Bridget’s Legacy

by Mary Ducharme  (October 2015)

If it were not for old documents left in two old Bibles in Westmount, and preserved in the family, the story of Matilda Doyle and her husband Thomas Kenney would have been lost. Known by her middle name of Bridget, she was born in 1798; Thomas was born in 1795 to an entirely different class of society.

In 1996, their story was shared with the Archives by Eleanor Porter of Westmount, a descendant of Bridget and Thomas. Bridget Doyle was the daughter of a wealthy Dublin family, and as the story goes, “she never had to pick up her own nightgown.” She fell in love with a handsome young man who happened to be the family coachman and they eloped. Her family had a rigid sense of social class, and her parents were furious that she married beneath her ”station.”  She was disinherited without a shilling.

Bridget and Thomas lived in poverty in Dublin without any prospects for improving their future, so they decided to emigrate to Canada in 1823. Before she left, Bridget wanted their blessings and journeyed a last time to her family home to say goodbye. She was coldly received and her father refused to see her. She never heard from them again.

Kenney and Keddy generations photo
During the three-month Atlantic crossing in steerage they were not allowed up on deck for fresh air. Rats and other vermin crawled on everything and some passengers became ill or died of diseases which spread easily in the cramped quarters. Every family was so crowded that they barely had room to sleep in their narrow bunks. The ship provided no food for steerage so Bridget and Thomas cooked in a filthy communal kitchen.

They survived the journey and settled in Ormstown, where her sons were born, and in a few years moved to Hemmingford on land that has remained with the Kenney family until the 1940’s. The labour required to survive on a farm in the early 19th century was harsh, but they lived in the knowledge that their effort would result to their benefit and not that of a landlord. One of the more difficult tasks was the production of potash which involved cut- ting down trees, burning them, and then boiling the ash with lye in huge black iron kettles. Like all other farmers of the time, it was one of the very few sources of cash, selling in Montreal for $5.00 a barrel.

Only twelve years later, tragedy struck the family when Thomas was killed by a falling tree when he was 40, leaving Bridget alone to cope with the farm and support his namesake Thomas, and David, both half-grown boys. The story is told that she sometimes walked forty miles through woods to the St. Lawrence River, carrying a pail of eggs and a pail of butter. She also carried her hand-made shoes so she wouldn’t wear them out. At Laprairie, she crossed to Montreal at the ferry. She stayed overnight with a friend from Ireland and walked back the next day carrying home flour and sugar in the pails.

In her old age, Bridget lived on the home farm with her grandson Alfred until her death in 1890 at the age of 92. She loved to smoke her clay pipe, a habit she brought with her from Ireland.

Hallerton's Kenney Store in 1900
1900 photo of the old Kenney store at 801 Kenney (William’s Road), Hallerton.

The Kenney legacy in Hemmingford is considerable. Her son Thomas became a storekeeper at Ken- ney and Son on the Williams Road in Hallerton. The second Thomas and his wife Mary Young had five children and when Mary died he married a second time to Mary Ann Tinsley and had six more children. Through marriages these families have connections to Keddys, Whites, Orrs, Barrs, Youngs, and many others. In the village, there were two Keddy and Kenny Stores: the first was part of the “Scriver Block” then the business moved across the street to the present location of the CIBC bank.

Bridget and Thomas as well as many of her descendants are buried at the Atkinson Cemetery.