Apprenticeships were a integral part of the running of the Poor House, offering the children a chance to learn a trade or skill in order to support themselves in the future. On 25th May 1822, John Delany was apprenticed to Thomas Alexander Stewart (1786-1847), to ‘learn the trade of farming’ for 6 years. However, this apprenticeship was extraordinary as John Delany was to leave Belfast entirely and start a new life in Canada. Often children were apprenticed within the Belfast area or in some cases Scotland, but John was the first child from the Poor House to leave for Canada.

Delany was apprenticed to Thomas Alexander Stewart whose family had a long association with Belfast Charitable Society, as Thomas’s father, William Stewart, was one of the founding members of the institution. Thomas married Frances Browne in 1816 and together they had eleven children. The family resided in County Antrim until 1822, when the textile firm in which Stewart was a partner in went bankrupt. Thomas, in association with his brother-in-law, Robert Reid, decided their families would emigrate to Douro, Upper Canada, to start afresh in the agriculture business, with a particular focus on cotton, flax and flour.

Stewart’s experience and success in Canada was mixed. Between 1822 and 1823, the family faced particular hardship completing even basic household tasks due to the rough forested environment of their new homeland. The conditions were so extreme that many of their servants abandoned the family. Thomas also faced constant financial worries. However, he was heavily involved in the local community and petitioned for projects, including building a bridge on the Otonabee River, to make the lives of the local community easier. By 1833 his luck had turned and he was appointed to the Legislative Council; a position he held until 1841. Despite his hardships, he never forgot about Ireland and assisted people to immigrate to Canada who were fleeing famine, in 1847. Stewart died in September 1847 of typhus.

Our research has also unearthed potential evidence of Thomas Stewart’s apprentice, John Delaney, in the Canadian sources. The 1860 census for the Douro area includes John Delany, a farmer aged 53 who was born in Ireland. The census records that John Delany had a wife, named Margaret (aged 30), and ten children. It would appear from the age of the children that Margaret was John Delany’s second wife. The family lived together in a two-storey log house with Margaret and the children helping John on the farm. A fuller picture of John Delany’s life in Canada emerges from the information recorded about his farm. The Delany’s farm was valued at a healthy $4000 and the family owned $500 worth of farming machinery. The Delany farm was composed of 100 acres of land, which the family used for cultivation, pasture and some parts were managed woodland.

John Delany, who started out from Belfast to Canada aged only 17 found his place in the world half way across the globe, as one of the earliest settlers of Douro, Ontario.