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May 29, 2023

Looking East Along St. Luke's Road at Downeyville

By Guy Scott

The Peter Robinson Emigration saw 417 families of impoverished Irish farm tenants sent to the Peterborough area at government expense. These families were given land grants of 100 acres in the surrounding townships. The Irish were to be mixed with other settler groups to encourage some assimilation. The largest group, 142 families, were dispatched to north Emily Township. South Emily was largely occupied by Protestant Irish previous to 1825. A grist/saw mill was set up at Omemee the same year, and the Robinson Irish were settled north of the village in the area around Downeyville.

Most settlers to Upper Canada were settled on isolated farmsteads right in the middle of their land holdings. The southern (Catholic) Irish settlers came from a different cultural background that emphasized village life. Their settlements were often concentrated in crossroad hamlets, usually clustered around their church.

The site of Downeyville began with a school. The spot was named Downey’s Cross because it was the cross road site with the Downey farm on the southwest corner, hence Downey’s Cross (road). A Clergy Reserve lot for use of the Roman Catholic Church was provided, but the lot was in the centre of the settlement area, to the east of present Downeyville. A small log church was erected in 1835, and masses were held by a priest from Peterborough or Lindsay. A burial ground was also started.

In 1852, the first resident priest, Father Burke, arrived to serve the parish of Downeyville-Ennismore. He rented a room at the Collin’s Hotel at Downey’s Cross while the parish organized to build him a house on the Clergy Reserve lot. When it was time for the house raising bee, several parishioners pointed out the site was exposed, windy and cold. There was no shelter nearby for man or beast. So the parish decided to move the church and manse down the road to Downey’s Cross. The site was more sheltered, the school was nearby and the cross had 3 hotels to shelter man and beast.

A lot was purchased from the Downey Family, a church, drive sheds, manse and cemetery built over the next few years. Downeyville became the centre of the parish/community. The priests from Downeyville served a large area including Galway for many years. Galway was assigned its own priest only in 1887 as part of the new parish of Fenelon Falls and Galway. The hamlet contained a store, a blacksmith, a school, several hotels and the church complex, but no mills or industry. Other services could be had in Omemee to the south, Lindsay to the west, or Bobcaygeon to the north. The hamlet of Downeyville never contained a true main street, but was limited to a few businesses clustered around the four corners of Downey’s Crossroads. It still remains a true crossroads settlement to this day.

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