Two Old Irish Ghosts of Renfrew County: James and Denis Barry

    Dennis Barry was the first settler of Barryvale near Calabogie.

    By Barry Conway

                There are few local families that can claim both as much Irish heritage as they can significant historical impact on Renfrew County as the Barry clan, still largely centred today in the town of Renfrew and surrounding area.

    Whether talking about James Barry, the first settler of Barryvale on the eastern fringe of Lake Calabogie, or Denis Barry, the real founder of Barry’s Bay on the western fringe of the county, these two old Barry ghosts have, at the very least, long influenced much of the colour and style of Renfrew County even today.

                Take that elder ghost, James Barry. Born in County Wexford, Ireland on December 3rd, 1818, he arrived here early in the 1840s when the county itself was still yoked to that jointly-known legal entity of Lanark and Renfrew County. Shortly after 1842, James found work with Daniel McLachlan who sent him westward along the Madawaska River as a timber cruiser when that old Highland Scot was first searching for a timber limit on the newly-opened Crown lands near Kaminskeg Lake. The Skead brothers had managed to beat McLachlin to the punch by building their Bark Lake Depot in 1841 and so McLachlin had Barry scout the western end of Kamaniskeg Lake.

    Sometime in those early 1840s, probably 1842, James Barry built a little log shanty on the site of the current home of former Eganville-resident Bill Goulet who now lives in the village of Barry’s Bay. That first habitation was quickly built at the end of an elongated bay – long known by the Algonquins as Kuaenash Ne-ishing’ or ‘beautiful bay,’ but it would soon became known as Barry’s Bay, named by other lumbermen after the Bay’s first timber cruiser, James Barry.

                By August, 1843, however, James Barry, an Irish Catholic, was back again working near Barryvale — at least for the summers. It was there his fine Irish Presbyterian bride, Margaret Barrett, a Canadian, was soon raising — almost single-handedly throughout the winters — their ‘Orange and Green’ family of 10 children, including one daughter, Jennie, born in 1862. That little girl would go on to become Mrs. M.J. O’Brien, wife of the first and foremost millionaire Renfrew ever produced. 

                By 1853, James Barry himself was living much closer to home all-year-round and having done so for perhaps 10 years, working as a sometime farmer and full-time carpenter and builder. He spent most of the precious decade largely repairing and then greatly expanding the old timber slide at High Falls at the western end of Lake Calabogie. It was there in 1853 that he also earned his most important job – controlling that crucial High Falls timber slide on the Madawaska.

                As High Falls slide master, James Barry’s job depended on not only successfully getting the annual log cut down the Madawaska, numbering as it was in the millions upon millions of board feet each and every year but, more importantly, James Barry had to keep all the lumber barons happy. Moreover, he also had to keep happy all those local contending generals of the lumber trade. Every decision he made could always be second-guessed, depending on which log boom got to go down the river first. Not a job for anyone but a consummate diplomat with a strong backbone and a soft Irish touch.

                But if Barryvale and that body of water on Kamaniskeg Lake known as Barry’s Bay are two places in Renfrew County that commemorate that masterful Irish slide master, James Barry, what of those other two places in Renfrew County that bear the Barry name – Barrymere, now all but a ghost town along Kamaniskeg Lake, and the current village of Barry’s Bay which never really came into being until 1894, two years after James Barry had died?

                That’s where Denis Barry comes in, the much lesser known but no less impactful Barry ghost who once graced our area for nearly 10 years beginning in 1856. He changed the very fabric of the land along the Western frontier of Renfrew County, and he did it one immigrant shanty at a time.

    Possibly James Barry’s cousin, Denis Barry was born in County Cork just before Christmas, 1835 near the city of Cork, if not at the Irish ancestorial seat of the Barry clan, a small village on Grand Island in Cork Bay, known as Barrymore, and from where issued many famous army, navy, Catholic church leaders and sundry other professions. None in the least was Commodore Jack Barry, known as the ‘Father of the American navy’ for helping the United States break with Britain in the latter half of the 18th Century. Even Denis Barry’s mother, Hannah Kelleher, was the daughter of Captain Kelleher, who had gained distinction in Britain’s Honourable East India Company.

                So, when Denis Barry’s mother died shortly after he was born, it came as no surprise that his father decided to head across the sea, first to the United States and then to Canada, where he settled in a place called Rockwood, Ontario. But Denis Barry, being a precocious young lad, soon found himself a star scholarship student at Regiopolis, the premier Catholic High School in Kingston that still stands today. From there, he matriculated and moved on to the Grand Seminary in Montreal and later, to Laval, Quebec.

                Whatever happened in Quebec in 1856 is anybody’s guess but the young Denis Barry, a theology student at the time and probably destined for the Church, one day he simply packed his bags and headed for, where else?, the Hastings County end of Kamaniskeg Lake.

                There, he set up shop, first as a hard-scrabble farmer near Maynooth, then as a would-be lumberjack in what remains a beautiful if lonely section of Hastings County. It’s just up the shoreline from what would become Chippawa Lodge on Kamaniskeg Lake. In all probability, Denis Barry took over an old, abandoned, log shanty of another earlier timber cruiser, William Byers, who had built it around 1837. It was where the great Canadian explorer, David Thompson, visited Byers the year Thompson charted the Madawaska River in response to the hopes of the British Colonial office to possibly build a canal between the Ottawa River and Lake Huron.

                Twenty years later, in 1857, young Denis Barry showed up and, it is assumed, settled into William Byers’s old shanty and tried to make a go of it as an independent timberjack. Whether that worked out for him as he had once hoped as a young seminarian, no one really knows. What is known is that shanty along Kamaniskeg northern shoreline looked out between two islands – Mayflower and Parcher Island – towards the southwestern shore of Kaminiskeg Lake. That view allowed the young troubled seminarian to watch the sunset along Hinterland Beach and see spring logs come rushing down the Madawaska east of the present-day Madawaska Kanu Club.

                It’s also highly probable that it was Denis Barry who soon realized that what he saw was something that very much reminded him of home, namely a vista still available today from the shores of Barrymore looking across Cork Bay. But whatever he saw, and whatever his new Barrymore had started out in life as in the 1830s, ‘40s or ‘50s, by 1864 when Dennison’s Bridge had to change its name to Combermere in order to get a post office, and so it didn’t take long for that new Barrymore to become known locally as Barrymere.

                Meanwhile, sometime after 1857 Denis Barry pulled up stakes and moved further north along the York Branch Road past Rockingham and Brudenell and into Sebastopol Township where he was hired on the spot as Thomas Patrick French’s hard-pressed assistant.

                T.P. French was the Crown Land Agent charged with settling the newly-opened Opeongo Colonization Road that had been completed to Hopefield by 1861. By the official census of that year, Denis Barry can be seen living just down the Opeongo Road from T.P. French’s home on Lake Clear where he had set up his own post office, calling the place Clontarf, after another one of Mr. French’s beloved Irish locations. No Barrymore for this County Mayo man!

                But when T.P. French himself threw in the towel in the spring of 1864 and left for greener fields down along the St. Lawrence, it’s not certain how long Denis Barry remained at Clontarf, physically escorting each new immigrant to their free lots up towards Bark Lake. What is known is that Dennis Barry would have personally taken the majority of those new immigrants to the designated lots in the newly surveyed townships of Sherwood, Jones and Burns, or what today makes up the amalgamated Township of Madawaska Valley with its central village of Barry’s Bay. Though it would be another 30 years before that railway town of Barry’s Bay would rise above Kamaniskeg Lake with the coming of J.R. Booth’s OA & PS Railway in 1894, but it was Denis Barry who physically met the Murrays, Princes, Drohans, Yakabuskis, Conways, Bleskies, Dalys, Skuces and those dozens of other founding families of Barry’s Bay 30 years before they ever formed themselves into the current village.

                So, if anyone deserves to be credited as the true founder of the village of Barry’s Bay, it certainly must be Denis Barry. But his story doesn’t stop with the founding of that village — or even his abandonment of that old ghost town of Barrymere, or more properly, New Barrymore.

                By 1867, Denis Barry was back in Montreal; in 1869 he married Katherine Morgan and by 1872, he had graduated from McGill University Law School. He was then admitted to the Quebec bar in January, 1874 and soon afterwards began a meteoric rise in the legal profession. Eventually, he become an eloquent advocate of international fame; in 1881, one of his most celebrated cases took him to San Francisco and was written up as a lengthy feature by the New York Times. Indeed, by September, 1888, Denis Barry was sworn in as a judge and sat on the bench, meting out his much-admired sense of justice for much of the rest of the 19th Century.

                But Denis Barry’s real claim to fame — and what makes him one of the most distinguished Irishmen of not only Renfrew County but of all of Canada, if not the world — was his ability between 1884 and 1888 as President of the St. Patrick’s Society of Montreal to help build the St. Patrick Day Parade in Montreal to what it is today – the largest parade celebrating St. Patrick’s Day anywhere in the world. It often numbers upwards of half a million participants, all pouring into the streets of Montreal every March 17th and all flowing down St. Denis Street and Rue Rene Levesque as liberally as any sea of green shamrocks, green hats, green party-favours, green face-paint and, of course, green beer that ever flowed anywhere in the world on that sacred day.

                Not bad for ghosts!