Mr. Speaker, in 1847 the Dominion of Canada numbered some 1.5 million people. Yet, small as we were then, we welcomed some 100,000 Irish immigrants, immigrants who were leaving a devastating famine behind them, fleeing terror and persecution.
At the time, Irish immigrants were treated with the same contempt and vitriol that is levied at other immigrants today. “Ignorant”, “lazy”, newspapers read, “improvident and unthankful” and as “vicious as they are poor”. Fenians, Papists, here to impose their own religious law on us all.
Political parties were formed and fuelled for fear of them, for fear of us. Some Irish forget that. I do not. Some 38,000 Irish passed through Toronto in 1847. Toronto, then, was a city of only 20,000 people; and 38,000 were taken in by 20,000 already here. That is what I will remember this St. Patrick's Day.
I will remember that in 1847, there were enough, just enough Canadians who rose above the frank, blatant, decades-long discrimination of the day, and gave those immigrants a chance to become Canadians themselves.