The Irish workers who built our canals

Mary Baxter's picture
Mary Baxter is editor of and a contributing editor of Better Farming magazine, the largest circulating farm magazine in Ontario and Canada’s top website for online farm news. In 2007, she, along with her former Better Farming colleagues won the Canadian Association of Journalists' Award for Investigative Journalism in the magazine category. In 2012, she also won the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists’ Star Prize for print journalism. Mary is based in London, ON.




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They scraped away at an unforgiving wilderness with picks and shovels. The fruits of their labours — the Rideau, Lachine and Welland canals, to name a few — transformed pre-Confederation Canada from colonial backwater to a land ripe with industry.

Yet it took nearly 200 years for the thousands of Irish immigrants who laboured on Canada's earliest infrastructure projects to achieve formal recognition for a job well done.

During the early and mid-1800s, workers who had emigrated from Ireland formed the largest pool of labour in the British colonies of Upper and Lower Canada (today Ontario and Quebec). They came from all parts of Ireland, Protestant and Catholic alike, drawn by the promise of work and a fresh start in a young country.

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