A Brief Summary of Killarney's History
The community of Killarney is situated on the North Channel of Georgian Bay (in Lake Huron) in the province of Ontario, Canada. For many years, the village was known as Shebahonaning, an Ojibwe name meaning "canoe passage". The Native peoples who hunted, fished, and trapped here lived on what was to become a well-traveled route for the voyageurs and explorers of France and England. Fur trade posts were built along the Georgian Bay, with the Killarney post established on June 28th, 1820, by Etienne Augustin Rocbert de la Morandiere. His wife, Josephte Sai-sai-go-no-kwe (woman of the falling snow") was a member of the Odawa Nation (the traders) and was born in Michigan. She was the niece and adopted daughter of Chief Kitchi Bashigigan and a close relative of the famous Chief Tecumseh.
In her book, Anna Jameson relates her visit to Shebahonaning in 1837, during the first year of her husband's tenure as Attorney-General of Upper Canada: About sunset we came to the hut of a fur trader whose name, I think, was Lemorandiere. It was on the shore of a beautiful channel running between the mainland and a large island. On a neighbouring point, Wai-sow-win-de-bay (the Yellow-head) and his people were building their wigwams for the night. The appearance was most picturesque, particularly when the camp fires were lighted and the night came on. I cannot forget the figure of a squaw as she stood, dark and tall, against the red flames bending over a great black kettle, her blanket trailing behind her, her hair streaming on the night breeze -- most like to one of the witches in Macbeth. We supped here on excellent trout and whitefish, but the sandflies and mosquitos were horribly tormenting; the former, which are so diminutive as to be scarcely visible, were by far the worst. We were off next morning by daylight, the Yellow-head's people discharging their rifles in salute (Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada).
When and why the place name Shebahonaning was changed to Killarney is unknown. Lady Dufferin, wife of the Governor-General of Canada, has often been credited with the name change, but the passage in her journal which describes their stop in Killarney is dated 1874 -- almost twenty years after the Post Office had replaced the Shebahonaning postal stamp with one reading Killarney.
Fur trading, logging, commercial fishing, mining and tourism have all played a major role at one time or another in Killarney's economy. With no road access until 1962, water was for many years the only route of travel for its citizens and visitors. The community was once serviced regularly by steamships that carried both passengers and freight to various locations on Georgian Bay and through the North Channel area.
Etienne de la Morandiere died in Killarney May 1st 1859 at the age of 92. He was buried in the Wikwemikong Catholic Cemetery on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. His wife Josephte died in Killarney on November 20th 1868 at the age of 85. They had ten children, most of whom remained at Killarney with their families. Descendants of the de la Morandieres and of many of the other early families who settled in Killarney in the 1800's live here today.
Father Jean Baptiste Proulx, Jesuit missionary, celebrated the first Roman Catholic Mass here in 1834
The first steamship passed through Killarney channel on May 13, 1836 -- the Penetanguishene was the first such vessel on Georgian Bay.
In 1852, Father Hanipaux, S.J., built the first chapel.
The post office opened in 1854 (both Shebahonaning and Killarney were engraved on the customs stamp).
The lighthouse at the West End of the Killarney Channel was built in 1866 and began operating July 1, 1867.
In 1923, Pierre Regis de la Morandiere and Albert Lowe traveled to Toronto on behalf of the community to petition the Government for road access to Killarney.
The Township of Rutherford and George Island (now the Municipality of Killarney) was first incorporated in 1929.
In 1936, local telephone service was established across the community.
Electric power came to the village on November 7, 1951.
Road access to Killarney was officially celebrated in 1962.
In 1995, Killarney celebrated its 175th Anniversary. It is the oldest community on the North Channel.