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Alberta's Irish Legends: The Copithorne Family b. Co. Cork

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

John Copithorne, 1862-1933 b. Co. Cork
Richard Copithorne, 1861-1936 b. Co. Cork
Samuel Copithorne, 1880-1961 b. Co. Cork
Susan (Toole) Copithorne, 1862-1958 b. Co. Louth

Occupation: mixed farming, dairy, ranching

Picture source: John Copithorne and family, Jumping Pound, Alberta.", 1910, (CU187145) by Barnes, E. C.. Courtesy of Glenbow Library and Archives Collection, Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary.

The Copithorne family story follows a pattern that characterizes many Irish communities in Canada. Immigrants arrive in a new land. Through hard work and opportunities, they earn enough to help other family members join them, establish new relationships, and contribute to the new community. The journey of three nineteenth-century Irish brothers from Cork to Alberta ensured that the Copithorne name is well-known throughout southwestern Alberta.

As the Burns brothers discovered, many homesteaders needed capital before they could begin farming. For five years after his arrival in 1883, John Copithorne worked in Western Canada, as a labourer, a soldier during the Riel Resistance, and an agent for the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs. When he earned enough to purchase a horse and wagon, he provided freight services to Morley before settling near Jumpingpound Creek in 1887. The bucolic countryside reminded him of his native Cork, and the Cork accent became heard more frequently in the region as John encouraged other family members to join him. His brother Richard arrived in 1887. Equally enterprising, he took up a pick and shovel, helping build the Mission Bridge in Calgary, before joining his brother in a dairy and mixed-farming business that provided butter and vegetables to Calgary and the surrounding areas. Samuel Copithorne joined his older brothers in 1904.

Susan Toole, who emigrated from Co. Louth and worked as a maid in Canada, married John Copithorne, and together the couple established the Lazy J ranch where they raised nine children. When they retired to Victoria in 1912, they left the ranch to their son Jack and his Irish-born wife, Margaret Anne Young. John’s brother, Richard, married Sophia Willis in 1894, and they ranched in the same region and raised seven children. Sam Copithorne remained at the ranch as general manager when Richard retired in 1914. He married Beatrice Ethel Blache and they had four children.

Building on the legacy of the first generation, the Copithornes’ many children have ensured that the name lives on, and their ranches continue to be worked by their descendants today. The Copithorne family continue to contribute to the economic and cultural richness of Alberta, working in ranching, cattle breeding, and auctioneering, contributing artwork to 1967 Centennial and 1988 Olympic projects, and volunteering for the Stampede and local rodeo associations. The strong family connections established by these four hard-working Irish immigrants helped establish and continue to feed Alberta’s distinctive culture.

Further Reading

Brennan, Brian, “Homesteader Never Forgot Her Rustic Roots,” Calgary Herald, 2 February 1993, B2.

“Copithorne Family,” Alberta on Record.

Copithorne, Judy and Roy Copithorne, eds. Copithorne History, 1982.

“Ranching and Farming Continues to Evolve for Copithornes,” The Cochrane Eagle, 14 August, 2014.

Watson, Arlene, "The Copithorne Family of Jumping Pound Creek", in Fort Calgary Quarterly, vol. 3, no. 3. (Summer 1983), p. 1-4.

Western Heritage Centre, “From the Stockmen's Memorial Foundation Vault: Richard Copithorne, Cochrane Times, 26 June, 2019, A9.


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