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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Irish-Canadian : image and self-image, 1847-1870 Conner, Daniel


This thesis explores the ways in which the Irish-Catholic population of Canada was perceived and described by the newspapers of mid-Victorian Toronto and Montreal. A study of the leading political and religious journals at mid-century demonstrates the prolonged existence in Canada of hostile feelings towards the immigrant community, based both on Protestant aversion to Catholicism and on stereotypes of Irish character in general. The thesis argues that these antagonisms and unfavourable images were identified by the Irish community as contributing to its lack of economic, social and political progress. In defence against the hostility which they detected at all levels of society, and which was especially apparent in the vocabulary of disparagement and abuse with which Irish affairs were reported in Canadian newspapers, Irish-Catholics maintained a distinct and self-conscious sense of national community. This sense of group identity was clearly expressed in the emergence of an Irish ethnic press. The thesis presents the reactions of five Irish-Catholic newspapers, in Toronto and Montreal, to the inferior status of the immigrants in Canadian society. While showing the sensitivity of Irish-Catholics to the social, political and economic exclusion produced by their unfavourable reputation, it also argues that the Irish press simultaneously encouraged a coherent Irish group feeling in a conscious attempt to disarm anti-Irish prejudice. Irish-Catholic editors reminded their readers that in Canada the immigrants might prove that Irish nationality, given the equal opportunity and responsible government which they demanded for Ireland, could develop in loyalty, wealth and social respectability. The thesis concludes that it was this concern with social mobility which made the Irish press so sensitive to the ways in which the Canadian image of Irish-Catholics reflected and reinforced their social, economic and political retardation.

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