Mulligan Heritage Day
Experimental Farm, Ottawa.
from Morgan Mulligan, Sept 2019, Ontario CANADA
History of John I and Elizabeth Mulligan (My paternal grandmother’s family history….Norma)
Three generations of Mulligans arrived in Canada in 1842 after a 14-week trip on the sailing ship Dolphin. John I, Elizabeth and their family emigrated from Dromore, just south west of Belfast, Ireland.
The Nesbitts, Griers, Langs, Craigs, Davidsons, and Clarks also came on this voyage to their adopted land.
Irish immigrants left their homeland because of famine and serious economic troubles. The Province of Canada’s own publication, which concentrated on describing new lands open for settlement, was
designed to attract immigrants to bolster the population. The Mulligans and many others responded to the publication.
The Mulligans who settled in the Merivale area (originally Nepean Township but now Ottawa) were Jane Mulligan, a 59-year old widow and an established Presbyterian. She was accompanied by her 42 year old son John I, his 39 year old wife Elizabeth (nee Boyd), and their children Francis, Andrew Boyd, Alexander
(12 years old), Samuel (10 years old), John II (8 years old), James (8 years old), George (4 years old) and
Elizabeth (2 years old). Daughters Margaret and Elisa were born in Canada in 1942 and 1854 respectively.
John I was born in 1800 in Down, Ireland. Elizabeth was born in 1803 in Drumgolden Parish, Down, Ireland. Jane’s children who also immigrated to Canada at this time with her were son
Robert with his wife Mary and their son William; son Joseph; daughter Mary Davidson (nee Mulligan) and her husband John Davidson. Some of Jane Mulligan’s sisters, who were married to members of a large Davidson connection, also came on the Dolphin.
The decision by the British government to construct the Rideau Canal had a resounding impact on the settlement near the mouth of the Rideau River. Colonel John By was selected by the Imperial
Government of Britain to take charge of constructing the waterway. That decision laid the foundation for the bustling community that was unlike any other in Upper Canada. It literally sprang up overnight out of the wilderness. At the time Bytown consisted of no more than a dozen log cabins, a few plank houses, and two or three stone houses. Farmers and entrepreneurs eagerly took up building lots in the new village as soon as they had been designated. Shops, taverns and stores soon replaced the tall trees of the forest.
A steady stream of labourers, arriving at the canal site in search of jobs, swelled the village population to 1,000 within the first two years. Some of the more fortunate workers found accommodation in tents. Others built crude shacks, while some dug holes in the earth for temporary shelter. French-Canadian lumbermen and Irish, Scottish, English and American immigrants, all converged on Bytown at the same time. The initial incompatibility of their various cultures and attitudes became the key factor for the unique character of the emerging community. Predominantly Irish immigrants from Quebec and Montreal sought employment on the project. More than 2,000 workers were employed at the height of canal construction.
Hundreds lost their lives, either in rampant epidemics of swamp fever or disregard for safety. The canal was completed and fully navigable in 1832, six years after the first sod had been turned.
Many of the immigrants at work on the Rideau Canal were married men with families who were anxious to obtain farmland in the proximity of the works.
In March 1829, Col. By sent a list of 215 such families
to A.C.Buchanan, the government’s emigrant agent at Quebec. Buchanan passed the petition along to the lieutenant-governor urging him to throw open the clergy reserves in Nepean and Gloucester. The necessity of locating the labourers on lands near the works had been forcibly impressed upon Col. By the
year before when Colonel Marshall had settled about 30 families on farms near Lanark. Col. By reported that “starvation drove them from their lots, and the greater part of them are gone into the States”. The clergy reserves throughout the province were opened for sale soon afterwards.
The Canada Company, which had bought the Crown reserves, soon made them available to settlers. Many of the canal workers
could not afford the down payments necessary to buy the property where they had lived. 3 John I, Elizabeth and their family, homesteaded on July 4, 1842 on the Extra lot between lots 35 & N, in concession B, Rideau front. The lot consisted of 34.5 acres along the Rideau River, south of what is now Baseline Road to Hog’s Back and extended west to what is now, Fisher Avenue. The farmhouse was situated near the site of what is, today, Mulligan’s Florists. John I later bought an additional 35 acres north of the Baseline Road, now part of the Central Experimental Farm. The property included what we know more recently as the site of the former Green Valley Restaurant.1 By 1861,
John I is reported to have a owned a total of 84 acres consisting of 26 acres producing crops, 4 under pasture, 54 acres of
wood or wild territory. It is interesting to note that between 1842 and 1861, each acre successfully cleared had to be gained by his family’s hard work. John I reportedly had 1 acre of peas yielding 20
bushels, 3 acres of oats producing 85 bushels, 1 acre of potatoes providing 125 bushels, 4 acres of carrots yielding 20 bushels and 4 acres of hay. The choice of crops suggests that the soil was not great
as it was previously wood lots or marshes. The value of his farm properties in 1861 was estimated to be $840 and his implements worth $120. 4
Some of the residents recorded on the 1847 map were farmers who had bought land. Donald Kennedy, a Perthshire cabinetmaker, bought Lot M in 1830 and sold the north half to his brother Sandy in 1834. Pat Garland, a Protestant from Coolcullen, County Kilkenny, had, like Kennedy, settled with his parents in Beckwith Township, later sold his farm and came into Nepean in 1833 to work for Kennedy. The following year Garland bought Lot L and sold the north half to James Burrows from Goulbourn (who
extended his clearance onto the canal lands). Lot N was a clergy reserve, its possession and its boundary disputed after 1842 between Kennedy and John Mulligan.
The clergy lands in the district were again opened for sale on 17 September 1845. After 1845, Donald Kennedy bought the western 130 1/2 acres not required for the canal and another 20 acres east of the waterway.3 The Ordnance Department attempts to collect rents from these unauthorized occupants was only
sporadically successful, and its efforts to dislodge them failed. Some of the squatters were displaced in the 1840s and 1850s,not by the Ordnance but by the farmers, as the Kennedys and John I Mulligan
moved to enlarge their farms.
Donald Kennedy was the only person entered on the books in Toronto for clergy reserve N and he was recognized as the purchaser in 1846. The following year, he sued to eject
O’Rourke. Plans drawn for the Ordnance that year suggested that most of O’Rourke’s improvement was on the canal reserve, but neither he nor Kennedy would admit that the Ordnance had any right to the land. At that point even Mrs. Gunn, who had lived since 1832 on an adjoining lot, submitted a claim. All
three refused to pay fora survey and the matter rested there until the autumn, when Kennedy’s suit was successful. O’Rourke agreed to leave within the year, but it took another ejection in 1854 to finally dislodge him. 3
At that time, men and women were resourceful and independent, driven by a hunger to possess their own land and prosper by the work of their own hands. There was a unity to family life and a sense of common purpose difficult to maintain today. The whole family shared in the work of the farm, in its joys and sorrows, triumphs and disasters. They built their own houses. They carved out most of their
implements and equipment. They grew almost all their own food (tea and sugar excepted) or raised it on the hoof. They made most of their own clothes. Firewood had to be cut and chopped for warmth
3 and for cooking, which was done with a few pots and kettles suspended in a crude fireplace. For light, the pioneers learned to make candles from animal fat. For soap, they learned to leach lye from wood ashes. For sugar, they learned to tap the maple. There were blessings.
Deer and other animals ran in the woods, the waters teemed with fish, and wildfowl flew overhead. But hunting took time, and there
were periods when families existed on little but milk, bread, and potatoes. Among the few products they sold into commercial markets were grain and potash. Few farmers sent their children to school. The farm wife coped heroically with these conditions, often while looking after several small children and with another one on the way. There was the ever-present danger of accident, sickness or death in the family. They were unprotected by policemen. Roads were so bad that social contact was limited principally to the “bees” (barn and house raising), stump clearing, and, later, quilting.5
The decade of the Forties was one of fluctuating fortunes for Bytown’s business community.
Since “Squire “ Philemon Wright, a United Empire Loyalist from Massachusetts and the founder of Wrightsville (now Gatineau), had commenced lumbering operations in 1800, the square timber trade had grown by far to be the largest industry in the Ottawa Valley. Events developed quickly over the following decades that affected the economy. Napoleon’s blockade cut Britain off from lumber badly needed for its navy, and British ships now streamed to Canada for lumber.
The forest along the banks of the Ottawa River and its tributaries began to ring with the sound of axes. A booming lumber trade provided jobs and created sawmills, as well as fortunes for a few. By the middle of the century, the province was earning one million dollars a year – about 28 percent of all revenue, from lumber. It had given rise to many subsidiary enterprises and had sustained the shaky economy of Bytown after completion of the Rideau
Canal in 1832. 6
The trade suffered a serious decline in 1842 when Britain’s Imperial government removed the preferential tariffs on colonial lumber. Lumber had been cut from the abundant forests without thought
for renewal of the valuable resource. It was becoming more difficult and more costly to find timber of the type required by Britain’s navy. Smaller lumber companies could not compete under these
conditions and many of them failed. Philemon Wright’s business also closed in 1842. Later, J.R. Booth created a lumbering empire, complete with his own railway, and E.B. Eddy began his world-famous match and pulp and paper industry at Hull (now Gatineau), Quebec. The Rideau Canal, as a commercial waterway, gave rise to the future industries, involved in the shipment and storage of goods. 6
The ships coming from Europe for lumber brought successive waves of immigrants, refugees of the Scottish clearances and the Irish potato famines. The population of Ontario, was only 75 000 in 1812, now doubled every 12 years but it had reached 1.4 million by 1860. The growth in industry and population created needs for new and improved transportation; more roads appeared and the golden
age of canal building was followed by the age of the railroads. The depression of the late Forties gave way to renewed prosperity as the mid-point of the century approached. 6
In 1847, a typhus epidemic swept the country and claimed its first victims in Bytown. The potential fatal disease, transmitted by body lice, had been brought by immigrants who had crossed the Atlantic in the filthy, stinking holds of wooden ships and arrived in Canada in a deplorable state of health. Over 3,000 Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine in their homeland, arrived in Bytown during the months of June and July of 1847, many of whom suffered from typhus. In all, the “Sisters of Charity”, led by Sister
Elisabeth Bruyere, treated 619 typhus victims, of whom 167 died. 2
It may be of interest that John I and Elizabeth Mulligan’s family does not appear to have been affected by the epidemic, despite the fact that they lived across the Rideau River from where many of the newly arrived infected immigrants lived in miserable shanties along the East coast of the river. Bytown’s Protestant establishment placed the 4 blame for continuing unemployment, as well as the typhus epidemic, on the large influx of Catholic Irish
Historical hatred of these two opposing religious factions of people from Ireland can be traced back to the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. English, Scottish, Irish, Dutch, Danish and Huguenots (French Protestants) had made up William’s army (Williamites), while James’s men (Jacobites) had been mainly Irish Catholics, reinforced by 6,500 French troops sent by King Louis XIV. At stake were the
British throne, French dominance in Europe and religious power in Ireland. It has been said that, the four principal European ethnic groups in 19th century Canada; English, French, Irish and Scot –
thoroughly disliked each other, while the Irish (Protestant and Catholic) disliked their own countrymen, if anything, even more.
From its inception, Bytown was considered by some to have great potential as the capital, should the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada unite. There was good reason to suggest a grand destiny for a community that barely existed at the time. Its position on the border between Upper and Lower Canada placed it central to both, should a union take place. Its distance from the frontier between Canada and the United States would protect it from invasion in times of war, and from republican influence in times
On completion of the Rideau Canal, Bytown was situated at the head of an important military waterway, and the cliffs overlooking the headlocks were eminently defensible.2 By luck, Sir John A. Macdonald began his political career in 1844, at the best possible time for a newcomer to arrive, at least in the wings of the political stage. Shortly before he arrived, the Canadian political system took off in an entirely new direction because of the decisive change caused by a new constitution that joined two previously separate colonies of Upper and Lower Canada (today, Ontario
and Quebec) into the United Province of Canada. For the first time, the country’s two European peoples, French and English, were brought into direct political contact. Sir John was destined to
become Canada’s first prime minister and his stage would be in Ottawa.5
A worldwide depression ended in 1850. For years prior to Confederation, workers in Bytown struggled to complete the Parliament Buildings for the beginning of the Nation’s inauguration. Considering the vast project and the grandeur of the buildings, it provided plenty of work for many carpenters, brick
masons, and other trades in the building sector.
The Mulligan family was listed in the 1851 Census as established Presbyterian and John I is listed as a carpenter. It is therefore plausible that he may have plied his trade in building the Parliament Buildings or the nearby work on the railways as he was now
firmly established in his community. He was also in the process of expanding his land holdings around the Canal.
In the 1852 Nepean Census, John I and his family were listed as belonging to the Church of Scotland.
Religion in the colonies assumed a much different character from the religions practiced in Europe. For the most part, Ministers were poorly paid, self-styled preachers whose Religious zeal motivated them to pursue a rigorous lifestyle, which carried them on horseback many a mile through the backwaters of early Canada. Spirited sermons intended to arouse religious fervor in their listeners and effect conversions to their faith demonstrated their zest. This kind of religion appealed to many of the pioneers, for whom religious meetings were social events, often the only such outlets available to them. The excitement of fellowship, the singing of hymns, and the unity of purpose experienced at the
meetings’ drew them from their isolated woodland homes to the warmth of the crowded meetinghouses. The “established” Scottish and English churches (Presbyterians and Anglicans) frowned
on this sort of theology, preferring dignified services conducted by learned men for solemn, passive congregations. Scottish stonemasons working on the canal were largely Presbyterians.2
Ground was broken in 1851 to begin construction of 200 miles of railway from Bytown via Kemptville to Prescott. At Prescott, connections could be made with the Grand Trunk Railway to greatly facilitate the movement of goods and lumber from the Valley to markets in the south and encourage manufacturers to locate in Bytown. The project provided work for the locals and assisted the economy. In 1854, the long-awaited Bytown and Prescott Railway finally reached Bytown, and the bustling frontier town had
come of age.
A bridge was constructed across the Rideau River near Billings’ Bridge and the line extended into Bytown to the Sussex Street terminal. Thus, the railway came to the lumbering community of Bytown in the same year it was incorporated as a city and changed its name to Ottawa.2
In 1854, Donald Kennedy had Mr. Close ejected and by 1859, had set up a brickworks on the site of their enclosures. Richard Rickard and John Greer, inland on Lot 35, Con. A, gave up possession to Alexander Kennedy, Greer moving into Bytown in 1846. By that time, Alexander had also bought James Brackenridge’s right to 50 acres of Lot 34 for £20. He offered to pay rent to the Ordnance from that point, but refused to assume the arrears. When the Ordnance sold it offin 1870 (£780 was owing on the Brackenridge land), the widow Gunn had sold her good will to John Mulligan by 1849, and he occupied the property thereafter, although he paid only one year’s rent to the Ordnance. By 1859, John I Mulligan
had also acquired Fagan’s holding. 3
Other squatters enlarged their holdings over the years by taking in uncleared or common land, but in no case, was this reflected by an increase in the rent recorded in the Ordnance account books. This activity created some occasional friction among the settlers. Between 1839 and 1859, Gaspard Pelletier extended his holding from a quarter-acre to 10 acres by taking in common land and perhaps some of Mulligan’s.
In 1860, John I Mulligan threw down the fence of a field between Pelletier’s house and the Hog’s Back Road and turned out his cattle. Pelletier took John I Mulligan to court, but the case was dismissed when a juror became ill and the parties’ lawyers could not agree whether to continue with 11 jurors or to swear in a new one. As was often the case, the lawyers were the only ones who really gained
by the suit. 3
John I Mulligan also had an ongoing legal battle with Donald Kennedy as to whether his own 35-acre holding was part of Kennedy’s Lot N or an unsurveyed tract between N and 35, a legal point eventually decided in John I Mulligan’s favour. At the original time of homesteading, John I Mulligan’s Extra lot was not included on the official survey document. The lot is claimed by Donald Kennedy, his neighbor to the immediate north. With the aid of a valuator, Mr. Kennedy’s brother-in-law Mr. Robert Bell, and
the Crown Land Agent, Mr. Durie, Donald Kennedy was awarded the Extra lot.
Supported by his neighbours, John I Mulligan appealed the judgment. The many letters and several maps concerning “the
Controversy of the Extra lot” are in the Canadian Archives in Ottawa. The disagreement was widely publicized at that time. In his correspondence, John I Mulligan gave his address as Hog’s Back, Rideau Canal, Bytown. John I Mulligan was awarded the land by a special Judicial Committee on July 4, 1856.
The Committee censured Mr. Durie for imprudently selecting a relative of Mr. Kennedy as valuator and strongly suspected that Mr. Kennedy had withheld evidence in John I Mulligan’s counterclaim in making his application to buy the clergy reserve. 3
Later, part of John I Mulligan’s property was expropriated for
the improvement of the Rideau Canal system. In 1867, the year of Confederation for the Dominion of Canada, the staff at the Department of Agriculture numbered 27. During these years a start was made on an animal health program; experiments in agricultural practices were being conducted by the Experimental Farms; and dairying and livestock were receiving attention.7 At Confederation the canal lands became a responsibility of the Dominion government and were turned over to the Secretary of State’s Department, which in turn 6 transferred the Ordnance and Admiralty Lands Branch to the Department of the Interior in 1873.
The new Dominion government acted quickly to remedy what it perceived a long-standing abuse by ejecting the remaining squatters.3 Squatters, all of whose rents were in arrears, reduced the canal reserve to a 200-foot strip either side of the waterway. The new Dominion government surveyed the remaining lots and offered them for sale at auction. West of the canal and north of Lot 35 the squatters had already been bought out by John I
Mulligan and the Kennedys. The government’s lot sale was held 13 May 1870.
Purchasers had to make a 10 percent down payment and tender the remainder in nine annual installments before receiving patents. Ottawa speculators, such as civil servant H.H. Duffill and government emigrant agent W.J. Wills bought most of the lots on the Rideau, but occupants purchased a few. Richard O’Connor had lived across the river in Gloucester for many years, but his name had remained on the books for the house he had occupied in 1830. His wife’s relative James McCabe had kept a tavern there, rented the wharf, and bought out landowners Manning and Chartrand, putting his son Pat in occupation of Manning’s acreage.
Neither McCabe nor O’Connor had paid the rent, but O’Connor evidently obtained a delay and purchased what had become sublots 7 and 8 in 1875. The O’Connors held this land until 1888 when they
sold to Nicholas Nevins. The other squatters who succeeded in buying at the 1870 sale were Felix Arnaud (Renaud) and Peter Potvin, both of whom had houses on the bank of the canal on what had been Gaspard Pelletier’s holding. John I Mulligan terminated an old dispute by buying what was left of the old common adjoining Pelletier’s. In later years his son James acquired the lands of Arnaud and Potvin and the three western sublots laid out in Lot 34. Thus, the squatter settlement came to an end.3
Construction of the Parliament Buildings began in 1859, and by Confederation in 1867 the Center Block was complete enough to be the seat of government of the new Dominion of Canada.8 The British authorities, recognizing that the canal could no longer be considered a military facility, turned its control over the Canadian Government.
Elizabeth Mulligan died of tuberculosis on February 25, 1874 at the age of 71 years. Elizabeth’s tombstone in the Merivale Cemetery reads, “Elizabeth Mulligan, native of Drumgolden Parish, Down,
Ireland; died February 25, 1874 at 71 years”.1 John I became a widower at the age of 74. At this time, he was living on a property next to his son John II and his family’s property on the Northern lots of the Canal, on what is now Carling Avenue.
In 1886, the Department of Agriculture, on behalf of the Dominion of Canada, expropriated John I’s 35- acre propriety for the creation of the Central Experimental Farm following the introduction of the
Experimental Farm Station Act by the then Minister of Agriculture, the Honourable (later Sir) John Carling. This Act was signed into law on June 2, 1886. The Farm’s original mandate was to be the focal
point for a Canada-wide system of experimental farms to help resolve farm production questions. In the early months of 1886, Ottawans were discussing Louis Riel’s execution, marveling over the intention to install electric lighting in the House of Commons and reading about the sand being cleared away from Egypt’s buried Sphinx.9
During the same time, John Mulligan I, age 84, negotiated and sold his property to the Government. The date of purchase is November 22, 1886. This author could not confirm the sales price. A similar property along the central farm’s east-west axis along the waterfront was valued at almost $150 per acre. At that time, farms in less productive areas of Nepean and not directly
accessible to water were selling for $40 and $50 per acre.
John I’s actual burial plot could not be located. It’s believed to be vandalized. John I was buried at the Merivale Cemetery after 1888, meaning he was at least 88 when he passed away.
e-mails from Gerry & Marg Mulligan dated August 27, 2004 and September 20, 2004 to Jacques Robert.
Bytown – The Early Days of Ottawa, Nick and Helma Mika, Mika Publishing Company, 1982
The City Beyond, A History of Nepean, Birthplace of Canada’s Capital 1792-1990, Bruce S. Elliot,
Published by the City of Nepean, 1991
Nepean census records, assessment rolls provided by Valerie A. Wright, September 1, 2009.
John A – The Man who Made Us – The Life and Times of John A. MacDonald – Volume One: 1815 –1867,
Richard Gwyn, Vintage Canada, 2008.
The Farm, Ministry of Agriculture and Food (Ontario), 1988, Stoddart Publishing Co. Limited
Canada Agriculture – The First Hundred Years, Agriculture Canada, 1967.
Ottawa with Kids – James Hale & Joanne Milner, MacFarlane, Walter & Ross, 1996.
Ottawa’s Farm – A History of the Central Experimental Farm, Helen Smith, General Store Publishing
Ottawa –Then & Now, Jacquelin Holzman & Roselind Tosh, Magic Light Publishing, 1999