[ View of the Immigrant Sheds in Quebec, 1873, Unknown, D.B. Weldon Library, University of Western Ontario AP5.C13 ]The Irish, by coming in such vast numbers to America, and totally unprepared to settle in a new country, cause the Bishops, Priests, and Missionaries, on this Continent, deep concern and profound sorrow; as they see their social degradation and the loss of their souls and those of the their children as the inevitable results of their deplorable movement. The Germans, French, and even the Norwegians, come provided with the means of establishing themselves, either as farmers or mechanics; but the large majority of the Irish come absolutely penniless; and hence they cannot reach the interior of the country, and are obliged to look for the cheapest lodgings in the cities – and every one knows that such places are the haunts of vice. The consequence is, they and their children are lost to morality, to society, to religion, and, finally, to God. This degradation commences with the breaking up of the happy and hallowed ties and associations of home, the absence of the watchful care of the Parish Priest, the edifying example of neighbours frequenting Church and the Sacraments and the loss of a healthy opinion. How heartrending the sight of these immigrants arriving on our wharves, surrounded by sharpers — the harpies of cities — destined to be swept, like a torrent of rain, into the sewers of society! Hence the hospitals, the poor-houses, and jails, in the States, and, to a great extent, in Canada, have more than their proportion of inmates of I ish [Irish], or their descendants. The emigrant-ship, where all sexes are huddled together, breaks down the barriers of modesty, and opens the path, in thousand of cases, to ruin. How many a tear has been dropped by those emigrants for ever having left their home! How many an imprecation have they invoked upon those who drove them from their home!

Let us take Toronto, for example, and see how fares it with Irish emigrant element there. The following statistics, published by the Journal of Education, in this city, will justify these remarks:-


Number of Arrests. – The number of arrests made by the police during the year 1853 [1863] was 4,124 against 4,544 made during 1862, thus showing a decrease of 420 Of these, 2,787 were males; and 1,387 were females, showing a remarkable decrease in crime, there having been 420 fewer arrests made in 1863 than in 1862.

Age of Offenders. – The following are the ages of the offenders from ten years upwards:-- From 10 to 15 years, 88 males and 5 females; from 15 to 20, 47 males and 2 females; from 20 to 30, 994 males and 536 females; 30 to 40, 800 males and 408 females; 40 to 50, 540 males and 230 females; 5 [50] to 60, 234 males and 97 females; 60 to 70, 70 males and 21 females; 70 to 80, 9 males and 1 female; 80 to 90, 4 males; 90 to 100, 1 male. Total 4,124

Native Countries. –- Ireland, 1,424 males and 998 females; Canada, 469 males and 113 females; England, 422 males and 126 females; Scotland, 172 males and 46 females; America, 73 males and 24 females; Germany, 32 males; Negroes, 69 males and 29 females; other countries, 8 males.


The following statements shew the number of prisoners committed to the Gaol of the United Counties of York and Peel during he year 1863, from both the counties and the city:--

Counties—felons, males, 54; females, 8; misdemeanants, males, 55; females, 56; total males, 856; do. females, 63. City—felons, males, 184; do. Females, 55; misdemeanaets, males, 672; do. females, 874; total males, 856; do females, 932. The total number of prisoners of both sexes from the county and the city in 1863 was 1,961, showing a decrease of 120 prisoners compared with 1862.

Native Countries – The native countries of the prisoners were:--England, males 175, females 74—total, 249; Ireland, males 465, females 703—total 1,168; Scotland, males 62, females 35—total 97; Canada West, ma es [males] 155, females 93—total 248; Canada East, males 33, females 38—total 71; United States, males 66, females 40—total 106; Germany, males 7; other countries, males 9, females 12 -- total 21.

[...] We were informed by the Acting Parish Priest of Montreal, that that city was comparatively chaste, until the years 1852-‘3, when numerous bands of girls were brought from the poor-houses of Ireland, and distributed through the cities. They were exposed in public places to be hired, as salves are in many parts of the South. Many kind and charitable families employed them; but those poor girls, not having received a domestic training—which good mothers in easy circumstances can alone give—were ignorant of house-work, soon lost their situations, and were found in hundreds of bad-houses. We were informed that many of them were enciente on their arrival. The work-house system of Ireland is most degrading and immoral in its tendency—second only to houses which are professedly so—if the tree could be judged by its fruits. It is humiliating, indeed, to see numbers of poor Irish girls, innocent and guileless, sitting around in those large dépóts in seaport cities, waiting to be hired. Men and women enter those places, and look around to find out the girl that would apparently answer their service. How many of them found the protection of the wolf is known only to God! An Irish girl gives up all hope of ever getting honourably settled in life, even after an involuntary fall; while we know that such is not the case with respect to females of other countries. Hence, Irish girls look upon themselves as so degraded and despised, that, in their despair, they rush headlong to destruction.

[...]An emigration of the poor people of any country, without means, without protection, without leaders, such as that which has taken place from Ireland for several years, is unparalleled in the annals of history. Through the great mercy of God, an immense proportion of those people have bettered their condition, at least materially, and have spread the faith throughout the land; but alas! if all the Irish, with their descendants, had preserved the faith, the number of Catholics in America would be double what it is as present, at the lowest possible calculation. Were the Irish permitted to enjoy just laws at-home, and receive a fair compensation for labor , and emigrate gradually, and prepared the evils we have pointed out would not exist, the Irish would be, as in former times, happy and contented at home, and religious and prosperous abroad. A religious persecution would produce martyrs; but this social persecution and oppression of the poor ruin souls. [...]

Extracts of a subsequent letter from the Bishop of Toronto to the Hierarchy of Ireland.

I did not mean to say that the adult Irish coming to this country formed other so-called religious denominations, but if all their children, and the descendants of the Irish had preserved in the faith of their fathers, we would have double the number of Catholics.

Source: Public Archives of Ontario, Pamphlet, No. E, No. 17, Unknown, "The Evils of Wholesale and Improvident Emigration from Ireland," ca. 1863.

Return to parent page