Monthly Archives: June 2015

A Little About T. C. Monaghan in Quebec City

Note: for an account of Thomas Monaghan’s time in Hong Kong and his resistance activities, see https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/08/07/thomas-christopher-monaghans-resistance-work/

Recently I visited one of Canada’s most beautiful and historically interesting locations: Quebec City.

The Plains of Abraham (named after the farmer who owned the land)…

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…was the site of a battle that most English children of my age learnt about at school: in 1759 General Wolfe died after defeating the French in a struggle that was to lead to the taking of Montreal and the establishment of British rule over what was to become Canada. Benjamin West’s famous painting nicely romanticises the scene:

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Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Benjamin_West_005.jpg

Today the skyline of Quebec City is dominated by a four star hotel; the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. In September 1913 Thomas Christopher Monaghan, one of the heroes of the Hong Kong resistance, came to work as a clerk in this hotel, which was owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Quebec City was the first or last stop on a line that went all the way to the Pacific coast, and the company built the hotel as a way of suggesting the ‘romance’ of modern railway travel. Work started in 1892-1893; the design, which evokes the late mediaeval châteaux of the Loire valley, also did justice to the fact that in many ways Quebec City remained French.

In Mr. Monaghan’s day the tall central tower wasn’t yet built; this 1910 postcard gives some idea of the building he would have known:

File:Chateau Frontenac and Dufferin Terrace postcard.jpg

Wikimedia Commons, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C3%A2teau_Frontenac

Now it look likes this:

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His company record, which I found in the National Archive of Canada in Ottawa, states that he left their employment for about a year in April 1917 – his resignation is marked ‘satisfactory’ so perhaps his absence has something to do with the Canadian participation in WW1, although this is only speculation. After returning in May 1918 he rose to Assistant Catering Manager (1920) and obviously continued to impress his employers as in October 1921 he was sent to Hong Kong as Catering Superintendent on almost double his previous salary. The central tower, which transformed the hotel’s appearance and the city skyline was added three years later in 1924.

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Mr. Monaghan’s father was a university lecturer who emigrated to build a new life in Canada. Irish emigrants played a crucial role in building Canada: between 1815 and 1845 half a million Irish people, mostly Protestant, moved to ‘British North America’, and they were followed by a third of a million more, this time largely Catholic, after the great famine of the 1840s (Carl Bridge & Kent Fedorowich, in Stephen Howe ed., The New Imperial Histories Reader, 2010, 149).I wonder if he chose Quebec City as his new home because of its vigorous Irish community?

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The family were Roman Catholic; in the Hong Kong Public Records Office I found evidence that his religion became very important to Mr. Monaghan during his time in a Japanese prison. I don’t know where he worshipped in Quebec City, but it’s most unlikely he was never in the cathedral – to give it its full name, the Cathedral Basilica of Notre Dame de Québec – the central Catholic building in the city. This is pleasing enough on the outside…

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and something more inside:

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In August 1943, when Mr. Monaghan was in prison and heroically resisting attempts to make him incriminate his friend the Jesuit Father Patrick Joy as a British spy, his old workplace became one of the locations for the first Quebec Conference, when Canadian Premier William Mackenzie King hosted a meeting between Roosevelt and Churchill:

Wikimedia Commons, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quebec_Conference,_1943

Sadly Mr. Monaghan did not live to see the liberation they were planning. He was executed for his courageous resistance work – mainly focused on helping people escape from Hong Kong – on October 29, 1943. Sadly there is no memorial in Hong Kong to the 33 people who died that day, nor, to the best of my knowledge, is there any rememberance of Mr. Monaghan in his home city in Canada.

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