The protests ended with no violence and not a shot being fired. How Canadian

Secular, multi-cultural with good food and great places to see. Why one Corkman fell for Canada

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

I grew up in the quiet east Cork village of Cloyne and spent most of my adult life in Dublin, retiring to Toronto in March 2016. Why? I have two adult children here, Mark and Sophie, who have both lived in Toronto for more than 20 years and got 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 degree course in TCD. 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 a Catholic and he Church of Ireland. When they divorced in Winnipeg, where my grandfather lived after he left 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 went on to marry on Victoria Island.


With all these connections I always thought of Canada as 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 beside an Irish Canadian woman who had lived there for 30 years. She said that when she told her parents she was emigrating, her dad said: “You are one of the lucky ones to go to a land of opportunities.”

She loved Toronto. “There is so much to do there. Every sort of music from opera to bands, walking clubs (they say ‘hikes’ in Canada), cross-country skiing and ice skating, you’ll love it. Do travel, especially west where the scenery is stunning.”

I did travel.

I went to Vancouver Island where a cousin lived, Edmonton, Winnipeg and east to Newfoundland where so many Irish fishermen from Co Waterford settled. Canada has been a welcome home for Irish people for several centuries, people from north and south.

Today, 16 per cent of Ontario people are of Irish descent. Most Irish, fleeing the famine, went to Canada, not the US. Fares were cheaper and sick emigrants were not cast into isolation, but treated for the typhus many had contacted when travelling. Some 40,000 Irish arrived in Toronto in the summer of 1847 when the population in the city was 18,000.

Some 15 fever sheds were built and the one hospital was emptied of locals to accommodate the Irish sick. The first Catholic bishop of Toronto, Michael Power, died of typhus when caring for his fellow countrymen. About 800 Irish people died there too.

Most, but by no means all, of the famine victims were Catholics. In contrast, the Protestant Orange Order thrived in Ontario, particularly in the nineteenth century. Two prime ministers, Sir John Macdonald and John Diefenbaker, were Orangemen. They controlled the Toronto city council and closed children's playgrounds on Sundays. They also imposed purchase of alcohol through the LCB's (liquor control boards), whose monopoly is now ending. I don't understand how Canadians have put up with it.

Another difference from Ireland is that pubs in Canada must serve food, whether snacks or full meals. And talking of food, the variety of restaurants is stunning. There are 250 ethnicities in Toronto and 170 languages are spoken, so it is hardly surprising that there are so many varieties of food. Yes, McDonald's and Tim Horton chains are everywhere, but try Peruvian foods and kebabs from Persian restaurants. Yet there is practically no Irish food in supermarkets.

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

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

Canadians pride themselves in being “civilised Americans” - a bit boring and with a very different sense of humour to the Irish, so there little sense of irony.

So how did they deal with Covid? Pretty well. Yes, huge media hype, shutdowns - restaurants and pubs, sports venues, concerts, plus travel restrictions, but not as severe as those in Ireland. Plus there were masks, masks and, did I mention, masks°?

Now all restrictions are being lifted. Result? 0.1 per cent of the Canadian population died of Covid. That was some 36,000 people, mostly older people in care homes.

Protests recently by an extreme anti-vaccination bunch of truckers made world news. So unCanadian!

The protestors blocked the centre of capital city Ottawa for more than two weeks. They also blocked bridges connecting Canada with the US and causing some car manufacturers in the US to close as they were deprived of parts made in Canada.

In the end, the protests ended with no violence and not a shot being fired. How Canadian.

Robin Bury is the author of Buried Lives: the Protestants of Southern Ireland (2013. The History Press)

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