For most of the nineteenth century, the Irish formed the largest non-French ethnic group in central Canada and their presence was particularly significant in Ontario. This study presents a general discussion of the Irish in Ontario during the nineteenth century and a close analysis of the process of settlement and adaptation by the Irish in Leeds and Lansdowne township.
Akenson argues that, despite the popular conception of the Irish as a city people, those who settled in Ontario were primarily rural and small-town dwellers. Though it is often claimed that the experience of the Irish in their homeland precluded their successful settlement on the frontier in North America, Akenson's research proves that the Irish migrants to Ontario not only chose to live chiefly in the hinterlands but that they did so with marked success. Akenson also suggests that by using Ontario as an “historical laboratory” it is possible to make valid assessments of the real differences between Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics, characteristics which he contends are much more precisely measurable in the neutral environment of central Canada than in the turbulent Irish homeland.
While Akenson is careful not to over-generalize his findings, he contends that the case of Ontario seriously calls into question conventional beliefs about the cultural limitations of the Irish Catholics not only in Canada but throughout North America.