Canada Street – the Emigration Connection

Although many will associate the famine as a time of mass emigration from Ireland, the fact is tens of thousands were fleeing the country for many years prior to the catastrophic events of the 1840s. Canada Street owes its name to this era, and in this blog, I want to explore how and why this came to be and look at the reality of seabourn emigration from the South East of Ireland at the time.

Despite the antiquity of Waterford City, Canada St is relatively new. According to Dan Dowlings Waterford Streets, Past & Present the street dates to 1828 when the city started to expand outwards along what had been a strategically important marsh for centuries.  This boggy ground, then known as Lombards Marsh, which was regularly flooded, had on many occasions helped to keep the city’s south, and southwest flank safe from invaders. 

The street, as it still does today, bookended William St, beyond which was more marsh and countryside. The Richards & Scale map of 1764 shows a track leading along from William St to a Sugar House in the general location of the present Waterpark School.

The modern Park Road passes the Peoples Park, but this was only created in 1857. The 1764 map shows a route toward Newtown, but the main road of that era was via Johns Bridge, and out Johnstown. 

Canada Street was constructed to connect with the Scotch Quay beside the River Suir and ran past William St to Johns Pill at the opposite end.  The Pill was realigned to create the park, and so now runs several meters from its original course. This probably explains the sense of a dead end on this side of Canada St for many years.

The Park end of Canada St with William St on Rt and Park Road on left. The end of the street now opens into the Peoples Park but when constructed it met St Johns Pill

As you can imagine such a location would have seen a lot of commercial trade, especially waterborne trade.   The bustling Scotch Quay and Gorges Quay ran from the mouth of the pill to the William St Bridge.  I suppose we could argue that this section of St Johns River is probably best described as the Scotch Pill?  Whatever about such debates, what is unquestioned is the quantity of trade associated with the area.

A screengrab from the OSI Historic Map series…note the original line of the Johns Pill is illustrated as a broken line running to the west of Canada St

At one point the most prestigious industry associated with the street was Neptune Ironworks. Neptune Cottage was located where the present Marina Hotel operates. Behind this, the Malcomsons operated the Neptune shipyard (1843 -1882)- the location for some of the finest steamships built in the world of that era. But the name of the street owes itself to another Quaker enterprise – that of the Graves family – although in this case the partnership of Watson and Graves which were operating at the time that the street was built.

The river end of Canada St, the Marina Hotel now stands where Neptune Cottage once stood.

In 1828 when the street was laid out, the Quaker partnership of William Graves and a man named Watson was operating an office from the new street. I can find little information about Watson, the name does not feature in any street directories that I have and it seems from a newspaper article I chanced upon from 1834 that the partnership may have dissolved in difficult circumstances. William Graves would continue to flourish, however.

An advertisement of the time

Watson and Graves were the local agents for the Canada Company then settling eastern Canada. Advertisements sought people from an agricultural background with “sober, honest and industrious habits” to populate the lands taken from native tribes ( 1 million acres around Lake Huron alone). Of course, much of these lands needed to be cleared for agriculture which provided another welcome cargo home on the ships. 

When the emigrants were carried across the Atlantic, the holds were cleared of their temporary bunks and bedding and stuffed with lucrative shipments of Canadian timber for the return trip to Waterford.  The cargo was landed beside Canada St, and a number of timber merchants were located in the area, including along the St John’s Pill. In my own childhood Graves timber yard still operated from Park Rd, a few yards away.

Advertisements were carried in local papers and the terms offered must have seemed mouthwatering to Irish families who were suffering so much neglect and abuse on their own native shore.

The CANADA COMPANY, desirous of settling their Territories with EMIGRANTS, of sober, honest, and industrious habits, offer the following inducements to such:—The Company will give the choice of the valuable Lands of the Province ; and, as the object of the Company is not to encourage or deal with Speculators, but to open access to their Settlements bv steady and Agricultural! Population, to Individuals, or Families, or Associations of Families of that description, the Company will afford every fair and liberal Encouragement regards Price and Terms of Payment. In order to place within the reach of poor Individuals of good Character, a Settlement, the Company will erect Houses, and grant Sums of Money, to enable such Settlers cultivate their Farms, and provide for their Families, until they can raise crops from their own Lands, by which means the Payments those Advances can neither inconvenience nor distress the Settler. The Company has entered into Contracts with the Proprietors of Steam Boats and other public Conveyances along the Lakes and River St. Lawrence, to convey their Settlers at about one-third of the Price less than others are charged, which arrangement only Twenty-two Shillings and Six Pence is charged for grown People, and Half that Sum for Children, for the passage from Montreal to York, the capital.  And Settlers going to the new Town of Goderich , on Maitland River (Lake Huron’, from Buffalo or the Welland Canal, are, during the present season, conveyed free of charge.
The Company are allowed by Government to expend £45,000 in opening Roads and other useful Public Works. The well-conducted Farmers and labourers of this Country, are now offered inducements to emigrate, which never before existed, and are within the reach of every individual who can produce satisfactory vouchers of good character from two Magistrates, and the Protestant or Roman Catholic Clergymen  of their Parish, to WATSON and GRAVES, Agents to the Canada Company for Ross and Waterford.

Waterford Chronicle – Saturday 24 May 1828; page 3

This advert appeared in numerous papers around the SE during the spring and early summer of 1828. To get a sense of the numbers travelling at the time, here’s a flavour from April 1831;

On Tuesday last the City of Waterford John Morgan, master, dropped down the river, bound for Quebec. Her ample deck was crowded by passengers their number was, we are informed, 103 adults ; 17 under fourteen years; 30 under seven- total, 150. The Ocean, Joseph Hearn, master, also departed same day for Quebec. Her passengers are stated about eighty. Several other vessels, both here and at Ross, are preparing sail for different ports of America, including Newfoundland.
The invulnerable, Frances and Mary and Little Ann, are to sail in the next few days for Newfoundland with passengers; also the Don and Argyle for Halifax—the latter has about 180 passengers on board. The Bolivar, with a large number passengers is bound for Quebec.
The Town of Ross sailed on the 30th ult., from Ross for Quebec, having on board 230 emigrants; upwards of 150 of them had their passage and provisions supplied their benevolent and humane landlord, the Hon, Butler Clake Wandesford brother to the Marquis of Ormonde

Waterford Mail – Saturday 09 April 1831; page 4

The same article also gives a sense of the dangers and human cost of such journeys, even before they endured the Atlantic. For example, William McGrath died at Passage East after falling into the hold of the ship Ocean.  His wife and 8 children were aboard at the time.  An unnamed woman from Thurles in Tipperary died in a lodging house in Waterford where she was waiting with her husband and 7 children on a ship to Halifax.  Finally, a small boat overturned after leaving the quay with emigrants being rowed out to the ship Argyle which was at anchor in the middle of the Suir. All survived after seamen went to their rescue it was believed.

We explored the difficulties posed by cholera in this era before and the reception that awaited emigrants at Grosse Isle Quebec

Carlow Sentinel – Saturday 14th July 1832; page 1

Today Canada Street is a commercial and residential area, much like it was when it was named, but it is now firmly located within the city which has extended many miles into the countryside. As a nation working to accommodate immigration from many war-torn and economically deprived countries, and where anti-immigration sentiments are rising, it’s perhaps no harm to be reminded of our history of having to flee.

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