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Joyicity, March 2021

In this issue:

  • A word from the President, Kevin Wright
  • In Memoriam: Judith Schurman (extracts from her eulogy)
    From Oileán Iathghlas Éireann to La Belle Province
  • The Point St. Charles Community Theatre
  • The Ancient Order of Hibernians
  • The Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation
A Word from the President 

February 1, 2021 was a day which I will not long forget.  Early in the morning, the telephone rang and David Schurman shared the news that his beloved wife, co-founder of Festival Bloomsday Montreal and Secretary of the Bloomsday Montreal Committee, had died of a massive heart attack.

Judith was the person who kept us all on track.  If the festival had survived so long, it was due to her skill at finding funding groups and filling in grant applications in such a way as to make our project appealing.  She knew just what to say.

Judith always knew the right thing to say and the right time to say it.  Her infectious laugh could be heard even before she was seen.

In this edition of Joyicity, you can read extracts from the eulogy composed by Kathleen Fee.  Our sincerest condolences to David and Miriam and to all those who had grown to know and love Judith. When the pandemic situation is over, we must have a wake to celebrate and remember such a tremendous person.

We are also continuing our series of “origin stories.”  You can read about the origins of the Point St. Charles Community Theatre, The Ancient Order of Hibernians, The Irish Memorial Park Foundation, and Caifé Gaelach: the Irish-language learning group. Please be prepared to contribute your origin story.

St. Patrick’s day is upon us.  Let us hope that it will be the last one celebrated under pandemic conditions.

Lá fhéile Pádraig shona duit!

Kevin Wright
Festival Bloomsday Montreal

In Memoriam: Judith Schurman (extracts from her eulogy)

— Kathleen Fee

From her early years in New Waterford as the eldest child in a close-knit family that knew its share of hardship, she kept everyone afloat.  Her earliest memory was of the wake held in their living room for her baby brother Edgar who died of crib death at just two months of age.

I can imagine that, though not yet two years old, her bright eyes and sunny smile helped give her grief-stricken parents the heart to carry on.  Once loved, never forgotten.  The yearly visit to Cape Breton always included a pilgrimage to Saint Agnes Cemetery with a bouquet placed on her parents’ grave and a single flower on Edgar’s.

As the family grew, her dad left the coal mines to go into insurance and bought a car to make the rounds to his clients.

And cars played an important part in her life as she went off to Mount St. Vincent, then on to Quebec where she met David.  She and her sister, Mary, made the trip from Sydney to Quebec City on the day Mary got her first driver’s permit.  A few hours later, they stopped for a break, and she tossed Mary the keys to her brand new Duster (called Georgie) and said, “OK. It’s your turn to drive”.

A disaster in the making according to Mary who had never driven a standard.  But Judith taught her how to shift gears, and away they went.  By the time she had taught both Mary’s sweetheart, Hubie, and David to drive manual, Georgie’s gearbox had been replaced twice.  Judy (and Georgie) made many sacrifices for the people they loved!

But if anything was a sacrifice, Judith never let on.

Nor did she let anything stop her.  When, travelling all over Quebec for the Ministry of Education, Madame Judith Schurman, with a husband and daughter bearing equally biblical names, sensed a familiar awkward question hanging unspoken in the air in situations where who you are holds more sway than what you can do, she would diffuse the tension with a hearty laugh saying: “Ne vous en faites pas.  I’m Catholic, my husband’s Protestant, and everybody thinks we’re Jewish!  Pas de problème.”

She always knew just what to do or say.  Whether in a committee meeting, in front of a classroom, in a public debate or a private conversation, she could lift spirits, restore calm, gently but pointedly set people straight, rescue someone’s dignity, inspire, console… with the most profound respect for the feelings, foibles, and frailties of others.  Oh, and then serve her famous rum cake.

In tributes, people have described her as having immense talents and abilities, a confident presence that communicated that everything was taken care of and under control.  And over and over again: a groundedness and a warm and infectious laugh.

No matter how busy she was, there was time for family.  When starting her own, things got out of control.  She went into labour just over halfway through her pregnancy, giving birth to a teeny 1 pound 12 ounce preemie at 25 weeks.  The wee girl’s chances of survival were 50/50–chances of a healthy, flourishing outcome considerably less.  Judith and David would still get emotional looking at Miriam’s baby pictures from those four months in the neonatal unit at the Royal Vic.  Of course, we all know it worked out.  Tremendously.  Miriam and Judith became more like best friends than mother and daughter.

You know, this past Tuesday a column in the Gazette mentioned a Wordsworth poem with the line “The rainbow comes and goes”.  It really spoke to me.  Gloria Vanderbilt wrote to her son:

“I find it reassuring knowing the rainbow comes and goes. It helps me accept the way things often are… you have moments of blinding beauty and happiness, and then you land in a dark cave and there is no colour, no sky… then the rainbow returns, sometimes only briefly, but it comes back… nothing is meant to last forever… the rainbow comes and goes.  Enjoy it while it lasts… There is so much to be joyful about, so many kinds of rainbows in one’s life.”

From Oileán Iathghlas Éireann to La Belle Province

— Gemma Lambe

What is Caifé Gaelach you might ask?

Well first of all, let me explain to you that the word ‘caifé’ … as you can probably guess, is the Irish for ‘café’. The second word we see ‘gaelach’ means Gaelic, but in this context ‘Irish’ is the better translation. So here we have ‘Irish Café’.

You’re probably thinking to yourself, what on earth is an Irish Café and more importantly, what goes on there? What makes a café based here in Montréal so “Irish”?

It all started when I first moved here to Montréal from Dublin back in September 2019. I had just started as the new ICUF (Ireland Canada University Fund) Irish Language tutor in the School of Irish Studies at Concordia University. It was my first day in this big and beautiful city and I had the pleasure of meeting the amazing faculty at the school and some students as well. One of those I had the pleasure of meeting was a soon-to-be student of mine, Miles. We hit it off right away. Not long into my first few days of teaching, Miles discussed with the school principal, Michael Kenneally, the possibility of starting up a public Irish class that would involve the greater community. We knew that the interest was there and we wanted to provide something new and fun to involve members of the community in learning Irish. I jumped at the opportunity to create something outside of the university that would be a social space for people to gather and enjoy learning Irish in a fun, relaxed manner. But, how could we do this we thought? Where could we do this?

After much brainstorming, I remember hosting a meeting to present our ideas for the new Irish class. The turnout was something I hadn’t anticipated. I couldn’t believe the amount of people who came to hear what we had to say. I was gobsmacked. After all, I was still settling in and shaking off the last of the jet lag!

Since that meeting, the rest is history. We met every Thursday evening for a couple of hours in Café Shaughnessy where we had lots of craic agus comhrá – ‘fun and chat’.

It didn’t take long for Caifé Gaelach to feel like a close-knit community. I saw the same faces coming back for more each week as well as new faces popping in to see what all the fuss was about. People from all walks of life came together and under one roof we all shared the same thing, a passion and love for the Irish language. The challenge for me was to keep coming up with something new each week. Something that would keep my Caifé-goers interested. The classes consisted of conversation for everyday use to begin with, singing and some holiday-based lessons for Halloween and Christmas. There were students of all levels in attendance, from complete beginner to fluent, which made the class very dynamic in its nature. It was truly a blast and a social event that I looked forward to each week! Until things changed at the hands of ‘an Coróinvíreas’.

Despite the pandemic preventing us from meeting in person from the end of March 2020, we weren’t going to let that affect us! We moved our close-knit Caifé Gaelach group to the well known Zoom classroom. I’m not going to lie, at the beginning it was tough as a teacher to try to maintain the dynamic of the Caifé classes we grew to love at Café Shaughnessy. However, the show must go on as they say.

I owe it all to my dedicated group of Caifé students who were so patient and encouraging. Their passion for the Irish language and culture is the reason why we are still going to this day. Fast forward a year and a half later and the same faces I first met in September 2019 are still with me to this day.

Caifé Gaelach has helped me to keep a piece of home with me during this crazy period we are currently living in. And at the end of the day, we all help one another–each and every one of us–to keep an element of fun in our lives every week. I’m very proud of what myself and Miles have created and long may it last!  For more information, contact me at

The Point St. Charles Community Theatre

— Peggy Hopkins

Around 2005, I started the Point St. Charles Community Theatre on a dream (not a lifelong dream) – but rather a two-week dream.

A lady by the name of Amy Shulman invited me to try out for a role with the “Dramatis Personae” group, which is the name for the Westmount Community Theatre. After two weeks of rehearsals, I thought to myself that this is fun; and I should start a similar community theatre in my neighborhood of Point St. Charles.

And then the thought expanded, and I decided that not only should I organize this “adult theatre,” but we could use any funds to, in turn, operate a completely free Youth Theatre group, taught by a professional acting coach, for any young actors from 7 – 17 years old that might be interested.

It took about a year to organize the main theatre; and then another year to find an acting coach and offer the free youth theatre program to young actors.

Although I use the pronoun “I” to describe the beginning of the PSC theatre, this type of project can never be successful without the support and efforts of many individuals. So I was very pleased that a number of friends, and eventually others that I met for the first time, started to invest their volunteer time and knowledge and enthusiasm to make it actually happen. And our theme song became “I get by with a little help from my friends”.

Our first play hit the stage in 2006, and for the next 13 years, we generally offered at least two adult plays each year and one major youth theatre production.

Of course, the virus scares in the last year have presented any number of difficulties for the PSC and all live amateur and professional theatre. A play is often a “communion” between the written play, the actors on stage, and, most importantly, the audience. We have been able to present one play using the Zoom format in the last year and, although well-attended and received, it was just not the same.

We are certainly hoping that once the virus has passed we will be able to re-organize and once again offer performances to a real “live” audience.

I should also take a moment to mention that we have been very fortunate that a Mr. Pieter Sijpkes, a Point resident and owner of an old Royal Bank building, has allowed us to use his space for our performances for most of the year. And the local YMCA provided rehearsal space. A recent announcement that the YMCA is closing will present some difficulty in finding a new space to rehearse.

But since the beginning, there have always been obstacles to overcome in order to reach “my dream” of a live local community theatre – and we will persevere!

The Ancient Order of Hibernians

— Victor Boyle

The Ancient Order of Hibernians has a storied past with roots going back to Ireland in 1565.  Known as the oldest Catholic lay organization in the world, the AOH was originally a military- style organization tasked with protecting priests as they presided over mass at the homes of the faithful; if discovered, the priest and the entire family would be executed. As these atrocities faded, the AOH, now country-wide, turned its dedication to the poor, uneducated and the oppressed.

In 1834 Pennsylvania, with the Irish being worked to death in the coal mines as Powder Monkeys setting gun-powder charges, the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America was founded. Operating as the Molly Maguires, local managers of the coal companies were sent “Coffin Notes” as a warning of the consequences of continuing to abuse the Irish.  In the southern United States, the Irish were often being assigned the most dangerous tasks: slave owners insisted that the slaves were too expensive.  For example, in the building of the connection of the Mississippi River with Lake Pontchartrain from 1832 to 1838, the monumental undertaking cost the lives of countless Irish immigrants who dug the sixty-foot wide, seven-foot deep canal by hand using shovels and picks. Any Irish unlucky enough to be in the trench during the frequent flooding was simply left to drown.   The AOH, by organizing the Irish and appealing to local and state governments, put an end to the practice.

In the same period, members of the AOH in America were now in Montreal’s Griffintown –  a blue collar Irish community with deep roots to Ireland. Like the original AOH in Ireland, their mission was to speak for the poor, uneducated and the oppressed. Stories are well known of the AOH paying outstanding rent, providing food and clothing, and paying the full cost of burials. The first division was incorporated in 1897; by 1921 there were over 30,000 members across Canada.

As protectors of Irish Heritage, the AOH unveiled the world’s tallest free standing Celtic Cross atop Telegraph Hill on Grosse Ile on the Feast of Assumption (August 15, 1909). Standing forty-six feet and made of Stanstead granite, the Cross overlooks the Irish Cemetery with 5,424 souls and can be seen from the St. Lawrence River. In 1865, the AOH began holding an outdoor mass at the site of the Irish Famine Cemetery at the foot of the Victoria Bridge where the Black Rock is the headstone for more than 6,000 Irish who died of typhus. The AOH hosted and organized the Montreal St. Patrick’s Day for a number of years.Today, the Ancient Order of Hibernians Canada (incorporated in 2007 to reflect its unique Canadian membership) is a leader in the Irish community across Canada.     It continues to organize some of the most important Irish Heritage events in Montreal, including:

  • The Annual Pilgrimage to Grosse Ile (since 1972)
  • The Annual Walk to the Stone (since 1865)
  • The Annual Mass in the Park (since 2002)
  • Celtic Cross Centenary (2009)
  • St. Gabriel’s Elementary School trip to the Grey Nuns Motherhouse
  • Development of the Black Rock Memorial
  • Irish Famine Voices Roadshow
The Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation

— Fergus Keyes

For more than a decade, the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation has been working to build a beautiful, world-class, memorial space around the Black Rock in Montreal. The Black Rock can be found on Bridge Street, just at the Montreal side of the Victoria Bridge.

The objective of the space will be to remember the 6000+ Irish immigrants that died generally from Typhus combined with malnutrition, and were buried in the area during the Great Hunger Famine in Ireland in 1847. It will also honour the many Montrealers of every language, religion, and culture in Montreal that went to the area to provide care and comfort to the sick and dying Irish. Many of these caregivers caught the dreaded Typhus disease themselves and gave their own lives in the greatest humanitarian effort ever seen in Montreal, Quebec, or Canada. For example, John Mills, the Mayor of Montreal, provided nursing care to the Irish, caught the disease, and died in October of 1847 along with seven Grey Nuns, a couple of British soldiers, many Catholic Priests, as well as Anglican clergy and others.

The first mention of building a proper memorial space in the area can be found in the records as far back as 1909, but then around 2007, Victor Boyle, the Canadian director of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), decided to make another effort.

The Black Rock was installed in 1859, about 12 years after the actual event by workers building the Victoria Bridge. Most of these workers were Irish, and after finding some of the remains of the 6000+ Irish, demanded that some type of memorial be installed. A large rock was pulled from the St. Lawrence River, and inscribed to the memory of the victims with a note that the Rock should remain there as long as “the grass grows and the water flows”. There were a couple of efforts over the years to relocate the Rock elsewhere, but in each case, the Montreal Irish Community fought against this effort, and the Rock remains there to this day.

Across from the Rock to the East, is a large parking lot and it is here that the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation is working to expand the memorial space beyond just the Black Rock. This current parking area has its own history. First it was the location of the Fever Sheds that housed the dying Irish in 1847. Then the space became the site of a community called Victoriatown, better known to Montrealers as Goose Village. In the 1960s, in preparation for Expo 67, this entire community was bulldozed to make room for a sports venue called the Autostade. This stadium was then also removed in the 1970s leaving the parking lot that serves as overflow parking for the Montreal Casino.

The Foundation spent many years in an effort to make the story, and particularly the magnificent humanitarian effort, better known to the general public. At the same time, efforts were made to gain support from both Irish and non-Irish communities, as well as ivestigating the ownership of the property.

Eventually it was discovered that the land was owned by the Canada Lands Company, an arms-length Federal corporation that manages most Federal Government property across Canada. And then around 2017-8, it was discovered that the property had been sold to Hydro-Quebec.

Hydro is planning to build a new plant on the site, and the Foundation was very concerned that the effort for a proper memorial space would be lost forever. However, in actual fact, the Hydro organization reached out to the community to offer support for the effort. A terrific partner with the Foundation, it appears that approximately 4 acres of land will be offered by Hydro for the space. In addition, the City of Montreal joined in and have also been extremely co-operative in the effort. Although there is still much planning involved, it appears that a proper memorial space will be in operation around 2024-5.

The last part of the story to note is that about a year ago, the REM group building the new light transit system, and again working in close co-operation with the Montreal Irish Community, discovered another 14 remains of victims from 1847. These remains are currently being analyzed and the hope is that, with recent DNA advances, might discover more details about the victims.

So, in the end, after a great many years of volunteer effort, we can see “the light at the end of the tunnel” and after about 175 years, the Irish victims, the selfless caregivers, and this important Montreal history will finally be given the recognition that is deserved.

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