Our story has a bit of a mystery: a wonderful obituary, a surname with multiple spellings, and children baptized in two different faiths at the same time. Certainly there is a story to be explored.
Catherine Dinan was born in County Clare, Ireland, on February 16, 1844. At the age of 3, in 1847 and during Irish Potato Famine years, Catherine crossed the Atlantic Ocean with her family in search of a better life. Her parents were Maurice and Catherine Dinan.
The family consisted of siblings Timothy, Bridget, Mary, Catherine and John. Sadly, Timothy, Bridget and Mary all died in 1847. It is believed they either died during the crossing, or at the quarantine station at Grosse Isle. Younger brother John died at the age of 8 in 1856.
After their arrival in Canada, the family welcomed more children in James, Margaret, Elizabeth and Timothy. Catherine’s parents, and several of her siblings, are buried at the relocated Elmbank Catholic Cemetery within Assumption Catholic Cemetery in Mississauga.
Catherine married Thomas Barker of Erindale (then known as Springfield) on July 27, 1862 at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, in what is today Mississauga.
Catherine and Thomas had 14 children: Hannah, Mary, John, William, Thomas, Catherine (Kate), Margaret, Laura, Robert, Sarah, Ethel, Frank, Harvey and Clara.
Five of the children died in infancy, and two more died in their teenage years. Catherine also outlived two of her other children. Only daughters Hannah, Kate, Margaret, Ethel and Clara lived long lives.
For Catherine and Thomas, life must have held a lot of tears. Their gravestone at St. Peter’s Anglican Cemetery in Erindale is engraved: “Thy trials ended. Thy rest is won.”
There is a bit of a puzzle around the baptisms of the children: all of the Barker children were baptized in the Anglican Church. However, at least three of their children were subsequently baptized at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Dixie (William, Thomas and Kate). Some refer to this as “double-dipping” – which was very much frowned upon at the time, and certainly not common practice.
Interestingly, both Catherine and Thomas were present for the Anglican baptisms, whereas for the Catholic baptisms it was Catherine and a Maggie Dinan who presented the children – Maggie was likely Catherine’s sister (or aunt). While Catherine and Thomas were married in the Anglican Church, and later buried in the Anglican Cemetery, Catherine herself was born Catholic, and there is no record of her converting to the Church of England. It might seem trivial in this day and age, but it may have been somewhat scandalous generations ago.
But what drew attention to Catherine’s story over the years was the reference to her passing in 1930, and the newspaper article that noted the “Grand Old Lady of Erindale”. It makes one wonder what else could be found about her life and times. For many years, my own mother explored her story.
You see, Catherine was my great-great grandmother, and although my mother never met her, we lived in a house that Catherine had once lived in, and we were down the street from the house in which she spent the last years of her life. Catherine was so fondly remembered in Erindale that 40 years later her former house was still referred to as the “Barker House”.
Catherine herself lived much of adult life in the Erindale area. The family was first engaged with farming. Their first farm was near the town line in Trafalgar, and they later moved to a farm along Dundas Street near what is now Mavis Road. Thomas was also engaged with labour on construction sites, such as hauling the bricks to the building site for the new St. Peter’s Rectory in 1861.
Thomas passed away in 1908, and the family left the farm. Catherine came to live in Erindale Village, close to her son John Moras Barker who ran the general store. The Barker family was hit hard in the great Erindale fire of 1919, losing their store, livery stable, and house. A new store and house were built in 1921.
Catherine’s beloved new house, on what is now Mindemoya Road in Erindale Village, became a gathering place for family, friends, and the community. She was a member of the “Hearts and Flowers” committee of the Erindale Women’s Institute, of which she was a charter member.
The committee welcomed new residents in the community (the custom, according to the Barker family, including the gift of a rhubarb pie – something that was a “thing” in Erindale Village, even in my youth), and with helping mothers with care for young children. Catherine became known as a healer – someone to go to when the doctor was not available or affordable. Her house was an open door of sorts, where visitors, neighbours and family were always welcome.
Catherine was also extremely proud of her Irish heritage, and it was something that became more entrenched as she aged. She was known to keep an immense shamrock plant in her home. Every St. Patrick’s Day she would have all of her grandchildren living nearby come to her house in the morning before they went to school or church, where she would pin a few sprigs of shamrock tied with a green ribbon on their lapel, and would tell them, “Never forget you are Irish! Be proud of being Irish!”
Catherine was said to have one the largest vegetable gardens in the area, and insisted in growing all of her own fruits and vegetables, much to the consternation of her son John, who ran the general store. A neighbour, Mary Kay, remembered: “She was just a little-bitty thing, but she could do anything!”
Catherine passed away on June 3, 1930. She was laid out at the foot of the stairs in her home, and family and friends gathered one last time in her well-loved parlour to say goodbye. Catherine was buried at St. Peter’s Anglican Cemetery Erindale on June 7, 1930, and the minister noted in the church records at the time of her death that she had “a very large funeral”. Six of her grandsons were her pallbearers.
A newspaper account read: “The Grand Old Lady of Erindale and the matriarch of the village, Mrs. Catherine Barker, who died here in her 87th year, was carried to her last resting place in St. Peter’s Anglican Church Cemetery by her six grandsons yesterday.”
Catherine also left us one last mystery – the spelling of her maiden name. She was born a Dinan, and recorded as Dinan in official registers, and family members used the name Dinan. But for reasons unknown Catherine chose to spell her own maiden name as Dynnan, which is etched on her gravestone. She did not pass down the reason why.