Why is our neighbourhood area called “Corktown”? A quick answer appeared awhile ago in Toronto Life. Local historian Bruce Bell wrote a more extensive explanation in an Aug 2005 Bulletin article. Here is an excerpt.
“One of Toronto’s “newest” neighbourhoods is also one of its oldest with Irish roots dating back a thousand years to the old country. Even though Toronto’s Corktown is named after County Cork in Ireland, a misconception still lingers that the area is so named because there were once a few cork bottle stoppers factories in the area. Not so.
Cork City, the major city of County Cork, is today Ireland’s third largest (after Dublin and Belfast) and has always been an important seaport beginning as an island in the swampy estuary of the River Lee. The name Corcaigh is Gallic for a marsh, hence Corc or Cork.
County Cork was one of the worst affected areas in the Great Irish Famine that at its peak between 1845 and 1847 the county lost 200,000 people (about one-quarter of the total population) to the ravages of starvation after a virus systematically destroyed the potato crop. In Cork 150,000 people were dead and with the graveyards overflowing and the streets besieged with the wandering sick, 50,000 men, women and children had no choice but to emigrate.
And so it was from this ancient Viking seaport that the majority of the 19th-century starving Irish refugees escaped the horrors of the potato famine boarding the steam ships or coffin ships as they were eventually dubbed that would take them to the new world. All told a million Irish would eventually die and another million would flee. Upon arrival in Boston, New York, Detroit, Hamilton, St John’s, Philadelphia and Toronto these ragged, starving and emaciated Irish settled into neighbourhoods that were hence nicknamed Corktown after the home they left behind.”
Ireland Park is being created at Bathurst Quay; the park will contain sculptures by Rowan Gillespie, depicting “Arrival” of Irish Famine immigrants in 1847, In that year, 1,100 migrants died and were buried in Toronto, either in the plots set aside by St. James Anglican Cathedral, or in the graveyard adjoining St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Parish.