History of the Early Days of the Parish of Downeyville

Below will be found an interesting article on the history of the Parish of Downeyville, as compiled by Mr. John C. O’Leary. It was read by Mr O’Leary, a gentleman 86 years of age at the opening gathering in connection with Downeyville’s Home-coming event.

In the year 1825 the first Irish Settlers came in the month of May in and around Downeyville. Came through woods by a blaze on the trees marked on the surveyed roadway.

This immigration scheme was controlled by one Peter Robinson, hence called “Robinson’s Immigration.”

Now the conditions laid down by the Immigration Agents of that day, what the Irish Immigrant had to subscribe to, were the following: First he had to have recommendation from the Landlord of the Estate under which he lived, secondly from the doctor where he lived and thirdly from the Parish Priest, so that Irish Catholic Settlers were of the very best class.

The following were the conditions of the settlement. Every male immigrant twenty-one years of age got one hundred acres of land free and one year’s provisions, also free. He had to clear from three to five acres of land each year.

The immigrants that came to Emily were mostly from the County Cork. Among that party were farmers, labourers, and men of different trades. There was a Blacksmith, tailor, shoe-maker, carpenter and school master.

Now all that party did not come to Emily on that date. Some of the young girls got employment along the front townships, also all the young men who could be spared went to work, and some went to the United States and saved some money to help at home.

Some of the Irish girls got married to young men of the Front townships, such names as Redmonds, Gaynor, Clavert, Hawkey, Bowens and others. Most of those kept the faith pretty well under the circumstances.

The first Mass celebrated in the parish was in the home of Dennis Houlihan, grandfather of D. Houlihan, North of Downeyville, by Father Crowley, then a resident of Peterborough.

Peterborough as a headquarters of the immigrants also Port Hope. Peterborough was called after Peter Robinson. Emily was called after his daughter Emily Robinson.

The following were the methods used for building homes or shanties, as they were then called. A few men were employed by the Government to go with the new settler and help to build their houses. These were rather rough in appearance but for the time were all right. These shanties were built on dry knolls or high ground, if possible, and where the timber was not very heavy so that three or four men could carry the logs away say three or four rods from the building so that the first year some had a garden of potatoes and vegetables.

After the first year or so many of the young men would earn enough money to buy a cow or a pair of steers and bring them back to the new farm and so it went on and the settler became self sustaining.


Now to show that education was not lost sight of the schoolmaster, Patrick Barragy taught school in his shanty three days a week. In the year 1829 preparations were made for building a school house. The old log school house on the corner of the present school grounds N.E. corner. After a few years it was kept going on much a better scale with a very large attendance. It did not take a very highly educated man to be a teacher in those days as there was no lady teachers. Reading, writing, grammar and arithmetic and a beech rod six feet long, that was the curriculum.

In the year 1835 the old, log church was built on the Clergy reserve lot of the old cemetery. Mass was said every few weeks by a priest from Lindsay or Peterborough, who came on horseback. This continued for a good many years.

In the year 1852 the first resident Priest Father Burke, came. He had a room upstairs in the hotel kept at Mrs. Collins, later Mrs. Drennen. I served Mass every morning for him there. He had Downeyville and Ennismore to attend to.

About the same time the first Priest’s house was erected n the hill on the Lehane farm in front of the Costello farm, the Parish having purchased five acres of land there as that was supposed to be the center of the Parish. Father Burke lived there until he died on August 12th, 1857.

He was succeeded by Reverend Father Coyle who lived there many years. It was there the Church was to be built. The timber and most of the material was on the ground but the west part of the parishioners were not satisfied. It was said that the hill down there was too bleak a place for their teams to stand out in the cold in the winter and there was shelter for man and beast at Downeyville as there were three hotels at the Cross, as it was called. As Father Coyle was satisfied the material was moved up to the present place and the church built where it now stands. John Scully Jr. bought two acres of land from old Mr. Downey for $200 paid cash down. All the parishioners west of Downeyville were to pay Father Coyle bought an acre where the sheds are now. Father Coyle lived in the parish twenty years. Father Coyle had a large parish in those days, Emily, Ennismore and Galway and as far as any Catholic settlers lived in the North Country. “On one of his trips n’ sick call to the north country his horse was shaved tail and main clipped and his harness cut to pieces.

After Father Coyle came Father Hogan: He was to stay until the resident priest could be procured. He was two years in the Parish.

In 1880 Revered Father Connolly took charge of the parish. It was during his time the present Presbytery was built. The parish should be proud of it as it is the best one in the diocese. He was succeeded by Rev. Father Bretherton. He was parish priest for eleven years. It was during his time that the church was veneered with brick and interior of the church decorated as you see it now.

Father Bretherton made many improvements, had the shed changed to the present position. He also planted the cedar stove to west of the church and made many more improvements.

He was succeeded by Revered Father McGuire. He was instrumental in arranging our Separate School, of which the parish is proud. He also secured the land for our new cemetery for which the parish should be thankful. While in the parish he kept everything in first class shape. He was twelve and a half years in the parish, and was succeeded by Rev. Father Galvin our present pastor. To his ardour our parish hall is due, also his keen attention to the schools. He also started the Holy Name Society. We are twenty five percent better Catholics morally, socially and intellectually since Father Galvin came to us.

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