The Dictionary of Canadian Biography and the Irish Diaspora: Sources, Limitations, and Strengths

Thursday, January 7, 2016: 2:00 PM
Grand Ballroom B (Hilton Atlanta)
David Alexander Wilson, University of Toronto
Between 1815 and 1870, the Irish were the single largest ethnic group in English Canada, and had a significant influence on Canadian life.  The Orange Order attracted one in three of Canadian Protestant adult males, and injected a severe strain of anti-Catholicism into the country.  The Catholic Church in English-speaking Canada was largely shaped by the Irish, as was the low-Church culture of Canadian Anglicanism.  The English Canadian school curriculum and the organization of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were based largely on Irish models.

This paper discusses what we can – and what we cannot – learn about the Canadian Irish from the DCB/DBC.   Right from the start, the DCB/DBC set out to include people from all walks of life and all regions of the country, and of the 8,500 biographies written thus far, just over a thousand have an Irish connection.  But in practice, the lack of sources for women, the working classes and farmers has meant that the biographies are tilted towards male elites.  Moreover, some major figures among the Canadian Irish have been omitted, largely because their contributions to Canadian life were not recognized at the time that the biographies were written.

Nevertheless, within the DCB/DBC there lies a prosopography of Irish immigrants who played a leading role in Canada, particularly but not exclusively in the fields of politics, religion, education, journalism, business, the professions and the armed forces.  It also sheds light on prominent Irish Canadians who became involved in the struggle for or against Irish Home Rule.  In addition, the bibliographies accompanying these biographies are of immense value to researchers in the field.  It will be argued that the DCB/DBC, like other national biographies, is an indispensable source for Diasporic studies.

<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation