What happened to Thomas Treacy?
Our readers tell us about heirlooms, photos and other mementoes that evoke the city’s past.
By: LESLIE SCRIVENER STAFF REPORTER, Published on Sun Mar 11 2007
In the summer of 1847, a seven-year-old orphan, Brigit Ann Treacy, arrived in Toronto half-starved, but carrying a small treasure – a gold-painted cream jug which was her sole keepsake from her home in Ireland. Passage on the famine ship Jane Black had been perilous; there was little food or water. Brigit Ann had been so hungry she’d chewed on her leather shoelaces.
She was travelling with her aunt, Peggy Ryan Clancy. There was to have been a third passenger, her younger brother, Thomas, but he disappeared in the chaos of boarding ship on the docks at Limerick. It’s not known what became of him.
Aunt and niece settled in Whitby, where Peggy worked as a cook. Brigit Ann grew to be a beautiful young woman who one year was named the “belle of Whitby,” her great-granddaughter Terry Smith recalls. Smith, a former Ontario deputy-minister of culture, has inherited the creamer, which she keeps in her grandmother’s china cabinet. She runs a company, Philanthropic Partnerships Inc., which matches donors with charities, and is the only famine descendent on the board of the Ireland Park Foundation, which is creating a park scheduled to open at Bathurst Quay in June.
Brigit Ann was one of the 38,000 Irish immigrants who landed in Toronto in 1847, having fled the Irish potato famine, which killed one million people over six years. Many arrived at the docks sick with typhus; 1,110 died by the end of 1847.
The story of her great-grandmother’s arrival and survival, told through generations in her family, is also the story of the settlement of Canada, Smith says. Brigit Ann married Michael John McTague, another Irish immigrant, and had four children, including Norah, Smith’s grandmother, who raised nine children. Smith has traced more than 200 of Brigit Ann’s descendants in Canada and the U.S.
“This little jug reminds us all where we came from and the struggle our ancestors took to make a new life here,” she wrote in a note to the Star.
Last fall Smith and her sister Sheila Kirk found Brigit Ann’s tombstone in St. Michael’s cemetery near Yonge St. and St. Clair Ave. She died in 1924, when she was 84. Brigit Ann’s aunt, Peggy, lived to be 103.
Smith’s thoughts went back to the 1847 crossing. “It gave us a sense of peace,” Smith says, “to find the site where this woman was buried, once a frightened little girl arriving in a new land with only a gold creamer jug in her hand.’
But there are still unknown elements in this story. Smith still wants to find out what happened to Brigit Ann’s brother, the little boy who was lost or left behind at the docks.