Barbara and David Dickson on their search for Irish Famine emigrant graves in Ontario.
Interior shot. Woman and man seated together facing camera, with grey brick wall and sign board visible in the background. She has short grey hair and is smiling, wearing glasses, a light blue sweater, and a darker blue floral patterned top. He has receding red and grey hair, and is wearing an open grey jacket and chequered blue and white shirt. Both look into camera, and he speaks first.
So my name is David Dickson.
The woman then speaks.
And my name is Barbara Dickson.
David: And we’re married.
Barbara.We’re married, yes.
David: My father emigrated to Canada in the late 1940s. He was from Belfast. His family comes from not just Belfast, but County Down, and even today I have relatives remaining in Belfast and up in County Antrim.
I guess in addition to that I have other relatives who emigrated in the mid-nineteenth century from the Mulligan and Davidson line. And I know that they settled in the Ottawa Valley area.
Barbara. They came in the 1840s with that mass influx of Irish. There are rumours that one Davidson actually – the mom was pregnant when she came on board ship – and she actually delivered her baby at sea on the way to Canada to start her life.
Barbara looks at David.
Barbara.So, you have got some strong ties there in the Ottawa region.
David. So we have taken a number of vacations – simply packed the car with computers, GPS, and luggage – and we hit the road knowing of certain places where we know there may be Irish memorials, and we document these sites: not just with photographs, but GPS coordinates, and all of the local history.
So far we have documented about two hundred and twenty five Irish memorials – both formal memorials, national memorials.
Barbara.Beautiful Celtic Crosses.
David.Plaques, cairns etc… So it is quite a data base of history that we know hasn’t been properly documented or taught in our school system.
One example is on the first Beauharnois Canal where the largest riot in North America took place, and the British army and British cavalry cut down over twenty Irish workers for being on strike. This is a very small, hard to find memorial, but it is typical of the history that we are finding on the rural roads of Canada.
Barbara.We have found many memorials in Ontario. Cornwall has a beautiful Celtic Cross for An Gorta Mor. There is Ireland Park in Toronto, which is beautiful. There is even a beautiful Celtic Cross outside of Windsor, Ontario.
So you can follow the path of the Irish moving – emigrating to Canada – going right up the St. Lawrence River into the Lake system, and all the way down to Windsor, down to the border.
Some people, they actually moved on and settled in the United States. The United States has a large Irish population as well.
Peterborough comes to mind. They had the Robinson settlement where the Irish came out and it was a planned emigration, and these Irish came and settled in the Peterborough area. They also had a quarantine station. But you look at the memorial that’s there in Peterborough for the quarantine station, it’s just a little small rock right in the marina in downtown Peterborough. You would never know it is there.
In my case, I was waiting for David and our children were out on Little Lake for a canoe ride, and there wasn’t enough room in the canoe for me. So I waited. And I was just walking around, and I just stumbled across this little rock. It spoke to the quarantine station just offshore, where the Irish would come in and would be quarantined.
That sadly is true for many memorials of the Irish in Canada.
David.We have also documented shipwrecks where the Irish died: the SS Atlantic, the Hungarian,the Palace. We even know of an underwater Irish memorial up in Gooseberry Cove on Cape Breton Island – just fantastic locations where literally hundreds of Irish died in the most severe conditions
Barbara.And we want to remember them. We want to bring all this together and we want to share the incredible story of how not only the Irish lived, and how they immigrated, but where they died, and how we are remembering them, and are we doing a good job?
Final image of water with onscreen Ireland Park Foundation logo. Celtic style music playing.