Back to the Land, 1830's and 1840's


 March 29, 2002:

Back to the Land:

	One of the central concepts of the residual welfare state is that the urban poor can 
    become self-sufficient if they return to the land as farmers. This concept is usually 
    a "push" factor as governments or large Irish land-holders tried to push settlers onto 
    unoccupied land in Upper Canada. In Bytown in the 1830's and 1840's there was also a 
    strong "pull" factor as the goal of most Irish Catholic families, who had a strong desire 
    to own land after being tenants in Ireland for generations, was to obtain farm land and to 
    become self-sufficient and escape the urban violence of Bytown. Besides the Irish 
    community in Lowertown, there were also settlements at the major lockstations along 
    the Rideau Canal system and intermittent settlements of squatters on Clergy Reserve 
    land in Gloucester, Osgoode and Nepean Townships. Hog's Back, Black Rapids and Long 
    Island all had Irish squatter settlements on crown land set aside for canal purposes. 
    Many people left Lowertown and moved to crown land as an interim stage before obtaining 
    title to their own farm land. Contact was maintained between the Lowertown families and 
    the more rural folks  especially during the fall marketing season and in the spring on 
    St. Patrick's Day. The taverns and boarding-houses of By Ward were clearing houses for 
    information on available land in the region and some of the inn-keepers 
    (e.g., Charles Rowan) were active land speculators themselves.

	Operating a farm provided a steady supply of food, especially dairy products and potatoes. 
    The slogan of Osgoode Township became "Where the men are men and their potatoes are big". 
    Every farm family planted huge gardens for personal consumption and cultivated cash crops 
    as the land was cleared. There were other benefits to farm life: remnants of the fur trade 
    still existed in Bytown with fur buyers located in Lowertown. Most farmers supplemented 
    their farm income by trapping beavers in their neighbourhood, by hunting deer and waterfowl, 
    and by spearing large quantities of fish in the Rideau River and it's tributaries. Logs were 
    at hand for building homes and out-buildings and firewood was readily available on their 
    own property.

    A large family came in handy for labour-intensive agricultural work. Compared to life in 
    Ireland and, later, in  Lowertown, a family farm provided the first sense of economic 
    security many of the Irish Catholic families had ever experienced.

	One problem associated with farm living for many early settlers, including the Irish, was 
    one of financial liquidity. Cash was required to pay mortgages and property taxes. At times, 
    the local church came to the assistance of individuals who were in short-term financial 
    difficulty. Loans were granted by the church to keep farmers on the farm and within the 
    parish! Time and again, in those times of unavailability of commercial credit, the church 
    played a charitable role in the close-knit Irish Catholic community. Some years, each farm 
    family was asked to donate a pig or calf to the church, in order to build up a cash surplus 
    for the year.

	Early documentation for families who lived in various parts of the Bytown region can be found 
    in the records of Notre Dame Church in Ottawa, St. Phillip's Church in Richmond, St. Michael's 
    Church in Corkery (Huntley Township) and in St. Patrick's Church in Fallowfield 
    (Nepean Township). The census records (1831, 1842, 1852) for Nepean, Gloucester and Osgoode 
    Townships also show the geographic location and composition of early Irish Catholic families.

    Source: Excerpted from an essay prepared for History 356 at Carleton University, March 2002.
            This page will be 'fleshed out' with examples from my own family .. someday. 



E-mail Al Lewis

Back to "Bytown or Bust" - History and Genealogy in the Ottawa area