The Ireland Family of Nelson – Part II

Originally Published in Heritage Happenings, September 1986
These articles are reprinted as they were originally published. No attempt has been made to correct or update the content.
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This paper covers the conclusion of the research on the Ireland Family of Nelson Township. The family originated in England. Joseph Ireland, born 1792, arrived in Canada at the age of nineteen. His brother John had fought in the War of 1812, and was for a time Quartermaster in charge of the supply line along Dundas Street. In 1820, Joseph Ireland purchased the land for his farm and homestead. A detailed description of the Ireland house was the subject of the last Heritage Paper. This paper, some incidents from the history of this pioneer family.

The Ireland family settled on Lot 16, Concession 1 south of Dundas Street, and after a number of years in a log house, the fine stone house today known as Oakridge Farm was built. The family were devout Anglicans and the history of St. John’s Anglican Church on Highway No. 5, a little west of the Guelph Line, is closely tied to this family and Joseph Ireland in particular, who did much to stimulate early interest. In 1835, the local Anglicans, who previously had travelled to Wellington Square (Burlington) each Sunday, decided they wished to have a church of their own.

William Spence, and Irish farmer who had settled at Nelson, obtained an introductory letter from the Archbishop of Dublin to Bishop Stuart of Québec, there being no Archbishop in Toronto. With this letter, Spence, Joseph Ireland and John Wetenhall travelled by horseback to Québec City. After a long and difficult journey, which took over a week, they met with the Bishop and submitted a petition requesting the formation of an Anglican parish in what today is North Burlington. Permission to hold their own services was granted and St. John’s Anglican Church, Nelson was formed.

Destruction of the Caroline (by George Tattersall (Historical Narratives of Early Canada) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Mackenzie took control of Navy Island in the Niagara River, just upriver from the falls. He proclaimed a republic of Upper Canada, but was forced to withdraw after Canadian volunteers burned the rebel ship, Caroline.

Joseph Ireland became involved in the Mackenzie Rebellion of 1837 because his farm was promised to a rebel. He was in the company of more than 100 volunteers from the neighbourhood who set out for Chippewa on 25 December 1837 to aid in putting down the rebellion at Navy Island. They made the journey by sleighs provided by local patriots and most were away from their homes for the entire period of the rebellion. Mackenzie had support in the Nelson area, and his escape route from Toronto to Niagara in December 1837 was achieved mainly through the effort of these supporters along the way. Although Mackenzie never identified these friends by name, two of Joseph Ireland’s neighbours were certainly sympathetic to Mackenzie’s cause and may have been directly involved with the escape. Thomas Alton, (who was related to Samuel Lount, one of the rebels hanged for the part he played in the rebellion), reputedly met a party of Tories in search of Mackenzie and, with guns at the ready, ordered the militia off his property. Another Mackenzie sympathiser and neighbour of the Irelands was David Springer, well known as a Reformer, although his position as a Justice of the Peace may have prevented him from offering refuge to the fugitive.

Joseph Ireland served on the building committee of St. John’s Church. The small congregation quickly acquired the necessary funds, and a simple frame church was constructed at a cost of £378. The building, completed seven years later in 1842, is still standing and still in regular use.1 Joseph served as Church Warden from 1842, and also became involved in local government. In 1838, together with George Dice and Thomas Alton, he was elected a Commissioner; in January 1839, he was appointed a Township Warden; during the 1840s he served on the Municipal Council of Nelson Township and also as a Justice of the Peace.

St. John’s Anglican Church as it stands today.
Photographed by ‘Snuffy’ – Flickr

This Nelson pioneer died in 1869. In his will his youngest son, John, born at Oakridge in 1839, and named after his dead brother, inherited part of his father’s house and the large farm. However, in his will, Joseph Ireland took great care to ensure his wife Ruth’s tenure in their house. She was to have “free and uninterrupted use and enjoyment of the two easterly rooms on the ground floor of the swelling house in which I now reside: and also of a bedroom upstairs to be selected by herself until a convenient and comfortable kitchen shall be put up and finished for her exclusive use to open off one of the said rooms on the ground floor.” Along with all the furniture she should need, Ruth was to have half of the beds and bedding and “all the fruit . . . that she may require from the orchard and also the use of one half of the garden and firewood to be cut and piled up in the woodhouse by son John.”2

Through the existence of a diary compiled by John Ireland, it is known that he visited England in 1860. While there, he celebrated his 21st birthday with the Breckenridges, whose daughter Elizabeth he soon married. John and his family returned to Canada, but his bride, Elizabeth, and their baby daughter, Mary Ruth, died the following year. In 1868, John Ireland married Eliza Ann Naisbett, and they raised a family of twelve children, six boys and six girls, at Oakridge Farm. John and Eliza’s third son, George, married Lucy Springer, a member of the old Nelson family, and bought his brothers’ and sisters’ shares and took over ownership of Oakridge. Their only child, Marie-Ireland-Bush, was an active member of the Burlington Historical Society, and also a member of the Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society. She died in 1985, and is buried as so many other members of the Ireland family, in the churchyard of St. John’s Anglican Church.

Oakridge was operated as a mixed farm, with apple production of great importance–apples being shipped to Europe. In the dining room above the piano is a picture of Queen Victoria, won by John Ireland at the Canadian National Exhibition for a bushel of prize-winning apples. The farm also produced the grain for their dairy cattle, Holsteins with a few Jerseys to keep up the butter fat content. There are many books upstairs telling of the Irelands’ cattle breeding and the awards the family has won for their stock. Also at the farm house are many veterinary books and in the stairwell are horse medicines and apothecary supplies used by the Irelands to treat their animals. They were self-styled vets and these skills were handed down through the family. On many occasions, neighbouring farmers called upon their help and expertise in this area.

In later years there was a lot of entertaining at the farm, particularly garden parties to raise money for St. John’s Church. In fact, the platform built at the front of the house was designed as a stage for these same parties.

The property surrounding the Ireland House is today only a remnant of the area the original farm covered. M. M. Robinson High School was built on the wheat fields, and at one time there was a windmill just about in the centre of the football field. The windmill worked the well which provided water for the cattle and other livestock. The homes along Ireland Drive stand where the orchards were, and the Burlington Heights Plaza across the Guelph Line was also once the property of the family. Today development has taken over and encroaches on this unique property. Five generations of the Ireland family have lived in the house, and as a result, it is virtually unchanged and provides a unique insight into life on a nineteenth century Ontario farm house.

  1. During its history, St. John’s Church, Nelson has been associated with East Flamborough Township churches. With the closing of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Carlisle in 1884, the congregation joined with that of St. John’s and during the 1920s it became associated with Grace Anglican Church, Waterdown and their minister, Rev. A. E. Slack (1922-1928).
  2. Pg. 89, 90 “The Governor’s Road”

“Illustrated Historical Atlas of Halton County 1877” Walker & Miles, Toronto. 1877.
“The Governor’s Road” Mary Byers & Margaret McBurney. University of Toronto Press, Toronto. 1982.
Publicity material handed out at the Ireland Open House, now in the Archives of the Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society.

© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 1986, 2021.


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