Magrath family, Erindale

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Magrath family, Erindale

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19th to 20th century

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James Magrath (1769-1851) was a Church of England clergyman who immigrated to Canada from Ireland with his wife and five children. He built Erindale, the Magrath family estate, near the Credit River in Toronto Township.

Magrath was born in County Roscommon, Ireland. After completing his studies at Trinity College Dublin in 1800, he was ordained and eventually became the rector of the Parish of Shankill. Due to conditions in Ireland which limited opportunities for his children, he left for England in 1826, seeking an appointment to a mission in the North American colonies. He was advised by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to leave for Canada before being formally appointed.

In May of 1827 at the age of 58, James Magrath, together with his family travelled to York (now Toronto) via Quebec bringing with them seven tons of luggage. His household included his wife Mary, his children Thomas Williams (23), James (21), Charles Eneas (20), William Melchior (14), and Anna Cordelia (9), his nephew Charles Alley, and a female servant.

Once in Upper Canada, Magrath sought to acquire both land and a clerical appointment favouring areas near York. He purchased 700 acres near the Credit River in Toronto Township, having been appointed rector of the newly built St. Peter's Church (the Toronto Mission) thanks to the influence of Colonel Peter Adamson. He was formerly appointed to the mission by Bishop Stewart (of Quebec). As rector Magrath was charged with building up his sparse congregation under the authority of Bishop John Strachan of York. He also reported on the occasional visit to the Credit Indian Village at the Credit (also known as the Credit Mission); however because the village was a Methodist mission he did not attempt to involve himself further in its affairs.

The Magrath family built up a large farming estate with a main house named "Erindale." The family was influential in Toronto Township, arousing both public admiration and ire. The latter half of the Magrath's ministry was constrained by his ill health and marked by his concern for the welfare of Erindale, his children, and their growing families. He died in 1851.

William Magrath took over management of the Erindale estate. He also kept a store for a time. His daughter Mary married Arthur Harris of the Harris family of Benares in Clarkson. James Magrath was variously a proprietor of a general store, Credit postmaster, church warden at St. Peter's, and justice of the peace. Charles Magrath studied and then practised law in Toronto and served on the council of Trinity College. Thomas Magrath, who had once studied law at Trinity College Dublin before emigrating, became best known in Canada as a sportsman, a pursuit on which he wrote and published. Anna Magrath tended to the domestic affairs of Erindale.

In 1867 the original Erindale farmhouse was destroyed by fire. Another more extensive house was built the same year. In 1900 the village of Springfield-on-the-Credit (once called Credit) in Toronto Township (now Mississauga) was named Erindale after the neighbouring Magrath house and estate.

Note that the early fortunes of the Magraths in Canada found a wider audience due to the 1833 publication in Ireland and Britain of some of Thomas' letters (not those in this fonds) in a book entitled Authentic Letters from Upper Canada. This volume, edited by Thomas Radcliff, a Magrath family friend, was a contribution to literature aimed at potential emigrants. The book was republished in 1952 as part of the Pioneer Books series by Macmillan, Canada.

Selected sources

Radcliff, Thomas, ed. Authentic Letters from Upper Canada. Toronto: MacMillan, 1953.

Banks, John. “The Reverend James Magrath: Family Man and Anglican Cleric.” Ontario History 55, No. 3 (1963): 131-142.

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