IRISH CANADIAN ANCESTORS IN QUEBEC
Archives de Quebec Laval University Quebec City where mircro-film
records of the Feely family were found in 1998
Bridget Coronan and John Feely
Bridget and John were the parents of Catherine Feely, who married Andrew Murphy in Quebec City in 1856. They are shown as Catherine’s parents in the handwritten record of the marriage obtained from micro film records of St. Patrick’s of Quebec where the wedding took place on January 8th of that year.
A brief glimpse and record of their life in Quebec City was obtained by searching the micro film records of Notre Dame de Quebec. John and Bridget were among thousands of Irish immigrants who settled in Quebec City in the 1800’s and who established their own English speaking Catholic church St Patricks. The early records of St. Patrick’s were kept in French in the Archdiocese’s main church of Notre Dame for over twenty years for reasons of the churches French bureaucracy. The building of St. Patricks church is described in more detail later in the story of St. Patrick’s de Quebec.
Micro-film records obtained through the Mormon Library in Edmonton were searched back to 1830 without success for a record of John and Bridget’s marriage. Neither could it be found in the Druin marriage index records of Quebec marriages. It is therefore assumed that John and Bridget married in Ireland before coming to Canada.
The Notre Dame records provide a very good picture of their family, albeit with some missing piece mysteries. Again searching these records back to 1830, the first item found is the birth of Michael on Aug 28th 1837.One of the witnesses is a Mary Coronan who was likely a sister or cousin, there is no way of knowing. Michael is shown as a witness at Catherine’s wedding in 1956 at St Patricks, but in a search of that churches records to1900 neither his name nor any other member of the family was ever found again.
Another mystery is that Catherine’s birth could not be found in the Notre Dame records. At the time of her marriage in 1856 she is stated to be the minor daughter of John and Bridget. The Authors research indicates this would be age 21, but even if it were 18, it would put her birth between 1835 and1839, but no record could be found. Working backward from her gravestone stated death in 1919 of 82, would put her birth in 1837/38, but as we see above Michael was born in Aug 1837 and another child John on Sept 15, 1839.
Some other of the records of her death ie. the burial record of St. Peter’s Cathedral Basilica in London and the death notice in the London newspaper say that she was born in Ireland. It is also possible that she was baptized at another church, either in Quebec City or elsewhere in Quebec. One of the idiosyncrasies of the Quebec vital records system is that there were no civil or government system until the late 20th century. The records of baptism, marriage and death kept by churches predominantly the Catholic were the only records kept and considered to be correct for all legal purposes. There was no other government or civil record keeping, thus necessitating the need to know in which church or parish a person in Quebec was baptized, married or was buried from.
For purposes of illustration the official record of Michael’s birth/baptism from the micro film records of Notre Dame de Quebec is shown below
Micro-film birth/baptism record for Michael Feely from records of Notre Dame de Quebec
As noted above a third child John was born on Sept 15 1839, with one of the witnesses being a Bridget Feely, likely a sister or cousin of John. Unfortunately, as was common at the time due to the many deadly afflictions that existed this child died Nov 10, 1840 with the burial being at the ‘cimitiere St. Louis”. More on this later.
A fourth child Ellen was born on Sept 25 1842 and the fifth and final child as could be found in the records, Mary born on Aug 18 1847, witnessed by an Ellen Feely. A record of Mary’s marriage in Ontario was found as will be discussed later in Catherines and Andrews story and their eventual migration to London, Ontario.
John Feely’s occupation is given as “journalier” in French in all of the micro film entries. This translates to day-labourer so it is assumed he would have been involved in activities such as construction, loading and unloading ships etc. At the time of Catherine’s wedding in 1856 he is referred to in the record in written English as the “late John Feely” The Author was unable to find any record of his death in the St. Patrick’s church records between 1847 and 1856 so his death and burial location remain a mystery.
In one attempt to resolve this, the Author wrote to Marianna O’Gallagher author of several books about the origin and founding of St. Patrick’s parish and of other historical events of that period, to see if she could shed any light on the cimitiere St Louis where John’s infant son was buried. This location was referred to as the burial location in micro film records of all St. Patrick’s parishioners who died during this period. Marianna was referred as a contact by a former parish priest of St. Patrick’s to whom the Author had written for assistance. A copy of her reply shown below is enlightening in terms of the history and times of this period.
Letter to the author from Marianna O’Gallagher regarding the location and fate of the cimitiere St. Louis
Bridget Coronan’s death and burial location also remains unknown at this time. It is known that her daughter Catherine and husband Andrew Murphy moved to the Montreal area sometime after their second child was born in 1859. It is believed that the widowed Bridget moved with them along with at least the minor children As we saw earlier, Catherine and Andrew lived in Montreal, Lachine and in Ontario before moving to London Ontario about 1872/73. It is possible that Bridget moved to London with them as did her youngest daughter Mary, however no Ontario death or burial record could be found for her. Otherwise there are excellent records of births of Catherine’s further children and Mary’s marriage as recorded in Catherine and Andrews story.
Again, as we saw previously Catherine and Andrew buried several infant children in Montreal and Lachine and it is felt that Bridget likely died during this period (1859-1873) and is buried in the Montreal area. In 2004 the Author engaged a Montreal genealogy researcher to search master micro-film record of Montreal area deaths for Bridget without success.
St. Patrick’s de Quebec
By the early 1800’s there were 7000 Irish Catholics in Quebec City, nearly twenty percent of the city’s population. Since the beginning of their arrival they had used the Notre Dame de Quebec Basilica and later as their numbers grew the Archdiocese allowed the additional use of Notre Dame des Victoires church for their services. However the natural language of the Irish was English as opposed to the French language of Quebec and pressure quickly grew for the development of their own parish and church and their own English speaking priest.
The story of the struggle to achieve these objectives is told in the book”St. Patrick’s Quebec, The building of a church and of a parish 1827-1833″ authored by Marianna O’Gallagher published by Carraig Books. The author describes the people involved, the political battles with the Fabrique or Council of the Archdiocese who were opposed to a separate English speaking parish and church, and how these matters were eventually overcome.
In effect in the face of this opposition the Irish raised their own money and bought land on McMahon Street in the old City for a church, this action eventually leading to a peaceful political settlement with the Archdiocesan officials. The new church was opened in 1832 as St. Patricks. It was in this church that John Feely and his wife Bridget and their family would have worshiped after their arrival in the mid 1830’s and where their daughter Catherine would eventually marry Andrew Murphy in 1856. The parish was granted the authority for its own English based registries in 1853 although it appears that this process was not implemented until Jan 1856. Prior to that time records were kept in French as part of Notre Dame de Quebec.
The church on McMahon Street continued to serve the Irish of Quebec City until 1967 when the last mass was said. It burned down some time later, but its facade is preserved in the Cancer Center operated by the Hotel-Dieu hospital. as can be seen at the beginning of Chapter III The Murphys. The facade is the only work of the nineteenth century Architect Charles Baillarge in Quebec City. In 1914 a bigger church was built on Grande-Allee in the same block as St.Bridgid’s home referred to in Marianna’s O’Gallagher’s letter above. This church was used until 1988 when it was torn down and a new much smaller one more suitable to the current size of the parish was built on de Salaberry Ave. See picture below.
St. Patrick’s church on Salaberry Street in Quebec City in 1998
During the period that John and Bridget Feely lived and raised their children in Quebec City, one of the greatest tragedies in early Canadian history unfolded before them in 1847.
Irish immigration to Canada continued at a steady pace from the beginning of the 19th century. Many of the people settled in Quebec City and Montreal as we have seen with John and Bridget Feely, taking jobs as labourers and workers. Many others settled in the Ottawa area and the Huron Tract in Ontario as we saw with John Loughlin and his family, seizing the opportunity to start a new life as farmers in Canada, free from the harsh penal laws directed at Catholics and the severe living conditions in Ireland. These conditions were aggravated on a regular basis by the failure either through disease or climate of the potatoe crop of which the Irish farmers were so dependent.
The fear of disease was an ever present reality of life in those days, and governments took precautions to avoid its spread as people endured passages of six to eight week duration on crowded ships in poor hygienic conditions between England, Ireland and Canada and the U.S. Typhus and cholera were of particular concern due to their infectious nature.
It was the practice to have arriving ships stop at a quarantine station at Levis opposite Quebec City where sick persons would be quarantined until they could recover before joining the general population. In 1832 with the frequency of arrivals increasing, a more formal arrangement was put in place by the authorities by establishing a quarantine station and hospital on Grosse Isle about 50 miles upstream of Quebec City. All ships were required to stop and weigh anchor here for a two week period with sick people being removed to the Island’s hospital until they recovered or died.
Some time around 1845 another potatoe disease struck Ireland, spreading through most of the Island and causing widespread famine. The peak year of the disease and famine hit in 1847 as tens of thousands died and many more fled to Canada and the United States. In that year alone between May and October 90,000 Irish came to Canada through the station on Grosse Isle, many times more than any year before, completely overwhelming the Authorities ability to cope with the numbers never mind the sick and dying. Due to the passengers already weakened condition due to malnutrition and the horrible sanitation conditions on the ships typhus was widespread Many passengers died before arriving, more on the ships at anchor and thousands more on the island’s hospital. It is to this period that the term “coffin ships” ca me to be applied to those ships carrying Irish to North America. Many ship captains, quick to make a profit paid little attention to the disinfecting of ships between voyages.Of over 35 ships that sailed to Canada from the ports of Liverpool and Cork alone, almost 20% of the passengers died, never landing in Canada as such.
Much of the problem lay with the Authorities in England who were happy to see the Irish leave, turning a blind eye to the pleading of those in Canada for help, and similarly to the beseeching of Catholic and Anglican church officials. The hospital on Grosse Isle had to be expanded several times. Sailors on the ships, hospital workers and clergy who had to come into contact with the sick and dying were themselves dying, there was little money available, and crisis was constant throughout the summer. At times there were fifty or more ships at anchor off Grosse Isle in holding pattern, with each arriving ship carrying between 200 and 300 people including many children.
The crisis was so great as to literally involve the whole community of Quebec City. We have no way of knowing how John and Bridget Feely and their family may have been affected, however John was a day-labourer and could have been involved in the many construction activities on the island or in transport of supplies. It is less likely that Bridget was much involved other than perhaps baking or preparation of food as she gave birth to her fourth child Mary on Aug 18th of that same year.
By interesting coincidence the year 1847 marks the disappearance of the family from the records of Notre Dame de Quebec, where births, deaths and marriages in St. Patricks were being recorded during the period before 1856. The next record of the family is January 1856 in the actual English records of St. Patricks itself with the wedding of Andrew Murphy and daughter Catherine. John is referred to as the late John Feely, however as noted earlier no record of his death has been found and whether it had anything to do with the tragic events at Grosse Isle in the summer of 1847 is unknown.
Several books have been written chronicling the story of the tragic events of 1847. “A Register of Deceased Persons at sea and on Grosse Isle in 1847” by Andre Charbonneau and Doris Drolet-Dube published by Parks Canada lists the names of those that died that year of which between four and five thousand are buried in the cemeteries of Grosse Isle.
“Eyewitness Grosse Isle 1847” by Marianna O’Gallagher and published by Carraig Books provides a detailed story of events as they unfolded in 1847, using the actual correspondence of local authorities and church officials as the basis of the story as it unfolded.
The Quarantine Station on Grosse Isle was closed in 1937 and in 1988 was established as a Historic Site by Parks Canada. Today it is accessible by boat from nearby Berthier-Sur-Mer and Montmagny on the north shore of the St Laurence as well as from Quebec City. The Author and his wife Jackie attempted to visit the island in 1998, getting as far as the dock at Berthier-Sur-Mer before being stopped be accessibility problems.
In 1909 a large Celtic cross was erected on the west end of the island by the Ancient Order of Hibernians as a memorial to the Irish. Ted and Louise Murphy visited the island in 2004 and took the pictures of the Celtic cross below.
Celtic Cross on Grosse Isle erected by the Ancient Order of Hibernians in 1909