atmosphere of Tyrone to the mixed Irish and Scottish settlement of Enniskillen, four miles away. For there was no Presbyterian church at Tyrone, and the good Ulstermen journeyed to the kirk at Enniskillen ...

Re: the Tyrone references, Sam is wrong in the first one - his grandfather John and grandmother Eliza were definitely from County Cavan in Ulster, but he is right in the second reference, that there was a Tyrone in Canada. Such was the concentration of Ulster settlement in this part of Canada that they did indeed settle at a place called Tyrone, in Cavan Township, near Enniskillen, in Durham County, Ontario. There were of course many Orange lodges in the district (see here for more details, in ‘Early Days in Enniskillen - Part 3').

Their son Robert Samuel (1836-1921) was born in Cavan Township. He became a wealthy industrialist, setting up the McLaughlin Carriage Company in 1867 which later collaborated with Buick and was eventually merged into General Motors Canada. Robert was also a Sunday School teacher in his father’s kirk - Enniskillen Presbyterian Church, Ontario.

… It was in the kirk that my father met Mary Smith, the daughter of Scottish settlers who had come to Enniskillen from Perthshire two or three years after the McLaughlins reached Tyrone. She was a bonnie lass, this Enniskillen girl who was to become my mother ...

John James, the founder of the Canada Dry brand, was born in Enniskillen in Ontario. He was a chemist. His two brothers joined the family car firm, but John established the J.J. McLaughlin Company Limited, Manufacturers of Hygeia Beverages in Toronto. He attended Rosedale Presbyterian Church in Toronto, a congregation which had been founded in 1907. After a lifetime of poor health, McLaughlin died in 1914 aged just 48. The company was sold in 1923 but the brand continues to sparkle today.

• His entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography is online here.

… the sweet, dark gold, Belfast-style ginger ale bottled and sold by McLaughlin, and patterned after a ginger ale long popular in Ireland and Canada, was changed to a less sugared substance of lighter colour. To market it, the slogan that would become known the world over, “The Champagne of Ginger Ales” ...

Images duckduckgo

20140225 CanadaDry Factory

D2bff2c4328ac162652e372fe44ad798 shandy ginger beer



MAV said...

Dear Mark, Corraneary was an interesting Presbyterian congregation it was an Original Secession congregation up to about 1950. It was my Granny's congregation and my great uncle was the precentor as it was psalms without an organ. They always said that the whole congregation had. come from Scotland en masse with their minister, likely in the eighteenth century. I don't know which brsnch of secession they were of exactly which part of Scotland they came from. They we're Moffat so perhaps the south west.

Mark Thompson said...

Hello MAV, thanks for getting in touch, very interesting details. Here's a bit of information from a soon-to-be-published heritage trail of Cavan & Monaghan:

'... Corraneary originated as a Seceder congregation in the late 1750s. Corraneary stood apart from the union of the Presbyterian and Secession synods in 1840, one of only a few Seceder congregations to do so. Eventually, however, the congregation was received into the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in 1955 ...'

I do know that Corraneary had been part of the expanding Hamilton estates in County Cavan in the 1620s so there may well have been a 'footprint' of Scottish settlement there before the church congregation arrived there. Bailieborough is often said to be named after the Bailies who came from Scotland with Hamilton, first to Inishargy near Kircubbin, they then moved across Strangford Lough to Hamilton's land at Ringhaddy, and then onwards to his new acquisition in Cavan, naming the town after themselves.

MAV said...

Thanks Mark, the heritage trail sounds great!