• 2019-05-23


Notable personalities & Saint John ties 

Reflecting on the National Famine Commemoration Day of the Great Hunger in Ireland

Canada’s oldest incorporated city, Saint John, New Brunswick, is characterized by its Irish heritage. In its early days the province was referred to as New Ireland with Saint John as the capital. Perhaps it is no wonder how Saint John received the reputation as Canada’s most Irish city. Preserving our Irish heritage is a big part of what we do as a city.

From 1815 – 1867, 150,000 Irish immigrants arrived in Saint John. Thirty thousand arrived between 1845 and 1847.  Fleeing the Great Potato Famine as well as the religious and political tensions in the country, the Irish brought their culture and traditions to Saint John and a long-lasting sense of Irish pride in the city. 

The first landing point for the hungry and feverish Irish immigrants was Partridge Island, located in the Saint John harbour. The immigrants stayed on the island until they were cleared as healthy. May 19th is National Famine Commemoration Day (of the Great Hunger in Ireland). Partridge Island is a lasting memorial to the Irish who fled the Great Potato Famine. Deer Island in Boston, Mass. is dedicating a memorial to commemorate the Irish who arrived and died there.

This new wave of largely poor Irish Catholics had fled from the Potato Famine and arrived hungry and desperate for work. Viewed as a threat to the existing social order, they were forced to settle in their own ethnic enclave, York Point, located on the northwest tip of the city centre. They built a life for themselves and their families and, in the process, they helped shape the City of Saint John and the province.

New Brunswick-Boston-USA Connections 

Many first generation New Brunswick-born Irish left to seek a life in America. There was hardly a family in New Brunswick that did not have a son or daughter – and often many – who left and resettled in New England, along the Eastern Seaboard, or in the American Midwest and beyond. And the city has connections to well known personalities in the United States. 

David Nathan Alward – Born in Beverly Massachusetts, Alward served as the 32ndPremier of the Province of New Brunswick (2010-2014) and as MLA from his home district 1999-2015. He has served as Canada’s Consul General in Boston since 2015.

Walter Pidgeon - Born in Saint John, New Brunswick, 1897, Pidgeon attended local schools and the University of New Brunswick, where he studied law and drama. His university education was interrupted by World War I and he enlisted in the 65th Battery, Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery. Following the war, he moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where he worked as a bank runner, at the same time studying voice at the New England Conservatory of Music. 

Donald Sutherland -  Born in Saint John, New Brunswick 1935, Sutherland is a Canadian actor whose film career spans more than five decades.

Louis B. Mayer - Born in the Russian Empire but raised in Saint John, New Brunswick 1884, Mayer co-founded MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) Studios.

Bing Crosby Crosby’s maternal great-great-grandfather, Dennis Harrigan, left Co. Cork Ireland in 1831 with his wife, Catherine, and 10 children and relocated in Canada.  Once in New Brunswick, Bing’s maternal great-grandfather, Dennis Jr., was born on September 6th, 1832.  Dennis Jr.’s daughter (Bing’s grandmother) Kate, had a love for music.  She passed down that love to her first daughter Catherine, who was born in 1873.  Catherine gave birth to Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby on May 3, 1903 in Tacoma, Washington.  

Local land mark to notable people with Saint John ties.

Saint John's Irish Families: Are you connected? 

If your Irish ancestors began their North American lives in Saint John, they almost certainly were part of this remarkable and resilient Irish community that built the Cathedral.  See if your family name is on the list.

The Cathedral Heritage Family list was compiled from records in the archives of the Diocese of Saint John, dating from approximately 1815 to present.  Join us to help save our Irish heritage.

Restoring and Preserving the Irish Cathedral

Many Cathedral Heritage Families have joined together-- from across North America and beyond -- to contribute to the preservation of a structure so intimately connected with their family history.

If your family is connected to Saint John or New Brunswick and you'd like to help Save Our Irish Heritage, please consider joining us.

Lynn Forbes Gautier
Lynn is the Executive Director of the Cathedral Heritage Foundation.  A lifelong traveler, Lynn loves to visit old cities and appreciates a society’s commitment to preserving its traditions and built heritage.


We're raising money to repair Saint John's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Every dollar counts when it comes to preserving one of New Brunswick's most important heritage buildings. It's a National Treasure! Please consider donating today.


The Cathedral Heritage Foundation is supported by the American Fund for Charities, a US 501(c)(3) non-profit organization EIN 52-2109597. Donations from US taxpayers to the Cathedral Heritage Foundation and the Cathedral Restoration Project through the American Fund for Charities are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by US law. The Cathedral Heritage Foundation has been reviewed by the American Fund for Charities and has been determined eligible to receive contributions through the AFC. 

If you are a US taxpayer and wish to support the Cathedral Heritage Foundation and the Cathedral Restoration Project, you may make a secure online donation at www.americanfund.info. Please be certain to identify the Cathedral Heritage Foundation as the beneficiary of your gift of support.

Alternatively, you may download a printable donation form and send it with your check or credit card details to The American Fund for Charities, 2 Liberty Square, Suite 500 Boston, MA 02109-4884. Be sure to identify clearly the Cathedral Heritage Foundation and the Cathedral Restoration Project as the organization you wish the American Fund for Charities to support.

Following your donation, you will promptly be issued with the receipt necessary for income tax purposes.