telling the stories

Award-Winning Author. Teacher. Activist.

Marianna O'Gallagher

Irish Quebec Historian.                                      Order of Quebec. Order of Canada. 

Alden Nowlan

Poet. Journalist. Novelist.

UNB Writer in Residence 1968 - 1983

Governor General's Award for Poetry 1968

                                                         In 2009 the Society asked Marianna for permission to include her name on the Ireland Canada Monument. She declined and recommended that her grandfather, Jeremiah O’Gallagher from County Cork, be recognized for his efforts to complete the AOH Celtic Cross at Grosse Ile in memory of the 6500+ Irish that died on the island 1845-48.
      On the cross designed by her grandfather, Marianna commented: "He drew the design on the wall of the kitchen at 13 Conroy St. in Quebec City. My father said as more and more money came in, the monument grew in size and stature on the wall." The Celtic cross was erected on Grosse Isle in 1909 by the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The twelve-meter monument is the largest Celtic cross in North America. The original Grosse Ile cross was damaged during a storm late 1940’s. Marianna’s father, Dermot and Dr. Larkin Kerwin worked on the repairs which left one stone over. Dr. Larkin gave the stone to Marianna who asked the Society to include it in the completed Ireland Canada Monument. The stone was transferred by Ambassador Declan Kelly to Archbishop J. Michael Miller CSV at a Transfer of the Stone ceremony held at Place des Arts Coquitlam, Oct. 5, 2009. And so it is that this unexpected gift and historic treasure travelled from East to West, bearing the memory with it, to be installed on the ICM monument that they will not be forgotten.

Marianna was born in Sainte-Foy, in 1929, one of six siblings born to Norma (O'Neil) and Dermot O'Gallagher. Her father was a land surveyor and previous mayor of the city now merged into Quebec City). She entered the Sisters of Charity of Halifax in 1952 and taught in Nova Scotia and New England, before she settled back in Quebec City, where she taught for 25 years at St. Patrick's High School. She earned a Bachelor's degree in History from Halifax's Mount St. Vincent University and a Master's degree from the University of Ottawa, Her thesis was about Quebec City's St. Patrick's Church and her interest in Irish-Quebecer history would continue for her whole life.
      In 1973, the Federal government, who owned it since its establishment as the quarantine station, allowed O'Gallagher to visit Grosse Isle, which she found in a state of disrepair. This marked the beginning of her efforts to have the site federally recognized. She founded Irish Heritage Quebec the same year, an organization dedicated to the local promotion of Irish-Canadian history. She remained president of Irish Heritage Quebec until 2009.
    The 1980s she left the religious order, founded bilingual publisher Carraig Books’ and started a committee for the designation of Grosse Isle resulting in the 1984 designation of the island as an historic site and, in 1988, to that of National Historic Site of Canada.
     O'Gallagher spent the rest of her life writing books and articles on Irish-Canadian history, for which she became a major figure in the Canadian Irish studies community. She was the recipient of the Canadian Catholic Historical Association's G. E. Clerk Award in 1999, the Order of Quebec in 1998, and the Order of Canada in 2002. She was repeatedly included in Irish America's Global 100 lists, and was a member of the organizing committee for Quebec City's 2008 400th anniversary celebrations. A few months before her death, May 2, 2010, she had been Grand Marshal to Quebec City's first Saint Patrick's Days parade in 80 years and, only days before her death, the Canadian Association for Irish Studies had established an annual lecture named after her.
       The following speech was delivered in the Canadian Senate by Senator Dennis Dawson a week after Marianna died. “…yesterday the Irish community of Quebec City, Quebec and, indeed, all of Canada laid to rest a great contributor to the Irish heritage of our country … (she) deserves, by far, the title of “the greatest Irish Canadian of Quebec City. … Her writings encouraged many to study the history of the Irish in Canada. Her work in the research and promotion of the Irish culture in Canada was recognized and respected not only in Quebec and Canada but also in Ireland.”

                                            Rosemary was born in the town of Valois on Lac St. Louis, near Montreal. Her paternal grandfather had arrived from Ireland around 1916 and settled on a farm in Smiths Falls, Ontario.
In 1972, with a PhD, she headed to France to teach, first at the University of Dijon and then the University of Bordeaux. She returned to Canada in 1974 to teach at U.Vic., B.C. In she moved to teach at University of Toronto where she and her husband, Chilean actor-musician Juan Opitz, now live.
In 1978, after taking leave to devote herself to writing, Rosemary lived in London, England. On her return she joined Amnesty International and founded the Toronto Arts Group for Human Rights and both conceived and organized an International Congress called The Writer and Human Rights in aid of Amnesty International. Seventy writers from forty countries attended.  
      Rosemary joined the editorial board of This Magazine, in 1982. She wrote articles about her travels to Latin America. Her first collection of poems, The Space a Name Makes (1986) won the Gerald Lampert Award for the Best First Book of Poetry.
      In 1987, commissioned by Penguin Books to write a biography Rosemary wrote a trilogy about the creative lives of women artists: Elizabeth Smart, By Heart, was nominated for the Governor General’s Award for non-fiction;  Shadow Maker: The Life of Gwendolyn MacEwen, published in 1995, won the Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction, The Canadian Authors’ Association Prize for Non-fiction, the University of British Columbia President’s Medal for Canadian Biography, The City of Toronto Book Prize, 1996, and short-listed for the Ont. Trillium Prize. The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood Starting Out was published in 1998.
      At the U of T, Rosemary was awarded a Canada Research Chair in Literature, and in 2003, founded the new MA program in English in the field of Creative Writing. From 2003-06, she held the Maclean Hunter Chair in Literary Journalism at the Banf Centre. Following 4 years of intense research, in 2006 she published Villa Air-Bel: World War II, Escape,. A House in Marseille   In June 2007, Villa Air-Bel was awarded The Canadian Society for Yad Vashem Award in Holocaust History by the Helen and Stan Vine Annual Canadian Jewish Book Awards.
      Her family memoir, The Guthrie Road, tracing her Irish ancestry back to 1847, was published in 2009.
      Rosemary is a Fellow of the prestigious Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and was awarded the Lorne Pierce Medal for Major Contributions to Canadian Literature and Culture by the Royal Society of Canada in 2008.

             The 1968 Governor General's Award                                                       67 for Poetry may have made Alden Nolan the only Canadian writer with less than a grade five education to earn such prestige.
     Nowlan was born in poverty, 25 January 1933, at Stanley, Nova Scotia. His father, Freeman, was an alcoholic. His mother, Grace, was 15 years of age. She left her husband and took her children, Alden and his younger sister, to her mother’s home. When her mother died, 1940, Grace was unable to provide a home for the children and Alden was separated from her for the rest of his life. He was then raised by his grandmother, Emma, and his father, Freeman.
     Born in 1904, Freeman had left school at 14 for work in the sawmill. In an interview Alden told Greg Cook, "never in his life had a permanent year-round job... never owned or learned to drive a car." His father improvised stories, while pretending to read to his son and made pencil sketches, "… all the storytelling and sketches ended before I was six years old. He was ashamed of both, because in his world grown men didn’t draw and make up stories."
     Nowlan began writing poetry in 1944. He was a bookish, gangly 12 year old when he dropped out of school – a peer group target, the descendant of disposed peasants ‘wild Celtic brigands.’ In his first auto-bio-critical essay, he wrote: “I couldn't help being a part of my race. A race that continued to be tough. It was possible for me to accept myself, finally, only when I realized - emotionally - that poetry is tough too, that a poem can contain as much fury and power as a fist or a blackjack. It still seems to me that the greatest wonder of poetry is that it combines toughness with the tenderness of love, and the one is impossible without the other.” At age 13 reading Guy de Maupassant’s stories he realized that people did write about people like his family and village.
     He was 14 years of age when his paternal grandmother died. Suffering from anemia and depression, Alden was admitted for several months to the Nova Scotia Hospital for the mentally ill. There as the staff encouraged him to study and write, he learned to accept himself.  When he was 17, working-class D.H. Lawrence, became his hero and his writing evolved from letters-to-the-editor to poetry. After few stints of labour as farmhand, highway worker and sawmill night-watch, Nowlan began writing a book and a newspaper column, he attended a folk-art school and, at age 19, left home to work as a reporter for a weekly newspaper. He soon was published extensively in US literary magazines. Recognized as one of the most promising new poets of the century he said of himself, "Off hand the only North American writers I can think of who have come from a background of rural poverty and gone on to write about it have been Negroes. Richard Wright, for instance."
      In 1961, a Canada Council grant allowed him to write his first novel and, in 1963, on the eve of leaving for an editorial position with the daily newspapers in Saint John, he achieved a personal goal: he married Claudine Orser and adopted her nine-year-old son, John – at last he was the father of his own family. In 1966, adjustment to family life, urban living and editorial duties were  interrupted by surgeries and recovery from cancer of the thyroid.
      His literary family grew and freed him from the demands of journalism as he was awarded the Canada Council (special grant in 1967), John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation 1967 fellowship, the Governor General’s Award and the U of New Brunswick writer-in-residence appointment (1968).  
      During his 15 years as writer-in-residence the Nowlans became public figures. Alden was surrounded by young people and Claudine worked at the Pre-School Centre on the edge of the campus. He averaged more than a book per year including six new volumes of poetry including Canadian Authors' Association Silver Medal winning Smoked Glass (1977); two books of selected poems; four plays; three works of fiction including a memoir; an excerpt winning the University of Western Ontario’s President’s Medal for Fiction, 1970; and one volume each of history and selected essays winning the Evelyn Richardson Memorial Literary Trust Award.
      His achievements were recognized with Honorary Doctorates of Letters from the University of New Brunswick, 1971, and Dalhousie University, 1976 and in 1979 he was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal.  
       Alden Nowlan’s courage and honesty, speaking truly about and for the poor, was profound in a culture when many writers choose to treat poetry as a sign of the privileged life. 

From his last collection:  

     So that I could                                                                        

     change a spade into a pen,
     our ancestors suffered together with their oxen,
     and gathered the sweat of a hundred years to give me ink.

In 1983, his 50th year, Alden Nowlan died from complications following pneumonia. It was written of him: Nations cannot possess and hold great writers. Their work grows, like Alden's, long after we have stopped on the hill to visit the grave of "An O Nuallin Mor," or The Big Nowlan, as his ancestral clan chief was called in the days of old, of Irish heroes.

Dr. Rosemary Sullivan, O.C. FRSC.

Jane Urquhart, internationally acclaimed author of seven award-winning novels, three books of poetry and numerous short stories, was born June 21, 1949, in Little Longlac, a small mining town in northern Ontario. Her father, mining engineer Walter Andrew Carter and her mother, Marian Quinn. Jane had six brothers, she was the youngest and only daughter. The family’s heritage made a lasting impact on her writing. Her mother’s Irish ancestors were immigrants to Canada during he 19th century potato blight and Great Hunger. Both parents had witnessed the trials of World War One and World War Two. Her childhood was filled with stories of Ireland and settlement in Canada. At that time Canada was a British colony, very little was taught of Canadian history which quickened a fascination for Urquhart as she went on to the University of Guelph for a BA in English followed by a BA in art history.
In 1968, Urquhart married Paul Keele who was then a student and Urquahart worked as an assistant to the information officer for the Royal Canadian Navy. Tragically, Keele died in an accident in 1973.
In 1976, Urquhart married the Canadian visual artist Tony Urquhart. With a busy family life, their daughter born in 1977, Jane developed her daily writing schedule. An Irish-style cottage in McGillicuddy Reeks became her writing retreat from 1996 to 2013. She and her husband now reside in SE Ontario.
      Urquhart’s seven internationally acclaimed novels include: The Whirlpool, the first Canadian book to win France's prestigious Prix du Meilleur livre etranger (Best Foreign Book Award); Changing Heaven; Away, winner of the Trillium Award and a finalist for the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; The Underpainter, winner of the Governor General’s Award and a finalist for the Rogers Communications Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize; The Stone Carvers, was a finalist for the Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Award and for Britain’s Booker Prize; A Map of Glass, a finalist for a regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book, and Sanctuary Line, a finalist for the Giller Prize.
     She has received the Marian Engel Award and the Harbourfront Festival Prize, and is a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France and is an Officer of the Order of Canada.
     Numerous honorary doctorates from Canadian universities have been granted her and she has given readings and lectures and she has served on several international prize juries. Her books have been published in many countries, including Holland, France, Germany, Britain, Scandinavia, Australia, and the U.S. and translated into several languages.
      Urquhart has twice been a keynote speaker at the annual Canadian Congress of the Humanities, and has served on the Board of PEN Canada and on the Advisory Board for the Restoration of the Vimy Memorial.

The Irish have always had a way with words.

Jane Urquhart

Order of Canada