The President’s Chain of Office

Below is an undated article written by Historian Don Pidgeon about the United Irish Societies’ Chain of Office, which the president wears at functions and events where he or she is representing the organization.

Montrealers will have an opportunity to see the UIS Chain of Office on Wednesday at the annual Canada Day Parade downtown, where President Danny Doyle will be wearing it proudly within the Montreal Irish contingent for all to see.

Ken Quinn, Historian


President Danny Doyle at 2015 Walk to the StoneThe Chain of Office was designed by John Loye (President 1934-1957).  John Loye was a historian, writer, draftsman, and commercial artist.  He was a founding member of the United Irish Societies and the Canadian Railroad Historical Society and an avid member of the Montreal Antiquarian and Numismatic Society.


Twelve individual shamrocks are linked together, leading to four links of the four provinces of Ireland.



On one side an arm and hand holding a blade on a blue background. with the arm and hand holding a blade on a blue background.  On the other side, a black eagle on a white background.


Three crowns on a blue background



Upper section bears a red cross and the lower section has a red hand on a white background.


President Margaret HealyA harp on a green background.

The links are joined to a middle plate containing a similar castle and Irish wolfhound on both sides.  In the centre of these is a blue shield with a harp.  Emanating from the background are simulated sunrays.  Below this is a banner with the inscription “Faith and Fatherland”.  Hanging below the middle plate is the Celtic Cross.

Don Pidgeon,
U.I.S. Historian

Longueuil Explosion of 1856

This morning my friend Kevin Murphy shared on the United Irish Societies’ Facebook page the story of a catastrophic oil tanker explosion in the Port of Montreal at the Canadian Vickers Co. dry dock in the east end of the city on June 17, 1932. The article published in today’s Gazette, and written by Andy Riga, speaks of the death and carnage, including the death of Fire Chief Raoul Gauthier.

Kevin pointed the Facebook reader to a series of articles appearing in the Gazette the day following the explosion, June 18, 1932. In this more detailed account is mention of two firemen known to the history of the United Irish Societies’, Deputy Chief Carson and District Chief Doolan. Carson was Chief of the Montreal Fire Department when he was Marshal-in-Chief of the 1934 St. Patrick’s Parade and Doolan was District Chief when he served as Marshal-in-Chief of the 1932 parade.

The talk of explosions caused me to think about my trip to Cote des Neiges Cemetery in the Summer of 2013. I discovered numerous gravesites of people I have heard of and learned a little that day. The headstone that caught my eye that day read:

who died by the Fatal Explosion at Longueuil
10th of June 1856
Aged 40 years
Native of the Parish of Kings County, Ireland”

Who was Patrick Madden? How did he die? What were the circumstances surrounding the fatal explosion? A little research thanks to Google gave me some answers to my questions.

From his headstone we know Patrick Madden was born in Kings County, Ireland. Being 40 years old at the time of his demise, he was born somewhere around 1816. Did he come to the new world during the 1832 famine or perhaps during the Great Famine of 1847? I don’t know.

IMG_1101What I do know is Patrick Madden died in a fatal explosion at Longueuil on the 10th of June, 1856 and was subsequently buried in Cote des Neiges Cemetery. The fatal explosion mentioned on the headstone was aboard a Grand Trunk Railway steamship. Was Patrick Madden a passenger on the ferry? Not really. He actually was employed as a mail conductor. I’m not sure what that means however I presume he was responsible for getting the mail to/from Montreal. The Stanstead Journal, in its files from 1856, reported that the accident was the result of criminal recklessness and disregard of human life, on the part of the boat’s engineers and its managers. According to the report, a former fireman of the boat expressed that the boat’s engineers were not sober men. 27 people were killed and at least 40 injured when the ferry’s boilers exploded at the dock just after it had finished taking on passengers.

The coroner’s jury strongly condemned the entire management of the boat and awarded a fine of 10 000$ against the Grand Trunk Railway Co.

In the Journals of the Legislature of the Province of Canada for 1857, it is recorded that Catherine Madden was granted 75 pounds as a gratuity to her as “Widow of Patrick Madden, who lost his life by the late Steam Boat Explosion, at Longueuil, whilst in discharge of his duty as Mail Conductor”

And so we know Patrick was married. And, following a little research, we know Patrick and Catherine were married March 6, 1848 at Notre Dame Basilica, that Patrick’s parents were Timothy Madden and Elizabeth Redmond, and that Catherine Mohan’s parents were John Mohan and the late Eleanor Gilligan, all from King’s County in Ireland. The headstone tells us that their son John Madden was also buried in Concession F 00086G on October 19, 1853. Did they have other children? I don’t know.

What I do know is Patrick Madden from King’s County, Ireland went to work on the 10th of June 1856 expecting to go home at the end of his shift. However, due to the recklessness of the ship’s management he went to work that day and left Catherine Mohan a widow.

Ken Quinn, Historian

The Year the UIS Almost Participated in the St. Jean Baptiste Parade

1934 was a big year in two of Montreal’s founding communities. Both the the St. Patrick’s Society and the Société St. Jean Baptiste were celebrating their centennial anniversaries. The United Irish Societies of Montreal was led by John Loye, a man involved in numerous organizations both within and without the Irish community. Along the way it is likely Loye developed many friendships.

One of these friendships was developed with Dr. Victor Morin, a Past President of the Société St. Jean Baptiste, a fellow member of the Antiquarian Society, and a future president of the Royal Society of Canada. Clearly the Société St. Jean Baptiste of yesteryear had different aims and objectives than today’s.

On April 15th, 1934 Loye writes to Morin explaining that the long established custom is to extend an invitation to the annual parade in June to the St. Patrick’s Society and trying to convince the Société St. Jean Baptiste to extend an invitation to the “big organization” as well. A plethora of letters follows, back and forth, to and from John Loye, and to and from the Société St. Jean Baptiste.

On April 24th Alphonse de la Rochelle, chef du secrétariat, takes notice of the request for an invitation when he responds to Loye’s letter by saying “Les membres du Conseil générale ont décidé d’acquiescer à votre requête et enverront une invitation…”

This unleashes a barrage of correspondence from John Loye. On April 26th he write to UIS Secretary William C. Hickey , where he says “… and I see a chance to do something, big or small, to put our community in the public eye.” I think he had more of an idea to do something big rather than small.

On May 4th a meeting is called for May 8th where a decision will be made regarding the invitation to participate in the St. Jean Baptiste Parade. Although there are no records in existence in the archives, there is evidence the United Irish Societies reacted positively to this invitation.

On May 20th Loye writes to Thomas O’Connell, city councilor, asking him to intervene with Mayor Camillien Houde for funding for this project., where he openly admits the reason for the request is to get funding to hire a band. Also on May 20th he writes to Leo J. McKenna, alderman, seeking funding for a float. In exchange for this opportunity Loye offers it as “an advertising medium” likely for McKenna’s Florist.

Working on the meat of the United Irish Societies unit, on May 22nd Loye writes to W.J. Cherry, Grand Knight of the Montreal Council of the Knights of Columbus , inviting them to participate. Setting up an elaborate unit required some funds, even back then. On May 29th, Loye writes to W.B. Rennick, General Manager of Dominion Stores, soliciting funds for a float but again pitching it as an opportunity for advertising. UIS Secretary William C. Hickey is in Dominion Stores’ employ.

On May 31st John Loye writes to Patrick Scullion, Captain of the Hibernian Knights of the AOH, seeking their participation. Loye says “Our unit will be incomplete if the Knights are not there”.

Feedback from letters written is being received. On June 5th Thomas O’Connell replies that he would “… advise not to approach Mayor Houde for the donation …” as it “…might affect a larger donation that you would be seeking at a later date…”.

Loye writes to John Boyle Jr. from the Shamrock Lacrosse Club on June 6th looking for its participation. On June 8th he writes to John Long, President of the St. Patrick’s Society looking for the Society’s support both for a float and for his member’s involvement. Also on June 8th Loye writes to Alphone de la Rochelle advising of the proposed unit, which consisted of the following:

Mounted Marshal

Platoon of Standards (flags)

Company of Hibernian Knights, Uniformed

Brass Band

Living Cross – composed of 100 men

Delegations, United Irish Societies

Clearly the planned United Irish Societies unit was elaborate in nature.

On June 12th Loye receives correspondence from de la Rochelle seeking names and addresses of people to be invited to the solemn mass to be held at St. Jean Baptiste Church. Therefore as of June 12th de la Rochelle has not received Loye’s June 8th correspondence.

A letter dated June 13th was written by de la Rochelle to John Loye declining the UIS unit’s participation in the St. Jean Baptiste Parade after discussion by their conseil générale. The Société St. Jean Baptiste was looking to give their centennial parade a certain feel. UIS dignitaries were still welcome to walk in the parade however invitations were only sought for President John Loye and Vice President Charles Halpin.

In his year end notes, John Loye opined that in retrospect he took too much for granted and he should have sought the input of the Société St. Jean Baptiste Executive regarding the UIS unit. In the end there was no participation from the UIS in 1934. However, had the UIS participated in this grand religious and cultural manifestation it would surely have been the best unit involved.

Ken Quinn, Historian

Who is Don Pidgeon?

IMG_7133Some people may be wondering who is this Don Pidgeon that I have mentioned the last little while. So here is a short blog on what I know about him. 

Donald Pidgeon was born the youngest child of William James Pidgeon and Marjorie Black 1. Growing up, family was important to Don and his siblings Thelma, Rita, and Bill, and is equally important today. Although his children are spread across the globe, Don and his wife Nadia (Ewasiechko) are always in touch with their children James and Jennifer (Emile) and their granddaughter Romy.

Don grew up in Griffintown, living there from 1940 to 1966, and has resided in Dorval since 1973. He had a 35 year career in retail before retiring in 1996.

Don joined the United Irish Societies of Montreal in 1968, where he quickly became involved with the organization’s activities, moving up the ladder from year to year. From 1972-75 he served as the organization’s Recording Secretary before serving as Vice President in 1976-77 and, finally, as President from 1978-79. On November 16, 1986 President Bernard Woffenden informed the United Irish Societies’ membership that his vice president had resigned. Past President Don Pidgeon was appointed vice president on an interim basis until elections were held2, an extraordinary situation to say the least.

Despite Don’s involvement at the highest levels of the organization, he is undoubtedly best known as the historian of the United Irish Societies, serving the organization in this key role from 19913 to May 2015. Walking in the footsteps of such luminaries as John Loye, John J. Kenny and John “Jake” McConomy, Don performed exceptionally in this role. He was a Member of the Irish Committee for Grosse Isle in 1992 and between 1992 and 1994 he negotiated improvements at the Black Stone Monument and lot on Bridge St.

He has written many interesting articles, has educated the membership of the United Irish Societies through the reports he has presented at countless general meetings, and has been most accommodating in his willingness to speak to interested students, community members, and the media alike.

1Additionally Don served on the organization’s original Nominating Committee, which was constituted by President Sheila Showers to process nominations for positions on the Elected Executive. This committee was chaired by Past President Bob McKay, included past presidents Mabel Fitzgerald and Don Pidgeon, and members Gail Sheehan and Michael McCambridge.

To celebrate the United Irish Societies of Montreal’s 80th anniversary, with the financial support of his friend Terry Corcoran from National Criminal Investigation Service Don put together a self-published book detailing the history of the United Irish Societies. All proceeds from the sale of these books were forwarded to the Shriner’s Hospital for Disabled Children in Montreal.

Don Pidgeon has received every honour the United Irish Societies has to offer. In March 1994 Don served as the Grand Marshal of the 170th Consecutive St. Patrick’s Parade. He was the Recipient of the Simon McDonaugh Humanitarian Award in 2004 in recognition of the good work he performs in the community. In April 2005 outgoing president Sheila Showers presented Don with Gold Card Membership. He received the Liam Daly Heritage Award in 2010 for everything he does to promote Irish culture and heritage in Montreal and, in 2013, he served the 190th Consecutive St. Patrick’s Parade as the Chief Reviewing Officer. Never shy in front of a camera or a microphone, prior to the beginning of the 2013 Saint Patrick’s Parade, Don was interviewed on camera by political satirist and comedian Rick Mercer for the humorous story produced about Montreal’s Saint Patrick’s Parade for The Rick Mercer Report on Canada’s national broadcaster, the CBC.

On January 20, 2013 at a United Irish Societies General Meeting at Saint John Brebeuf Church in the Borough of LaSalle Don announced that the cancer he has so valiantly battled has returned4, which subsequently caused Don to scale back his activities. Despite Don’s decreased availability, he continued to be a valuable resource to all members of the United Irish Societies as its Historian.

2011 Mass in park 033On Tuesday May 12th, 2015 President Danny Doyle revealed to those in attendance at the Elected Executive & Past Presidents Meeting that Don has decided that the time was right to step aside as the organization’s historian. A motion was passed at this meeting bestowing on Don the honorary title of Historian Emeritus in recognition of the many years of service as the organization’s historian, which Don accepted with gratitude.

Outside the Irish community, Don has always kept busy. He was a member of the now-defunct St. Ann’s Young Men’s Society, a key Griffintown organization.

Don has been a member of the Knights of Columbus Council 284 since 1986, Member of Knights of Columbus 4th Degree D’Arcy McGee Assembly since 1994, a Navigator 4th Degree in 1997, and was named an Honorary Life Member of the Knights of Columbus in 2011.

In addition to everything else Don is involved in he is a member of the St. Patrick’s Soup Kitchen since 1994, helping feed on a weekly basis some of the most disadvantaged people in the downtown area. For a time Don also served as a Director of Catholic Community Services.

His volunteer activities have been recognized outside the Irish community. In 1995 he was the recipient of the Multicultural Award from the Leclerc Institute.

For all that Don has done for decades in and for the Irish community, it is he who has honoured us.  Our children and our children’s children will benefit from the knowledge he has shared with students and community members alike.

Ken Quinn, Historian

1 Quebec, Vital, and Church Records, Drouin Collection
2 History of the United Irish Societies (1928 – 2008), Don Pidgeon
3 Don Pidgeon’s Bio, March 2015
4 Minutes of the General Meeting held January 20, 2013

Much Work Ahead

Over the weekend I collected the Historian’s files from my good friend Don Pidgeon, who did a fantastic job maintaining and augmenting our archives from 1991 to the present. There are letters, photos, documents, newspaper clippings, and more dating back as far as 1929. I even found a letter of condolence written by John Loye to my great aunt Elizabeth O’Brien on the occasion of the death in 1947 of my great uncle Patrick Quinn, who was the organization’s treasurer and 1946 Grand Marshal.

There are so many documents and other items of historical significance I think I am going to build a little database to document precisely what we have. It will eventually make life easier when searching for information, that’s for sure, and will help us inventory precisely what we have.

Ken Quinn, Historian