Turns out our ties with the Emerald Isle are strong and plentiful. According to census information, there are more than 4.6 million people of Irish descent in Canada — more than 15% of the nation’s population! So, where do Irish-Canadians live in the Great White North? We’ll tell you.
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Irish Communities in Canada
Yukon – 22%
Most Irish settlers to this harsh northern Canadian climate moved because of gold fever. Enterprising Irish, such as Captain John J. Healy, capitalized on gold fever by setting up trading posts and supplying the steady stream of hopeful gold miners. As a result, the Yukon is thick with Irish heritage.
Northwest Territories – 11.90%
Ranked fifth out of the 10 major ethnic groups in the NWT — led by the First Nations, followed by the English, Canadian and Scottish — the Irish were among the first Europeans to populate the NWT.
Nunavut – 4.4%
While Europeans are the minority, there are strong Irish links in Nunavut. Sir Francis Leopold McClintock, an Irish explorer who successfully discovered the fate of Sir John Franklin and his quest for the Northwest Passage, helped chart much of Nunavut’s Arctic geography. For this, he earned his knighthood and the freedom of the cities of Dublin and London.
British Columbia – 14.90%
Most of the Irish immigrants came to B.C. following the work, which was building the cross-country railway. However, like Alberta, B.C. is growing substantially again and in recent years there’s been a push to attract working immigrants through the International Experience Canada (IEC) initiative, which allows Irish immigrants to live and work in Canada for up to two years.
Alberta – 15.80%
Initial Irish immigration to this province was in the early 1900s. Now, another economic boom — brought on by oil & gas and resource extraction — is prompting Alberta to actively woo a new wave of Irish workers. Many settled in Fort McMurray before the apocalyptic wildfires.
Saskatchewan – 15.50%
As a province with a scattered, diverse population, the Irish culture became a vital force for cohesion in an ethnically diverse frontier society. Irish descendants are still a minority in Saskatchewan but proudly celebrate their heritage.
Manitoba – 13.20%
Despite efforts to entice the Irish to the Prairie provinces, many refused to trek west. Partly because the Irish Press warned of the hardships of Prairie life and partly because the English and Scottish already lay claim to portions of Manitoban land. Still, a few did settle in Manitoba after following the railway-building work.
Ontario – 16.40%
After 1812, plenty of Irish, mainly from Tipperary and Cork (and known as ‘navvies’) came to Ontario to help build much of this province’s early infrastructure, including Ottawa’s Rideau Canal. Many were lured by settlement schemes that offered cheap or free land. In 2004, March 17 was proclaimed “Irish Heritage Day,” by the Ontario legislature.
Quebec – 5.50%
One major immigration reception station was Gross Isle, an island in Quebec in the St. Lawrence River. While many of the Irish moved on to other provinces, or to the U.S., a few did stay. Now, the Montreal St. Patrick’s Day parade is one of the oldest in North America, dating back to 1824 and typically attracts crowds of more than 600,000 people.
New Brunswick – 21.60%
In 1819 the St. Patrick’s Society was first founded and by 1867, more than 150,000 immigrants from Ireland flooded this province, most of them settling in Saint John — prompting the nickname “Canada’s Irish City.”
Prince Edward Island – 30.40%
There was a time when Irish Catholics and British Protestants battled in this province. To end this division, PEI merged the two school boards and stopped electing two MLAs for each provincial riding (one Catholic and one Protestant). Since then, the Irish folk have lived peacefully with all neighbours and the province is now known for potatoes, not protests.
Nova Scotia – 22.30%
With almost one in four Nova Scotians of Irish descent, the province is teeming with Irish heritage. The majority came in the mid-1700s or between 1815 and 1845, and by the 1860s, nearly 50% of the populations in Halifax and Dartmouth claimed Irish ancestry. Even now, just about everywhere you go there’s an Irish presence in this province.
Newfoundland & Labrador – 21.80%
Irish author and newsman Tim Pat Coogan once described this province as “the most Irish place in the world outside of Ireland.” While it was a Cork fisherman that first stepped foot in the province, in 1536, most of the Irish migrated in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Now, Irish culture and history is part of the province’s local lore.
Updated: July 17, 2020