Why this Corkman fell in love with Canada

Robin Bury lives in Toronto, Canada. He went to Midleton College, Cork, then to St Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, Dublin. He studied Modern History and Political Science, an Ed dip, then an M Phil 2013, all at Trinity College Dublin. He left Ireland in 2016. He obtained Canadian citizenship from his mother. He is currently writing a memoir.

I grew up in the quiet village of Cloyne in East Cork and spent most of my adult life in Dublin, before retiring to Toronto in March 2016. Why? I have two adult children here, Mark and Sophie, who have both lived in Toronto for over 20 years and obtained Canadian citizenship through my mother who grew up in Edmonton, Alberta.

My two children here grew up in Ireland. Sophie went to Canada because she married a Canadian she met in Germany while studying German for her DBT course. My other daughter Emily lives in Dublin.

My grandfather met my grandmother, Catherine Collins in Curraghbridge, Co Limerick and married her in Adare Catholic Church. She was Catholic and he Church of Ireland. When they divorced in Winnipeg, where my grandfather lived after leaving Ireland in 1906, my grandmother married Ray Milner, a Canadian, and moved to live with him in Edmonton. My mother lived in Edmonton and when my father went to visit his mother there, they met and were married on Victoria Island.

With all these connections, I have always considered Canada my second home, even working with the Irish Export Board for two years in Toronto from 1978.

On a flight from Dublin to Toronto in 2016, I sat next to an Irish-Canadian who had lived there for 30 years. She said that when she told her parents she was emigrating, her father said, “You are one of the lucky ones to go to a land of opportunity.”

She loved Toronto. “There are so many things to do there. All kinds of music, from opera to bands, walking clubs (we say “hikes” in Canada), cross-country skiing and ice skating, you’ll love it. Travel, especially to the west where the scenery is stunning.

I traveled.

I’ve been to Vancouver Island where a cousin lived, to Edmonton, to Winnipeg and east to Newfoundland where so many Irish fishermen from Co Waterford settled. Canada has been a welcoming country for the Irish for many centuries, people from the north and the south.

Today, 16% of Ontarians are of Irish descent. Most of the Irish, fleeing the famine, went to Canada, not the United States. Fares were cheaper, and sick emigrants were not isolated, but treated for typhus that many had contracted on their travels. Some 40,000 Irish arrived in Toronto in the summer of 1847 when the city had 18,000 inhabitants.

Fifteen fever sheds were built and the only hospital was emptied of its inhabitants to accommodate Irish patients. Toronto’s first Catholic bishop, Michael Power, died of typhus while caring for his countrymen. Around 800 Irish also died there.

Most, but not all, of the famine victims were Catholic. In contrast, the Protestant Order of Orange flourished in Ontario, particularly in the 19th century. Two prime ministers, Sir John Macdonald and John Diefenbaker, were Orangemen. They controlled Toronto City Council and closed children’s playgrounds on Sundays. They also enforced the purchase of alcohol through the LCBs (liquor boards), whose monopoly is now ending. I do not understand how Canadians tolerated it.

Recent protests by an extreme anti-vaccination trucking group have made global news. So anti-Canadian!

Another difference with Ireland is that pubs in Canada must serve food, whether snacks or full meals. And speaking of food, the variety of restaurants is mind-boggling. There are 250 ethnicities in Toronto and 170 languages ​​are spoken, so it’s no surprise that there are so many varieties of food. Yes, McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s chains are everywhere, but try Peruvian dishes and kebabs from Persian restaurants. Yet there is hardly any Irish food in supermarkets.

Canada is an inclusive mosaic of cultures. It is pluralistic and pro-British with no tradition of rebellion. Founded by the French and British, and many Loyalists who left the United States because they opposed the American Revolution, Canadians are pro-British and Queen Elizabeth is the head of state.

I like the government because there is no tradition of the kind of religious intolerance that saw the great exodus of Protestants from southern Ireland in the 20th century. The education system here too is secular and not in the hands of religious denominations.

Canadians pride themselves on being “civilized Americans” – a bit boring and with a very different sense of humor from the Irish, so there’s little irony.

So how did they handle Covid? Pretty good. Yes, huge hype, closures – restaurants and pubs, sports venues, concerts, plus travel restrictions, but not as severe as in Ireland. In addition there were masks, masks and, did I say, masks?

Now all restrictions are lifted. Results? 0.1% of the Canadian population has died from Covid. This represented some 36,000 people, mostly elderly people in nursing homes.

Recent protests by an extreme anti-vaccination trucking group have made global news. So anti-Canadian!

Protesters blocked the center of the capital Ottawa for more than two weeks. They also blocked bridges connecting Canada to the United States and caused the closure of some American automakers, as they were deprived of Canadian-made parts.

In the end, the protests ended without violence or gunshots. How Canadian.

Robin Bury’s book Buried Lives: the Protestants of Southern Ireland (2013. The History Press) is reviewed here in The Irish Times

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