Spirit River’s Irish History

In connection with St. Patrick’s Day yesterday, here is a partial look at the Irish history of Spirit River:

There aren’t, and never were, a lot of people with strong connections to the Emerald Isle here in Spirit River.  When the area was being settled, English-speaking people from Great Britain, Eastern Canada and America were sought.  When those populations weren’t supplying settlers fast enough, it was mostly Germans and Ukrainians who came to buy up the future wheat fields of the west.  Spirit River and the surrounding area have maintained much of that original ethnic mix, as have the pockets of the Peace Country with rich French and Scandinavian identities.

The few Irish immigrants or their descendents who came to Spirit River left little record (of course many would disagree from a personal perspective).  But there was one Irishman, one who never set foot on our Spirit River soil, who was known to every inhabitant of the Peace Country in his era.  It was Timothy Eaton, founder of the T. Eaton Co. and the man who introduced the mail order catalogue to Canada.

Way back in 1884, the Eaton’s catalogue supplied every tiny western town or cluster of settlers with every possible desire.  From corsets to milking machines, baby goods to wood frame houses, Eaton’s of Winnipeg could provide.  It must have been an invaluable service to the earliest residents of our area.  A new catalogue came out each season, full of fashions, essentials and new inventions ready to be delivered.

The old catalogues were just as essential as the new.  The pages, worn soft by browsing, served a second purpose in the outhouse.  Toilet paper was one essential no one had invented yet, so it couldn’t be ordered from the T. Eaton Co.

No matter where those first Peace Country people came from, it was Timothy Eaton, an  Irish Canadian, who came to symbolize the common ties of their new lives, together, here in the Spirit River area of Northern Alberta.

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