Whitfield Family // Orillia, Ontario

Contributed by Dr. Orla Fitzpatrick from her collection

This series of photographs shows Cavan-born John Henry Whitfield (1887-1962) and his family in the Canadian city of Orillia, Ontario. The album was compiled by his sister Anna (1884-1956) who emigrated to the United States in 1916.

In Cavan, the Whitfield family owned a small farm in the townland of Donge, Cootehill, which the eldest son Tom inherited. Of the five siblings three emigrated: two sisters settled in rural Jasper, Missouri while John Henry left for Canada in 1907 at the age of 20. He married Down-born Eliza Cousins in 1910 and they had four children, three of whom survived to adulthood.

Canada was a popular choice for Protestant families emigrating from the province of Ulster. Earlier generations of Whitfields left Cavan for both the United States and various Canadian cities. Doubtless, this type of chain migration eased the experience for Henry and his sisters. Upon emigration John Henry is listed as a farmer, however census returns show that over the years he worked as a labourer, carpenter and at a saw mill. His middle-class home demonstrates the lifestyle that could be attained in Canada.

The photographs in Anna’s album are typical of the snapshot genre capturing family events in Ireland, Canada and the United States in a playful manner. Many emigrants used photography to unite and celebrate their geographically scattered families. Photography could also be used to demonstrate how well things were going in the new country and the Whitfield album includes many photographs of houses, cars and the new generation of Canadian-born children. The album consolidates the connection with home through pictures of the family farm in Cavan and relatives in Dublin. The family’s religious and political affiliations are shown through photographs of the Orange Order and Black Perceptory Lodge marches in Cootehill, County Cavan. This tradition of participation in fraternal Protestant associations was continued by Ulster emigrants to Canada.

Dr. Orla Fitzpatrick