(a) The Original McCorkell Family
Patrick Joseph McCorkell, my grandfather, was born in 1822 in County Donegal, not too far from Downpatrick, which though in the neighbouring County Down is a kind of a metropolis from the area. Patrick’s own father was Augustine McCorkell, and his mother was Mary McGill. For his wife he chose Sarah Doherty, and thus we see beginning to appear the family names used by the McCorkell clan in the first two generations on this side of the Atlantic. Patrick McCorkell’s first son was naturally called Augustine. He was born in Ireland, but whilst he was still a mere child his parents migrated to Canada, landing at the port of St. John, New Brunswick. The year was 1847 or 1848. It seems that the child Augustine was brought to Canada by his aunt the following year to rejoin his parents.
The McCorkells made their home in St. John for a few years. The breadwinner of the family worked with a construction company and on one occasion described his work as “carrying the hod”. Another child, Edward, was born, and subsequently Patrick, feeling the urge to penetrate more deeply into the heart of the country took his family to Toronto and settled them in a house on Richmond Street. Edward, the second child, died while still quite young but others were born in due course. These were James, Catherine, Joseph (my father), John, and Sarah, who died young.
The McCorkells were welcome in Toronto by the Dohertys, their in-laws, one of whom had come there before 1837, doubtless by grand uncle, John Doherty. In his wife’s prayer book there is recorded under date Nov. 20, 1837, his marriage with Margaret Esmonde (note the name Esmonde) and a family of 12 is listed. The family came to be well established in so-called Doherty Corners, but this was perhaps later.
My own acquaintance with the Dohertys began when I came to Toronto as a student in 1907. At the time, Tom Doherty, a first cousin of my father, lived with his wife, Jane, at 19 Henry Street. They had no children. Tom died soon after that date, and at his funeral Martha Doherty appeared. She had been living with his sister, Mrs. Dickson, in Clyde, N. Y. Two children of the Dicksons, Bernadette and Esmonde, came to my ordination in 1916, and I returned their visit a year later. This contact I have kept up ever since with Bernadette, who is living still in retirement at Elmira, N. Y. The Dicksons in Clyde told me that another Doherty sister called Sarah lived in Minneapolis. When I visited my brother Vince in the Twin Cities some years later I went to see Sarah, who was then Mrs. McFeely. She told me that a nephew of hers lived at Vancouver, B.C. and I thereupon recollected that I had met a son of that nephew at Upper Canada College and his name was Cameron McFeely.
There was a third sister in the Doherty household. She was Rose, and she took for her husband, Tom Waldron of Orillia. They had 2 children, Vincent, a railroad engineer who died young, and Kathleen who later went with her parents to Regina, where she met and married Dominique Melanson. I knew the Melansons later at Vancouver where they are still living. Their only child is Gloria who spent a year in graduate study in Toronto where she impressed her relatives with her culture and charm. On returning to Vancouver she became the wife of Michael McDonough, a helicopter pilot, and has become the mother of 4 wonderful children. Who among us can doubt that Gloria McDonough recapitulates in a striking way the entire Doherty strain in our many branched family tree.
I am certain that my father was born in Toronto in 1854. He was almost certainly baptized by one of the Basilian Fathers (to whom I myself belong) who came there in 1852 to look after the spiritual needs of the Irish immigrants and also to open a college for boys, later to be called St. Michael’s College. There is little doubt that Father’s Soulerin, Vincent, and Moloney, all Basilians, knew the McCorkell family, and instructed the boys, particularly the older ones in Christian doctrine.
Just when the McCorkells moved to Brechin, 80 miles north of Toronto, cannot now be determined. My sister Rosella once heard my grandfather say that he came to Brechin on the same day as Andy Cox.
That does not help us much. Peter Cox, Andy’s son, was in the dark about the precise date. It is probable that my grandfather bought the farm (it was owned briefly by an earlier settler) before bringing the family from Toronto. Described in the official bill of sale as lot 10, concession 7 (north half) it was 100 acres in area but to it was added another wood lot, mainly swamp, located within concession 8 near Mud Lake. This had special value as a source of wood for winter, and for lumber and timber to erect the various buildings proper to a farm.
The Township was called Mara. Why? The wheels in a government official’s head are unpredictable in their turnings, and inexplicable in their decisions. It has been started in Sacred Scripture, Exodus XV-23, that the waters of Mara were bitter, and this may be the reason why the land around and north of Brechin has been saddled with the name Mara. There is plenty of evidence that there was an oversupply of water, there, because Lake Simcoe was higher than it is now. Most farmers had to drain their land and keep the drains in good order. In that sense the waters of the Brechin area were bitter. Roads were quite primitive of couse. It is an interesting example of the irony of history that the McCorkell farm has survived the “bitterness” of its origin. It is now on the modern Trans Canada Highway.
There were 2 distinct groups of Irish settlers in the Township of Mara at that time. One was called the Connaught Settlement, presumably from the area in Ireland where the settlers originated; the other was called the Dungannon Settlement for the same reason. At first both settlements were in the one single parish of Uptergrove (St. Columbkille’s Church—Irish certainly). Later when Brechin was raised from the dignity of a mission and became a parish in its own right, the area called the Connaught Settlement was squarely in the middle of it. It is, of course, a curious fact that the church then built for the new parish was dedicated to St. Andrew, who in the popular mind is associated with Scotland. This confusion of identities is due to the fact that the most energetic citizen, the pusher, a Foley by name, in the whole movement, though an Irishman himself, had a wife who came from Brechin in Scotland. It was therefore her place of title of the church. It is, in short, and example of Irish chivalry. Foley had pushed successfully for a separate school in Brechin (in the 80’s be it remembered) and put up $10,000 of his own money as an endorsement. He earned the right to give the village its name.
The McCorkells came to the Brechin area in or around 1860. In that year Augustine, the son, would be about 12 or 13 years old, and James, the next one would be 10 or 11. The boys would be able to give some help to their father at that date. However, Augustine stayed only a few years. There is no record of the date, but the fact is he went to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he raised a large family. We had very little contact with them after that. Once the eldest girl Sally (Sarah again!) came on a visit to our farm. She was on her honeymoon after a second marriage, probably in 1900. It was interesting to meet her. She had candy for me, a 9 year old and that helped, but she cheerfully disclosed the news that she had divorced her first husband. Our contact was pretty fragile after that. At a later date, probably in 1910, my brother Vince met a McCorkell in California, who seems to have originated in Ohio. Still later the president of the Continental Oil Company in Houston told me that he had worked in Cleveland for a man by the name of McCorkell who claimed to have laid the first oil pipe line in America for John D. Rockafeller.
James, the second son in the original McCorkell family, worked with his father for only a few years before taking a homestead in North Dakota. He married a girl from Ontario, and raised a family of 3 girls and a boy. Two of the girls, Agnes (Mrs. Steel) a retired teacher, and Katherine (Mrs. Haugan) are still living in Minot, North Dakota. Both are widows. Katherine has a son who is an engineer, (Ken) and lives with his wife and family in Calgary. She also has a daughter, Mrs. Alvin Korom in Minot. I enjoyed several visits to my Dakota cousins who certainly went to some trouble to welcome me. Agnes once came to Toronto, and we went to Brechin together to see the old farm where all the McCorkells in America originated. I recalled to her delight that her mother had once visited our farm when I was a boy of 10 or 11. Such visits, especially when there is an interchange have proved their value in keeping a family interested in each other-blood is thicker than water.
The next one in the original McCorkell family was a girl, whom I knew as Aunt Kate. She never married. I remember her as a dress-maker in Toronto, and I particularly remember that she never went back to Brechin after her father died. But she was exceedingly kind to me during my early priesthood. She died in 1927. There was like-wise another girl, Sarah, who died young and was buried with her mother in Uptergrove.
Between these two McCorkell girls there were born 2 McCorkell boys in Toronto, Joseph, my father, and John in 185 and 1856. Both lived out their lives as farmers in the Brechin parish. Leaving the role of Joseph to be unfolded as the story of my family develops, let us glance at the supporting role played by my uncle John McCorkell. He married an important person in my life (she was to become my godmother) her name was Mary Ann McDermott. John and Mary Ann settled on a farm within 2 miles of the original family farm where he was born and raised. He was a public spirited man , widely known as a civic leader, and a good practising Catholic, whose religion did not prevent him from becoming Reeve of Mara. His home was one of the houses of hospitality where young people got together at intervals to dance with Paddy Mayock playing the fiddle. Uncle John died in 1928.
The sons and daughters of John McCorkell were as numerous as their first cousins in the Joseph McCorkell family, to which I belonged. We attended the same country school, copied one another’s homework, played football and baseball together, and competed in spelling matches at school interminably. As we grew older social evenings and dances brought us together with our neighbours and with one another.
Pat was the eldest in the John McCorkell family. (His full name was Patrick Joseph, after his grandfather) Unlike my own elder brothers who left early for the big world beyond the horiqon, Pat remained to help his parents while the rest of the kids were small. He gave about 15 years of his life to this self-denying vocation. One good result of this (for me) is that I was thrown into his company when I came home for Holidays. We want playing ball together at various pints of rendezvous, even as far as Kirkfield. We went fishing with Dominic O’Donnell at Mud Lake. No contaminated fish there; We even made a stab at duck shooting. Indeed Pat became more like a brother than a cousin.
Pat went to Western Canada finally and became a railroad man, married Anne McGowan, a former school companion, set up a home in Edmonton, adopted 3 children, one of whom became a priest in Edmonton, another did a turn of patriotic service as an air pilot in World War II, and a third, a daughter, Catherine, who trained as a nurse, and later became Mrs. Fitagerald of Montreal. She is the darling of her father’s heart as an only girl can often be.
So much for Pat McCorkell’s children. Let us go now to Pat’s brothers and sisters, my first cousins, the sons and daughters of my uncle John McCorkell. ( I have to spell it out to keep the reader from getting mixed up.) James was Pat’s brother closest in age to him. Jim married Lila Barker and went to live at Saskatoon. Both have now passed away. Two of their sons have made names for themselves. Wilfred, the eldest, is an outstanding physician in Saskatoon, and Jack is a retired army officer living at Victoria, B.C. There is also Margaret in Jim’s family to complete the list.
Continuing with Pat McCorkell’s brothers and sisters, the next after Jim is Sadie. She married Mike McCann, a farmer. Both are now deceased but four children carry on their name; Edmond, (the name keeps recurring) Jack, Mary (Mrs. Muir) and Rita, who married the “man from Glengarry” and became Mrs. Cameron.
Still continuing we come to Catherine. We were in class together in the country school. I remember with a smile her skill in free-hand drawing with chalk on a blackboard. Her high school was Lindsay convent, and her training as a nurse was in a New York Hospital. At this point in her career she married J.J. Butler, but her conjugal happiness was terminated by the death of her husband from a heart attack a few years later; following which she returned to industrial nursing in Toronto. At present she is Chatelaine to her brother Pat at Edmonton, whose wife died several years ago. Catherine has literally spent her life doing good to others, that has been her vocation, and she has followed it to the letter. She has been her family’s guardian angel.
There are still a few more on the roster of sons and daughters of John McCorkell. There is Mildred, who is precisely of my age. She took high school at Lindsay convent, became a teacher, got a school in Western Canada where she discovered Joseph Hanley, a C.N.R. Station Master, an Eastern too, by jove. The two had to go West to find each other, and what a discovery it was: They have lived in Vancouver many years and their son, Dick and daughter Therese, also live there. They have also a daughter Marie at Calgary, and all told nearly a dozen grandchildren. Joe has retired from railway supervision, and Mildred from the interesting but unrewarding sideline of politics. Where did she get her passion for politics? Don’t you remember that her father, John McCorkell was Reeve of Mara. If you have forgotten you have simply failed to follow me in this piece of your own history.
And now there is Wilfred , or rather was. He died young, but his name goes on to the next generation in his distinguished nephew, the medical doctor in Saskatoon. But where did the name Wilfred originally come from? Canadians, at least will remember that Sir Wilfred Laurier was Prime Minister of Canada at the turn of the century. My uncle John McCorkell could not pass up the chance to call one of his sons by the name of Wilfred. He was too much of a politician to forget that name.
The next is Madeline , the youngest daughter of my uncle John McCorkell. Her advanced studies were in music which she taught locally for a few years, and she was organist in the Brechin church. She married Jack Cronin, an Ontario Hydro Commissioner, now retired, and they live at Norwood, Ontario. They have a daughter, Anne Marie, whose husband is Garry Smith, a rising young lawyer in Toronto. They have also a son, Jackie, who is a school principal in an old Ontario village where he lives with his wife, Lenore. It is twenty or thirty miles north of Toronto.
Now the last of the sons of my uncle John is Kenneth. He is a pharmacist in Ottawa. His name derives from Brechin where the pastor who baptized him was Kenneth McRae. Ken and his wife, Aileen, have one son, Edmond. How did they come to think of that name? They have also two daughters, Denise and Aileen. They are teachers, graduates of good Ottawa schools and colleges. Why do so many McCorkells chose to be teachers? I have made that choice too. Why? I hope that for all of us this choice springs from an instinctive awareness that “teaching is a noble profession.” How could it be otherwise since Holy Scripture, speaking of the last judgement says: “starry bright forever their glory who have taught many the right way.” Dan. 12:3