Sharon Doyle Driedger knew when she was 10-years-old she’d one day write a book about her beloved hometown, Griffintown.
An Irish Heart, How a Small Immigrant Community Shaped Canada is that book.
In it Doyle Driedger, the former senior writer for Maclean’s magazine, recounts the incredible stories of the men and women who shaped the once-thriving Irish neighbourhood in southwestern Montreal.
While today the district is derelict, with many of the immigrants leaving it in the 1950s and 60s, a committed group of Montrealers dedicated to preserving the integrity of the community have taken up the hard task of restoring some of the few remaining buildings.
Doyle Driedger’s work is a tribute to those people, both of the present and from the past.
In the 392-page book, the Bloor West resident weaves stories of how tens of thousands Irish emigrants left their homeland in the height of the Great Famine in the 1840s, and embarked upon a new — often frightening — life in Quebec, with personal tales from some of this country’s prominent Irish Canadian families.
Doyle Driedger spent her childhood in Griffintown, listening to stories of its residents.
“I’ve been thinking about those stories for a very long time,” she says.
“A lot of the time I was led by God. It felt it was something I was meant to do.”
Perhaps “destined to do” might be the more appropriate saying.
Her family was the one of the last families to leave the area in the early 1970s.
While Doyle Driedger had always loved writing, it wasn’t until she wrote a feature article for Maclean’s on Griffintown that she really delved into her hometown’s stories.
Her article was well received, with publishers contacting Doyle Driedger six months later to pen a book on Griffintown
To give An Irish Heart further content, Doyle Driedger interviewed over 60 former residents of Griffintown.
She included historical facts and photographs of the many residents who called the community home.
Doyle Driedger hopes readers take away from the book the incredible struggles Griffintown residents had to go through.
While there were many problems with the neighbourhood — poverty was rampant, so were violence and crime — Griffintown’s
residents were some of the most generous and caring people out there, Doyle Driedger says.
“They’d give you the shirt off their back if they could,” she says.
“(I want readers to take away from the book) the spirit and commitment of the Irish people,” Doyle Driedger elaborates.
She also hopes readers don’t forget about the neighbourhood itself, and because of that she praises the dedicated team of Montrealers currently working so hard at preserving her hometown.
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