Early Settlement No 7 – Memramcook Irish

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Representative Settlements – Planned and Unplanned
The Irish of the Memramcook Valley

 
Map of Memramcook Valley
Map of Memramcook Valley
Most tourists travel from Moncton to the Nova Scotia border on the Trans Canada Highway (Route 2) and they often do so in a hurry. There is a stunning and picturesque drive from Moncton to Dorchester along Route 106 and it shouldn’t be missed. It weaves its way through the dyked Acadian marshlands along the Memramcook River – a tributary of the Petitcodiac, and when the sun rises, there is nothing to compare with its beauty. This is the Memramcook Valley and it is one of New Brunswick’s best kept secrets.

Today the residents of the Valley are almost exclusively Acadian. They are the descendents of a hardy stock of people who returned to the area after the expulsion of the Acadians in 1755. However, throughout the 19th century, the Acadian population shared the valley with new Irish immigrant families as well. The Acadians were already well-settled in the region before the Irish arrived and they were also important to their survival. Many of the Irish families who settled here were unfamiliar with the terrain and ill-prepared for the Canadian climate. They were kept alive through their first winter in the colony because of the generosity of their Acadian neighbours. The Irish were forever grateful for this act of kindness and a camaraderie developed between the two cultural groups as a result. Sadly, sometimes history has forgotten that the Irish were part of the Memramcook Valley past.

Acadian historian Gustave Gaudet wrote that:

“Vers 1843, un groupe Irlandais arrivèrent dans la vallée et s’installèrent à Memramcook Ouest et à l’est dans le village qu’on baptisa, le village de ‘McGinley’s Corner."1

Gaudet was correct except for the date of arrival for the Irish immigrants to the Valley. The Irish had not only settled in the Memramcook Valley before 1843, but were already well-established in the area by that date. Also, throughout the nineteenth century the Irish were very much a part of the economic fabric of the Valley as well. Some of the Irish had received their land grants in the Valley as early as 1809. The Irish were firmly established in McGinley Corner, Memramcook Corner, Gaytons and a bit northeast of the valley in Calhoun, originally called Dungiven. Indeed, some of these Irish immigrants had settled quite early on – the Gayton, Casey and Cassidy families even adopted the French language and as time passed, were often considered as francophones – which further strengthened the ties between the two cultural groups.

At the intersection of the old post road between Moncton and the Nova Scotia border, and the “old” Shediac Road2the portage between the Memramcook and Scoudouc Rivers – was the community of Dungiven – today known as Calhoun. Located on the headwaters of the Memramcook River, here there several Irish families including the names Atkinson, Coffey, Wrynn, Casey, McCullough, Cuthbertson, Foley, McGowan, Sullivan, McManus, Cassidy and Doherty, among others.3

Many of these families moved into McGinley and Memramcook Corners later on because their land grants were on poor upland bog and the bustling mid-19th century economy in the Valley tempted them in.

Nine kilometres south of Calhoun, was the community known as Gaytons (seen today where there is a huge gravel pit on Highway 2). This community was named after Patrick (Keating) Gayton – the first Irishman in the Memramcook Valley – who was born in County Tipperary in 1766 and arrived in the Valley before 1800. The priests of the day, as they often did, changed the Irish names at will. Patrick Keating became Patrick Gayton and some of his children were registered Keating at their birth, and others Gayton. The name today is known as Gayton. He was married to Mary O’Neill – and she became Marie Niles in the records.4 Patrick Gayton acquired 300 acres in 1809 and a further 140 acres in 1826.5 He was most certainly in the area before 1843.

In Memramcook proper, there is a bridge that crosses the Memramcook River on Route 106. On the eastern side of the bridge, it was known as Memramcook Corner but even local Acadian historians suggest that it should have been known as Irish Corner.

"Le Coin de Memramcook, ou Memramcook Corner, fut traditionellement le coin des Irlandais. C’était surtout les familles McManus, McGowan, Sherry et Charters qui étaient impliquées dans le commerce dans ce coin de la paroisse."6

On the western side of the bridge, it was known as McGinley’s Corner.7, where the road split into two – one across the river to Memramcook Corner and the other veering right to the Acadian community of St Joseph. The McGinley family is in Memramcook in the 1851 Census, but not in the list of families of 1864 (below). Patrick McGinley emigrated to New Brunswick in 1819 and his wife Mary O’Neill in 1826. They had 8 children – Sara, James, Patrick, Mary, Charles, Susan, Jane and Rachel by 1851.8

In 1864 the following Irish families lived in these Memramcook Valley communities. In brackets are the dates of their arrival here in New Brunswick, where it is known. This is an incomplete list however as the McGinleys are not on it as well as other family names, such as McKelvie who were definitely settled in the area at that time.

Terrance McManus (1831)
John McKelvie
Michael McGowan (1836)
John McGowan (1836)
Patrick McSweeney (1844)
Owen Sherry
William Summon
Smith Elliot
Anthony Connell (1837)
John Casey (1834)
Robert Casey (1830)
Michael Coffey (1824)
Jeremiah Sullivan (1835)
Bartholemew Sullivan
Daniel Sullivan
Cornelius Sullivan (1830)
Peter Keenan (1832)
Edward Doherty (1832)
Edward Doherty Jr.
Patrick Doherty
Michael McSweeney
John McHugh (1829)
John Pock (anglicized to Power) (1825)
Patrick Fitzsimmons (1825)
John McVey (1838)
Daniel O’Hara (1841)
Patrick Powell
Daniel Wood
Patrick Coyle (1828)
John Gayton (before 1800)
Nathaniel Gayton
Richard Gayton
Robert Casey Jr.9

Throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th, many of these Irish families were prominent members of the Memramcook community. They took advantage of their location at the centre of the Valley and located their businesses near the railway line and railway station – which is still the main line between Montreal and Halifax today.

 

Sherry Home - Memramcook Corner
Sherry Home – Memramcook Corner

Owen and Mary Sherry came from Ireland and had three children – James P, Mary E, and Cassie (Catherine). Son James P. Sherry ran the general store in Memramcook Corner. It was noted that it was a real emporium and of an immense size – with every corner and inch of space filled with goods to sell.10 James P Sherry also had a tannery and shoemakers shop with a full staff making high quality boots and moccasins. He also ran the local harness shop. James P Sherry’s home was textbook Victorian elegance right down to the white picket fence and his ambitious hotel near the train station was also very grand indeed.

 


Hotel Sherry - Memramcook
Hotel Sherry – Memramcook

The McGowan family ran the blacksmiths shop – Michael McGowan and Sons. Michael McGowan was married to Catherine Doherty and they had arrived in New Brunswick in 1836 and 1834 respectively. His son Daniel carried on the business after his death along with Hugh McVey.

One of the most prominent families in Memramcook Corner was the McManus family. Terrance McManus immigrated to New Brunswick in 1831 and married Thurza Brownell of Dorchester. He had 8 sons. Terrance was a farmer and shopkeeper. And in 1901 there were still three McManus boys in business in Memramcook Corner – John McManus was a general merchant and both Patrick and Jeremiah McManus were building contractors. Indeed the McManus family got the contract to build Dorchester Penniteniary in 1880 for the sum of $57,000 – a huge contract for the day.11 James Thomas Reid McManus, grandson of Terrance and son of John McManus, was a building contractor in Moncton and represented the city in the Provincial Legislature.12

Despite the large number of Irish settlers in the Valley, like many other NB communities, the later generations left for the most part – some to Moncton and better opportunities -and others to the economic benefits of Ontario, the West and the US.

St Joseph’s College was established in St. Joseph13, Memramcook Valley in 1864 and served both the Acadian and Irish population. Many Irish boys from around the province and beyond came here for the high school curriculum and college subjects. So many in fact that there was a St Patrick’s Academy associated with the College. The local convent had made an Irish flag for the academy and in 1883 Jean E. U. Ealis, a visitor to the convent, wrote a poem for the occasion entitled “The Irish Flag”. One verse revealed the concern for Ireland then existing in the hearts of many New Brunswickers – and certainly the Irish students at the College.

I love it! I love it! and wonder much
If another hand could so loving touch
It’s green and gold, where the shamrocks run.
Or caress it as fondly as I have done,
Or pray with a yearning as strong as mine
For the sun of its freedom at last to shine,
When far over turret, and tower and cragg,
It shall float in proud splendour, the Irish Flag.14

In conclusion, the Memramcook Valley, which today is associated primarily with the “Acadian Story”, had a very different past indeed and it serves as an important example of a community history which needs to be revisited. Many historical writings have “skipped over’ or omitted the contribution of the Irish within the fabric of the Valley’s social makeup and this is a shame. It is right that the Memramcook Valley be recognized as the ‘shining star of Acadia’ for it was here at St Joseph’s College that the Acadian flag was developed and where the first Acadian Congress met in the 1880’s. But that is only part of the story and for an accurate past it is also important that the whole story be told – not only part of it. The Valley today is indeed the ‘coeur de l’Acadie’ but throughout the 19th century, it was also a very Irish community as well. This reality should also find a place in the history of the Valley.
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[1] Translation – “Around 1843, a group of Irish families arrived in the Valley and settled in Memramcook West and in the east in the village known as McGinley’s Corner.” Gustave Gaudet, La Vallée de Memramcook : Hier –Aujourd’hui , Chapman’s Corner, Chedick Ltée, 1984.
[2] This is the original Old Shediac Road and it should not be confused with the road of the same name between Moncton and Shediac (Route 134).
[3] Land Grant Map 120, Department of Natural Resources, Fredericton.
[4] Memramcook Parish records, various entries.
[5] In the land grant records, the name is spelled “Guytan”. Goodine, Beverly A, Gayton Family Records.
[6] Gérald LeBlanc, Les Cahiers de la Societé Historique de la Vallée de Memramcook, Vol 15, No 2, Novembre 2004, p. 37 Translation : Memramcook Corner,,, was traditonally Irish Corner. It was mostly the families McManus, McGowan, Sherry and Charters who were involved in business in this little corner of the parish.
[7] McGinley Corner was changed to Memramcook West when post office changes were put into effect in 1899. This occurred in many Irish communities province-wide.
[8] 1851 Census, Parish of Dorchester, page 25.
[9] Les Buzzell, Hannigan Family Records, 1864 Census of Families in Dorchester Parish
[10] Gérald LeBlanc, Les Cahiers, p. 44.
[11] Ibid, p. 28
[12] Rev. Leo Hynes, The Catholic Irish of New Brunswick, 1783-1900, Fredericton, Privately Published, 1992, p. 297.
[13] College St. Joseph was moved to Moncton in the 1960’s and is now the Université de Moncton.
[14] Ibid. p. 298. This poem was part of a compilation published on June 12, 1884 by Pustet & Co of New York.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

_______,1851 Census, Parish of Dorchester, Westmorland County, NB.

______Atlantic Canada Back Road Atlas, Oshawa, MapArt Publishing Corp., 2008

Buzzell, Les, Hannigan Family Records, Unpublished manuscript.

Department of Natural Resources, Land Grant Map 120, , Fredericton NB.

Gaudet, Gustave, La Vallée de Memramcook : Hier –Aujourd’hui , Chapman’s Corner, Chedick Ltée, 1984.

Hynes, Rev. Leo J, The Catholic Irish of New Brunswick, 1783-1900, Fredericton, Privately Published, 1992.

LeBlanc Gérald, Les Cahiers de la Societé Historique de la Vallée de Memramcook, Vol 15, No 2, Novembre 2004.

______. Post Offices, www.collectionscanada.gc.ca