Irish Montrealers are taking part in several events Saturday organized by the St. Patrick’s Society of Montreal to honour the life and legacy of Thomas D’Arcy McGee — one of the Founding Fathers of Confederation.
The day began with the laying of wreaths at the Côte-des-Neiges cemetery, where McGee is buried.
This April 7 marks the 150th anniversary of his death. He was killed in Ottawa, after having given a speech in parliament. He remains to this day the only federally elected official in Canadian history to have been assassinated.
“He was gunned down at the age of 42 and very potentially could have been one of our prime ministers, had he lived,” said Scott Phelan, president of the St. Patrick’s Society of Montreal.
McGee was born in Ireland in 1825 and immigrated to Montreal in 1857, where founded a newspaper and began his law degree at McGill University, all the while pursuing a political career.
He was first elected to office in 1858, and throughout his career fought for a united and independent country. – a dream that came true with Confederation in 1867.
“He was the most eloquent of our Founding Fathers and a very unifying figure in our history,” Phelan said.
“He was for minority rights, open immigration [and] the rights of the individuals. He was a man ahead of his times because the issues that he spoke for, not only for the confederation of Canada, but also the human rights issues he addressed in his day, [are] still are relevant today.”
D’Arcy Quinn, McGee’s great-great-great-grandson, who is in Montreal to take part in the commemorative events, says McGee’s journey was far from easy.
WATCH: Growing up in the shadow of D’Arcy McGee
After becoming involved in the Irish rebellion of 1848, McGee was forced to flee Northern Ireland disguised as a priest. The Brits, Quinn told Global News, had placed a price on his head.
He first settled in the U.S. before moving to Montreal at the behest of the city’s Irish community.
“He overcame a lot of personal struggles in order to become a newspaper editor, a writer, a poet and eventually, only 11 years after arriving in Canada, one of the Fathers of Confederation,” Quinn said.
For Phelan, it’s important to come together to honour one of the community’s heroes.
“We’re here to commemorate the man, his work and his sacrifice,” he said. “McGee was a member of the St. Patrick’s Society and the most prominent Irish Montrealer, I think in our history, and perhaps the most prominent Irish Canadian in our history.”
A commemorative mass was held at St. Patrick’s Basilica in the early afternoon and was followed by what Phelan described as a “good old-fashioned Irish wake” at Hurley’s Pub in downtown Montreal.
Phelan said attendees could expect “dancing, poetry readings, with toasts and singing to celebrate one of our own.”