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Featured Family Member - James Joseph Kavanagh (1842-1920)


James Joseph Kavanagh (1842-1920)
James Joseph Kavanagh

James Joseph Kavanagh arrived in Canada as a young lad of thirteen. He had lived with his family on the Fitzwilliam Estates in the parish of Carnew, Co. Wicklow. The devastating effects of the famine, which ravaged Ireland from 1845 to 1850 resulted in the clearance of many burdensome tenants from the estates of Ireland. On the Fitzwilliam estate alone nearly 6,000 men, women and children took advantage of assisted passage, mainly to Canada.

James' father John was fifty years of age when he uprooted the family and sailed across the Atlantic ocean on a journey into the unknown. On board were his wife Susannah Kenny (also fifty) his daughters Sarah, Honoria (Annie), Marcella (Mazzy) and his two sons Patrick and James. For unknown reasons, they left behind one daughter, Mary. Her name was on the Confiance's log but was scratched at the time they sailed.

The crossing of the Atlantic took six weeks to complete and the family finally arrived at Grosse Isle, Quebec on June 16, 1852. From there they travelled first to Toronto by train, and then on towards Barrie, Ontario. With the exception of a three mile lift from a man with a horse and buggy along the way, they travelled mainly on foot for the last sixty miles. For shelter on the trip they would stand logs around large boulders to prevent wolves from attacking!

After many weeks on the road, the Kavanagh's arrived in Barrie where they took up residence in a two storey frame house on Bayfield Street. James grew into a strong stalwart young man, labouring around Barrie. On October 24th, 1870, he married Susannah McBride, daughter of James McBride and Alice Lynn. He built a house on Mary Street and resided there until after their third child was born.

At this time, James decided to try his hand at farming near Minesing Station. It was not an easy transition. The land on the first farm he rented had heavy clay. Although he was a hard worker he had not yet fully learned the art of farming. Unfortunately James' next two farms were destroyed by fire and with no insurance, James lost everything.

The Kavanagh Homestead circa 1910

Times were very difficult and by now the family had grown to include six children and an adopted daughter. James found 100 acres of farm land on the 7th Concession of Vespra Township in the County of Simcoe. He and his boys chopped the trees from the bush and built a roomy log house. The property had two creeks running thru it, and the soil was light sandy loam. James turned it into a successful farming enterprise. Around 1909, James was able to build a fine large brick farm house which remains standing today.

His children grew to strong, well-respected individuals. His daughter Alice, married Neil Harkin and settled near what is now Alliston, Ontario. Jack moved to Burnaby, British Columbia, married Olga Erickson and raised his family there. Leo Joseph moved with his wife Irene Williamson and settled in Regina, Saskatchewan. Patrick farmed within a few miles of the family farm while Edward Peter remained with his father until around 1917. A dispute between James and his son Edward saw the latter move out and purchase his own property a short distance away. Around this time Edward also changed the spelling of his surname from Kavanagh to Cavanaugh.

When James retired from the farming life in 1917, he and his wife moved into a beautiful home on Owen Street in Barrie built by his second son, James Edward. His son Charles took over the family farm.

James died February 6th, 1920. His wife Susannah lived to October 13th, 1930. Both are buried at St. Mary's Cemetery in Barrie, Ontario.

The Kavanagh family circa 1918
Back row - Jack (John Joseph), Irene, Peter, Alice, Charles, James Edward
Front row - Patrick, James, Susannah, Joseph

It is wonderful for us to be able to trace our family back as far as we do. We are still looking for links, especially for John's brothers that we know emigrated and settled in the USA. We will pursue the hunt!

Ann & Gary Cavanaugh



Surplus People: The Fitzwilliam Clearances 1847-1856
Jim Rees. ISBN 1-898256-93-4.

Explores the clearance policy of the Fitzwilliam estate
and the fortunes of some of the families after their
arrival in Canada.