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 also to 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 at what is probably now Newpark 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, but perhaps this explains the sense of a dead end at this side of Canada St for many years.
As you can imagine such a location would have seen a lot of commercial trade, especially those associated with the river and waterborne trade. The bustling Scotch Quay, – the area was also known as Gorges Quay at times – 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.
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.
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 and also in New Ross. 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.
Watson and Graves was the local agent for the Canada Company then settling eastern Canada. Advertisements were posted seeking people with an agricultural background with “sober, honest and industrious habits” to settle the lands taken from native tribes ( 1 million acres alone 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 timber was landed close by, and in my own childhood Graves timber yard still operated from the area.
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.
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;
The same article also gives a sense of the dangers and human cost of such journeys, in these cases, even before they have to endure 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 who were 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
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 the rise of anti-immigration sentiments are rising, it’s perhaps no harm to be reminded of our own history of having to flee.
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