Spoor Cottage, Wolfe Island, Ontario, Canada, photo above — Author Jannet L. Walsh in front of Spoor Cottage, located in the village of Marysville on Wolfe Island, Ontario, Canada. Self portrait, September 10, 2023.
‘Irish Bard’ Jannet L. Walsh finds roots in Ontario, Canada, Wolfe Island Historical Society
Jannet L. Walsh
September 21, 2023
Wolfe Island holds my family’s Irish and Canadian history, and my heart, in the middle of the St. Lawrence River.
Last month I returned to Kingston and Wolfe Island, Ontario, Canada, August 28 to September 12. This is my second trip to Wolfe Island to explore my family roots on the largest island of the Thousands Island located in the middle of the St. Lawrence River, situated next to the international borders of Canada and the United States. It’s about 1,200 miles round trip from my home in rural Murdock, Minnesota to Wolfe Island, Ontario. The final miles of the trip from mainland North American, Kingston to Wolfe Island, are completed by a 20 minute ferry ride, carrying about 55 vehicles, currently serviced by the Wolfe Islander III.
My first trip was this past winter 2022-23. Brian P. Johnson, retired Captain of the Wolfe Islander III, of Kingston, Ontario, Canada, wrote about my winter adventure during one of the worst blizzards in about four decades. His story published March 18, 2023, West Central Tribune, Willmar, Minnesota. Read about my Irish Diaspora writing project at my project page.
Why I returned to Wolfe Island
One of the major reasons I returned to Wolfe Island this summer was to visit the farm my Walsh ancestors leased and lived on Wolfe Island, about 1850-1877, along with other related family farms. I wanted to see where the family cabin was located according to historical maps on Seventh Line Road north of Baseline Road on Wolfe Island, Wolfe Island. I also wanted to explore the island not covered in snow and ice, and see the land and water around Wolfe Island.
Returning for a second time to Wolfe Island, I had an incredible opportunity to meet with islanders and learn more about the history of the land, water, people, and especially the time period my family lived most of the year removed from mainland due to winter freezing of the St. Lawerence River.
About Wolfe Island – Wolfe Island is in St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, almost four miles from the port of Kingston, accessible by ferry, and the largest island in the archipelago of the Thousand Islands.
This 48-square-mile island has been home to several European ethnic groups, cheese factories, and dairy farms, along with a history of fur trading. Wolfe Island is the native homeland of the Tyendinaga Mohawk, kawehnóhkwes tsi kawè:note, meaning Long Island Standing. Wolfe Islanders are completely dependent on access to mainland Canada by the Wolfe Island Ferry III to Kingston, soon to be replaced by a zero-emission ferry, Wolfe Island Ferry IV. Locals reference the journey the ferry takes in the St. Lawrence River as a water road, or Highway H20.
Wolfe Island Historical Society Talk, September 10, 2023
Title of talk — Walsh expedition to Wolfe Island 2022-2023 – ‘Irish Bard’ Jannet L. Walsh finds roots in Ontario, Canada, Wolfe Island Historical Society
Location — Wolfe Island United Church, 52 Victoria St, Wolfe Island, Ontario, Canada.
Video online from talk — View link to video at YouTube by Mike Hill, Wolfe Island Historical Society talk – a Journey from Ireland to Minnesota.
Attendance — About 35-40 people attended talk
Date and time — September 10, 2023, 1:30 pm
Link to the pamphlet mentioned in talk — Catholic Colonization in Minnesota Revised Edition, 1879, author Catholic Colonization Bureau of Minnesota, Archbishop John Ireland, view at The Project Gutenberg EBook.
I was thrilled when I was invited to talk to Wolfe Island Historical Society. During my visit recent to Wolfe Island, I had the pleasure to talk about my Irish family ties to Wolfe Island, about 1842-77, along with my quest to find stories and places of origin of my family in Ireland Canada, Scotland and at home in Minnesota.
I was delighted Wolfe Islanders were interested to hear stories about my family, and also for me to learn of stories from islanders. I can only think my late father Martin J. Walsh Jr. and my grandfather Martin J. Walsh Sr., first generation born in the United States, would be pleased. They only knew of Wolfe Island and Kingston as locations associated with births and obituaries in our family history. They also never had the chance to visit where our family lived for at least 35 years, 1842-1877, before migrating to DeGraff, Minnesota as part of the first colony started by then Bishop John Ireland, later Archbishop of Diocese of St. Paul, Minnesota.
My great grandfather Michael J. Walsh Jr. was born in Kingston or Wolfe Island, 1858, baptized at Sacred Heart Catholic Church on Wolfe Island. Four generations of my family lived on Wolfe Island, 13 births, and one burial are directly associated with my Walsh family. A portion of the family, Patrick Walsh, oldest son of my great-great grandfather Michael J. Walsh Sr., remained until Wolfe Island until the 1880-90s before migrating to Philadelphia. Patrick “Pat” Walsh has farm on Wolfe Island near Irvine Bay.
Photos from Wolfe Island Historical Society Talk, September 10, 2023
There were numerous people, and organizations, in Kingston and Wolfe Island, I received help along the way during my time in Canada. Listed below is a short listing of organizations or businesses I received help from, transportation by ferry, resources, or assistance around Wolfe Island. Special thanks to the Wolfe Island Historical Society staff for all their help locating resources, farms, and finding my forgotten Canadian family history.
- Wolfe Island Historical Society
- Aero Snapper Kingston, Mike Hill
- Fargo’s General Store, Wolfe Island
- Horne’s Ferry, Wolfe Island to Cape Vincent, NY
- Hotel Wolfe Island
- Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Wolfe Island
- St. Mary’s Cathedral, Kingston
- Simceo Ferry, Wolfe Island to Simceo Island
- Wolfe Islander III, Kingston to Wolfe Island
- Wolfe Island Pub and Pizzeria, WIPP
Jannet L. Walsh
Forthcoming book — Please find full details, summary, reviewer’s comments on my book page, Higgledy-Piggledy Stones.
Irish Diaspora Writing Project — Please see details and previous blogs and stories posted about my Irish Diaspora writing project at my project page, and learn about my grant from Southwest Minnesota Arts Council Artist Growth Grant, McKnight Foundation, 2022-2024.
I personally funded this portion of travels to Wolfe Island, and will be submitting my final grant project in late 2023 or early 2024.
*Jannet L. Walsh of Murdock, Minnesota is a photographer, writer, and educator. She is the author of the forthcoming creative nonfiction quest narrative “Higgledy-Piggledy Stones: Family Stories from Ireland and Minnesota,” scheduled for publication in 2023 by Shanti Arts Publishing. Walsh is recipient of a Southwest Minnesota Arts Council Growth Grant funded by the McKnight Foundation, 2022-2024. You can follow Walsh on Facebook and Twitter, and on her other social media channels, with the hashtag #IrishFamilyHistoryDetective.
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