Anthony calls himself an investigative historical reporter and claims family research is one of the most difficult endeavours of his journalistic career. He received his diploma in journalism from Niagara College in Canada in 1983. He has worked on several regional newspapers in Ontario and Alberta. He also worked at Carswell Legal Publishing (Thompson Newspapers) in Toronto writing exclusively in the field of employment law and human rights. His work expanded into small business start-up and environmental studies.
He has explored his family history on and off for several decades which resulted in his book, “The Tribe Within.” (published January, 2014). This is his first book in genealogy. He lives in Niagara, Ontario Canada with his wife Theresa and their three children and three grand-children. His family emigrated from County Cork Ireland in 1825 to eastern Ontario as part of the Peter Robinson Expedition. He believes it is important to know one’s family history because one is not here by accident, but by design. A country’s history is a family’s history.
His genealogical biography begins with his direct descendent William Barrett born in Ballygally in 1790 around Kilworth Parish, County Cork, Ireland (5 miles north-east of what was Barrett’s Barony) into poverty and slavery. As a result of the Panel Laws enforced in 1695 his family along with other Irish Catholics become the worst off peasants in Europe. On average they work for managers of absentee English land owners on Irish ancestral land. They live in cottages 6’ X 14’, no furniture, just straw on the floors, a garden for potatoes, one pig a year, money to buy new clothing every 5 years, no shoes for women and children, no school, no representation by the courts, 16-hour work days, eviction without notice, and English can murder Irish without criminal conviction. They are not bought and sold but “employed.” During the Great Famine one Barrett family evicted from their cottage was reportedly found living in a cemetery inside a crypt in County Cork.
However, this Barrett family was considerably luckier. New Brunswick-born Peter Robinson son of United Empire Loyalists and veteran of the War of 1812, becomes an administrator for Upper Canada (Ontario) after the war. In 1824 he is asked to single-handedly carry out a revolutionary idea in immigration: to bring 2,000 Irish Catholics to Canada from one of the economically hardest hit regions of Ireland. The plan is to populate the near north of Upper Canada and relieve over-population in Ireland. If this experiment works, the British government hopes to emigrate as many as 1 million Catholics to Canada. At the same time the plan is extremely unpopular with the residents of Upper Canada. If the plan is successful the mainly 50,000 Protestants living in Upper Canada will become a minority in their own colony.
Robinson reluctantly agrees to accept the assignment and sails to the United Kingdom. Robinson is told by the British government (who is financing the expedition) to take emigrants from the six richest English land owners in Cork County. He is told to seek the help of property managers in selecting the emigrants from the over-populated area. Robinson tours the area and is appalled at what he sees in Cork “a world of unspeakable poverty – a living hell.” The poverty and scale is unimaginable and the “tour” changes him forever. He dodges land owners and their managers and meets people directly enlisting the help of parish priests. Robinson chooses his own emigrants based on “honest character” from references of priests.
William Barrett (35) agrees to go and “signs his name” (able to write perhaps from “hedge schools”) and with his wife Johanna (35) and their six children: John (13), Mary (11), William Jr. (9), Norah (7), Johanna (4) and Edmond (1) join the Expedition to emigrate to Canada. William’s reference from his parish priest states: “I have known William Barrett for many years. He not long since lived respectably and comfortably in Ballygally, and always supported his Character as an honest man.” Robinson decides to bring along a couple of Protestant families to defuse rumours that the Catholics would be put on ships, then sunk in the Atlantic. Rumours stop. In June, 1825 the Barretts board the Resolution (one of seven ships that set sail for Canada).
Though the Atlantic crossing takes only four weeks, 112 die along the way. William Barrett’s family (all intact) with about 2,000 Irish arrive at Quebec. They sail to Kingston, then Cobourg, Upper Canada (Ontario). They build a road by hacking their way through the bush for 15 miles to the Rice Lake. William will attract “swamp fever” malaria. He will lose some time in bed, but will fully recover. They build small boats and head up river and build a settlement from the woods next to the Otonabee River which will eventually become a city.
Peter Robinson stays with them for two years “under canvas” to assist their needs. He is continually having to write letters to defend the settlement to the colonial newspapers and opposition members of legislature. Before coming to Canada, the Irish have never seen a forest before as Ireland was stripped centuries before. The adjustment is enormous and Robinson is amazed at how quickly they adapt and how thankful they are for the opportunity. The Barrett family will draw a lot in Emily township, a few miles from the main settlement. A hundred acres will be theirs after five years. They must clear land, farm the property build their home and stable within two years to survive on their own.
The government wants to call the settlement Maitlandville after Sir Peregrine Maitland, the minister in charge of the Immigrant program, but the settlers will have none of it. They want to name the town after Robinson, but Robinson objects. He tells them to call the town Robinsonville will put him in a difficult position with his opponents and his superiors. The Irish settlers call a meeting among themselves and vote on naming the town Peterborough (also spelt: Peterboro). They do adapt to the Canadian environment quickly. Meanwhile, in 1826 The United Kingdom grants Emancipation for Catholics in Ireland but decide emigrating Irish on a large scale to Canada will be too expensive and drop the program. Robinson spends the next seven years lobbying both Upper Canada and English governments to bring over more Irish immigrants before, what he fears, is an approaching apocalyptic event for the Irish, but to no avail. Peter Robinson will occasionally visit his adopted Irish families from his home in Oshawa, Upper Canada for the rest of his life.
In 1833, the Irish Famine strikes and there is a huge exodus out of Ireland. The vast majority go to America because the crossing is cheaper for the British government then to Canada. However, 80,000 Irish immigrants “the walking dead” arrive in Montreal, Lower Canada by ship which sparks a Cholera outbreak and thousands die. William’s son John leaves the family farm and arrives in Montreal (Griffintown) near Lachine Canal in the same year and marries two years later. His son, James will be born in 1837. In 1845 John will become a machinist and join the St. Patrick Society and the Machinist Institute in Montreal. In 1847, 100,000 Irish immigrants arrive in Montreal. Cholera breaks out again this time killing tens of thousands. John Jr. is born in 1849.
In 1855 an Irish ex-patriot and writer, Thomas Darcy McGee now living in Boston tours Upper Canada (predominately English-speaking, Protestant) and Lower Canada (predominately French-speaking, Catholic) lecturing on “The History of Ireland.” He is impressed on how the Irish have been received in both British colonies. The Irish in Upper Canada are landowning farmers while those in Montreal become tradesmen. Many French Canadiens died along side of the Irish during the Cholera outbreaks trying to save as many as possible. He believes their belonging to the same church helped elevate their position in Lower Canada (Quebec). They are far more prosperous than their countrymen in America. And more important to McGee; they are treated with more equality. McGee writes about Irish poverty in the slums of Boston and New York and sees from their northern neighbours what they could be. Those of Upper and Lower Canada who meet him are also impressed by this well-spoken young rebel. Progress is slow in Canada but the next year the Grand Trunk Railway is completed linking Toronto to Montreal by rail with the lumber town of Belleville in between. In 1857 the St. Patrick Society invites McGee to move to Montreal to start a newspaper and run in the upcoming elections. He agrees and in the same year the first edition of the “New Era” is printed off the presses and he takes up a political career. He goes on to win the highest number of votes in Montreal and goes to the colonial assembly. The next year James, son of John joins the Machinist Institute in Montreal like his father.
In 1860, on the advise of his Uncle Bill (William Jr.) James rides the Grand Trunk Railway and moves to Belleville while McGee lectures about a United Canada concept he, French-Canadien George Cartier and Scotsman John A. MacDonald from Upper Canada have been discussing. Each man sees the benefit of a united Canada for their own cause. But it is their ability to see beyond their own ethnic troubles to embrace the wisdom of minority groups joining together. Though there is much opposition to their scheme from those representing old grievances their message gains support among the populous. The trio whether they recognized it or not are following the Six Nation Iroquois Confederacy model which would be very familiar to the old colonial families. With civil war starting in the United States they claim, now is the time for a united northern front. McGee states, “I call it (unifying six British colonies of Canada) a northern nation. For such it must become, if all of us do our duty to the last.”
In 1864 an Irish secret society emerges in North America called the Fenians. Their mission is to drive the English government from Ireland. They see the British government in the Canadian colonies as their first target. In a couple short years they will raise an army from the ranks of United States Union soldiers and young Irish volunteers from New York and Boston and look for recruits in Montreal. McGee states the St. Patrick Society has been infiltrated by Fenians trying to take it over. The Machinist Institute gives their full support behind McGee. In 1866 Fenians cross from the United States into Canada and attack. Battles take place in Upper Canada and New Brunswick. Irish riots break out in Montreal with pro-Fenian (Irish Nationalists) forces against pro-McGee’s forces now being called “Canadian Nationalist.” Windows at the Machinist Institute are smashed and the building is raided by Fenians looking to hang McGee.
After receiving no support from the United States and with the majority of Canadian-Irish rejecting their message, the Fenians head back to the U.S. The raids however, do become a wake-up call for the northern colonies. In 1867 the people of Canada will choose at its core, not an American or British form of government but a Native one. Five of the six British Canadian colonies unite to form one national parliament. Each colony surrendering power for the greater Dominion of Canada. The Dominion in turn, surrenders power to the United Kingdom. Perhaps for the first time in modern history, independence is achieved without war. It will become the model of independence for every country within the British Empire. But there is a casualty. McGee becomes one of the founding fathers and a signee of the British North America Act. He wins the first Confederation election in Montreal as fights break out at the Machinist Institute. John A. MacDonald becomes the first Prime Minister of this new nation and McGee is seen by his fellow parliamentarians as his eventual replacement. In 1868 while walking home from the Parliament Buildings in the new national capital of Ottawa, Thomas Darcy McGee is assassinated by a Fenian. He is shot in the back of the head. In Montreal, 20,000 attend his funeral (the largest funeral attendance in Montreal’s history to this point). His sacrifice galvanizes a country.
In 1871, the population of Belleville, Ontario is booming with 7,305 residences. Hasting Historical Atlas refers to Belleville’s Bay of Quinte as rivalling in splendour to the legendary Bay of Dublin. It has gravel roads, steamers run from Montreal to Belleville to Oswego, New York on Lake Ontario. Stage coaches and the Grand Trunk run inland. In 1880 John Jr. leaves Montreal for Belleville and joins his brother and uncle. He will marry Margaret Ready oldest child of Michael and Ellen Ready of Ireland in Belleville. John Jr. is 33 and Margaret is 24. Their youngest child, Harold William Barrett is born in 1896. The family will reside in Belleville for a 100 years. Canada’s domestic independence comes at a cost on the foreign front as Great Britain’s wars become Canada’s wars. Harold will volunteer to serve in the Canadian Army during World War I. He is 18 when war breaks out, but his mother insists that he wait until he is 21 to join. Luckily for Harold and his descendants the war will end before he is shipped overseas. World War I claims a generation of Canadian sons which history calls the lost generation.
Canada’s contribution to the war goes way beyond expectations. It is the Canadian army that finds a way to end trench warfare. They invent platoon-style troop organization and timed creeping artillery barrages to break the barbed wire just ahead of their advancing troops during battles. The moving artillery curtain of destruction and mud clouds the battlefield just ahead of the advancing Canadian forces bringing them directly on top of German trenches. They also control “no-man’s land” in between battles and create a “shock troop” culture through continual training behind the lines. After the French and British armies take over a million causalities trying to break the trench system and fail, its the three Canadian divisions that do the job at Vimy Ridge using their new tactics. The allies adopt the tactics and drive the Germans back to the borders to where the war began. At the beginning of the war when the Canadian army first arrived in France, British High Command ordered the divisions to disband and join the ranks of the British Army. Canadian generals refused. At war’s end, Canada would insist on signing the peace treaty as an independent country ending its colonial status with Britain forever.
Harold will own and operate a general store along with his surviving brothers after the war. Harold is also a talented singer and actor. He will be asked to give performances in his community and across the border in Oswego, New York. When asked to join a New York City vaudeville troupe to tour across America he declines as it will take him too far away from his growing family. Harold will become a leader in community service in Belleville.
Harold’s oldest son, John (Jack) will volunteer in the Canadian Navy during World War II serving on board HMCS Prince Henry. His ship will become the transport and amphibious landing assault vessel for Canadian and American Special Forces in Europe. He will participate in the campaign of Egypt and north Africa, and the invasions of Sicily, Italy and Greece. In true Forrest Gump fashion, he will be highlighted in a CBC News Reel played back in his hometown showing him riding a camel near Cairo. His younger brothers William and Joe almost fall off their seats in the Belleville movie theatre seeing their brother on the big screen. During the invasion of Italy, Jack gets an opportunity to drive ahead to Rome to hear mass at the Vatican. After mass, as the Pope passes to bless the parishioners, he stops to ask him what service he is in as the Pope does not recognize his uniform. Jack is the first Canadian serviceman to visit the Vatican in Rome and has a brief conversion with the Pope. He will serve on board the Prince Henry while transporting landing troops on Juno Beach in Normandy, France in June 1944 – D Day.
His cousin Richard (Dick) is a Lancaster Bomber pilot conducting bombing runs over Germany. Jack’s future wife, Patricia Murphy also from the Belleville area is working in Toronto helping to build those Lancaster Bombers. Both men survive the war and return to Belleville to raise families. Both will engage in community service in their hometown.
Because of an economic downturn in the 1970s most of the Barrett families move to western Ontario. Jack’s family settle in Niagara. Jack’s son, Anthony along with the other four children were born in Belleville and all live in Ontario.