Marc-André Skelling – a story of courage and hope

Marc-André Skelling is in the fight of his life, for his life. The young man from East Angus, Quebec is battling Hodgkins disease, a type of lymphoma. Originally diagnosed in 2011, he initially kept this horrible disease at bay through aggressive chemotherapy while a bone-marrow transplant was unsuccessful.

In October 2014, the family issued a press release stating Skelling needed a compatible stem cell donor “born in the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland)” and aged between 18 and 35, since some of his ancestors were from the UK. When asked where his ancestors were from, family spokesperson Isabelle Skelling told NUACHT that they did not know.

Recently the situation has taken a turn for the worse. In a May 6th Radio Canada report it was revealed that his name has been removed from the Héma-Québec bone-marrow transplant list after new cancerous cells were discovered. In terms of Mr. Skelling’s outlook, Isabelle Skelling stated that, although he is no longer on the transplant list “he finds it very important for healthy people to register to be a donor. Life is very important and very fragile. We never know when we will need a second chance as much for ourselves as for a loved one, or our own child.”

Thanks to an American experimental treatment, Mr. Skelling holds out hope of improving his condition. While the treatment is not yet approved by Health Canada, Mr. Skelling stated in the Radio Canada report that it will halt the progression of the cancer. Mr. Skelling also said he would not need to travel to the USA for treatment, but that it would come to him. While approval is pending, he began a new round of chemotherapy on May 21st to try to remove the “small mass” in his back.

Isabelle Skelling stated Mr. Skelling “has been fighting this cancer for four years. Every day is another day and he takes advantage. He said earlier this week he is going to fight again and it is going to be OK. He has been our hero for four years.”

You can contact Héma-Québec (888) 666-4362 or visit their website for more information on joining the stem-cell donation registry.

This article appears in the May 2015 edition of NUACHT, the St. Patrick’s Society of Montreal’s community newsletter.


Changing of the Guard

2009 Walk to the Stone

Ken & his friend Don

At a meeting of the United Irish Societies of Montreal’s Elected Executive and Past Presidents on May 12th President Danny Doyle reported that longtime historian Don Pidgeon had declined to continue in the position, after which my name was put forward. I hesitated a moment. I mean, succeeding a man who has been the face of historical Griffintown since 1991, a man who speaks with absolute ease in front of audiences, a man who is universally respected within Montreal’s Irish community, a man who personally endorsed my nomination is both a humbling and a frightening prospect. After that moment of hesitation, I accepted the nomination.

Don rose through the ranks of the organization. He was Recording Secretary for two years in the mid 70’s before moving on to Vice President and then President. Despite his elevation to the ultimate position, Don is best known as the historian of the United Irish Societies.

I am both humbled and overwhelmed at my new assignment within the United Irish Societies. From 1928 to the present is a lot of history. So you can imagine the amount of history in the Irish community from the 1760s to the present. Overwhelmed is a good word.

I plan on using newer technology / social media to get my message to as wide an audience as possible. This is all so new to me that I continue to reflect on the value I can add to the United Irish Societies as its Historian.

All I hope in the coming weeks is that my words and actions make my predecessor, my mentor, my colleague, and my fellow members proud. I am a work in progress but I am confident that my friend Don will approve.

What a Year!

What a year!

The last twelve months (or so) have been absolutely fantastic.

At the end of April 2014, NDG Baseball fêted Lionel Geller as he moved on to the next chapter in his life after dedicating thirty seven years to the children of Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace. The day of the intimate dinner, Borough Mayor Russell Copeman announced that Loyola-2 Field at Loyola Park will be renamed Lionel Geller field. This is truly a fitting way to honour such an icon.

In June I assumed the position of St. Patrick’s Society of Montreal Secretary, a position I was eager to do well in. We got the membership list in order, migrating it to an Access database from an Excel spreadsheet and trying our best to update members’ contact information.

However that gig was cut short in the Fall. There was some movement at the upper levels of the Society’s board and, after which, I was invited to continue sitting as an Officer of the corporation but now as a Vice President. It has been a pleasure to sit as a vice president. I continue to learn about the organization each and every day. My responsibilities have not changed all that much, although responsibility for the membership list remains with the new Secretary.

Also in the Fall I stepped away from my responsibilities with NDG Minor Baseball after dedicating some time as its president and director of communications. It was an absolute pleasure to be associated with the best Little League association in the province. The work those moms and dads accomplish for the good of their children and community is exemplary and it was a real joy to be a part of that recipe for success.

Now we all know that March is a very busy month in the Irish community. There are meetings, receptions, balls, luncheons, and parades. There are four parades that we generally associate with, in fact. The big Montreal parade, Hudson, Chateauguay, and Quebec City are all close to our heart. Unfortunately this Saturday we will not be able to attend the parade in Quebec City due to a scheduling conflict with the United Irish Societies’ Banquet.

My role in this year’s parade in Montreal was to act as a commentator for Bellmedia’s Bell Local production of the parade, along with longtime UIS member Richard McConomy, who has a background in acting to complement his legal career. His experience in this area put my mind at ease, even though prepared 18 pages of information on the various groups participating in the parade with the help of UIS Parade Director Patty McCann. In hindsight I may have overprepared for this assignment but it was worth the effort to keep my mind at ease.

Richard McConomy and Ken Quinn froze mightily in the performance of their parade day responsibilities.

Richard McConomy and Ken Quinn froze mightily in the performance of their parade day responsibilities.

The role as TV commentator took me away from walking in the parade. I have to say I had mixed feelings about not walking in the parade, the first time I failed to do so since I joined the UIS in 1992. Despite those mixed feelings and the freezing cold weather on parade day, I had an absolutely fantastic experience on the TV podium with Me. McConomy. His experience certainly made up for my lack of experience and general nervousness. I tip my hat to him, to roving reporter Catherine Cleland, and the entire crew associated with the production. If they ask me back next year I will gladly agree to do it. I may buy ski pants if the weather is this cold, though.

The Irish Are Coming!

The Irish in Montreal have been organizing celebrations since as far back as 1824, when Michael O’Sullivan and the members of the Hibernian Society took it upon themselves to organize, for the very first time, a public celebration in memory of Saint Patrick. Michael O’Sullivan is an oft forgotten important character in Quebec society. A search of the Internet will net you some very interesting information about O’Sullivan including his commission in the Beauharnois battalion of militia in 1812, cited in dispatches in 1813 for bravery related to the Battle of Chateauguay, and much more. At the time of his death on 7 March 1839, O’Sullivan was a leading member of the legal profession in Lower Canada, having been rewarded with the post of chief justice of the Court of King’s Bench, Montreal District.

The foundations laid by O’Sullivan in 1824 were further reinforced by the creation of the St. Patrick’s Society of Montreal in 1834, of which O’Sullivan is listed as a Vice President. The Society was a non political, non sectarian organization, charitable in nature, that was then given the responsibility of organizing the annual parade. This responsibility continued until the 1890s, when the Ancient Order of Hibernians assumed responsibility for the parade. They maintained this responsibility through the 1928 parade, after which the newly created United Irish Societies of Montreal grabbed the baton and have been running with it ever since.

In the City of Montreal many official activities take place – the Parade, the Charity Ball, the Annual Luncheon, the Irishman of the Year Breakfast. The pubs will fill with revelers in the weeks leading up to the festivities.

Whether you’re Irish, or Irish for a day, be sure to participate in the activities surrounding the St. Patrick’s Parade, which takes place on Sunday March 22nd.

Doors Opening & Doors Closing

“When one door closes, another door opens; but we so often look so long and regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell

One door in my life is closing tomorrow when NDG Minor Baseball holds its Annual General Meeting. After sitting on its Board as Assistant Treasurer, President, or Director of Communications since 2006, the time is right to step aside to give another parent the opportunity to make a difference. Throughout these years, the organization was fortunate to regularly send teams to Little League National Championships and even more fortunate to see two teams advance to the Senior League World Series, making my job as Director of Communications that much easier.

I am thankful that, through my association with NDG Minor Baseball, I have become familiar with so many fantastic volunteers, with the local Borough employees, and with the local politicians. People such as Steve Glazer, Frank Martinez, Terry Doucet, James Rankine, Lionel Geller, and Bobby Titleman make a huge difference to the kids of the community through everything they do for the players, parents, and association.

There is one person who I met along the way who is the most special of them all. My first recollection of Carey Ashton was back in 2004 when his Major Lynx team was one win away from advancing to the Little League World Series at the National tournament in Brossard. To watch a man with Muscular Dystrophy coach a team of teenagers from a wheelchair is magical. To see a man with Muscular Dystrophy get thrown out of a provincial championship game over a pitch count violation is also surreal. He is the kindest, most patient man, who taught all his players life lessons they didn’t even know he was teaching. Had I not joined the Board of Directors I likely never would have met Carey, which would been unfortunate. I wish the new Board of Directors the best of success. I will be watching the association’s progress with great interest.

With this door closing, an already slightly opened door is opening a little wider. Since the summer of 2013 I sit on the Board of Directors of the St. Patrick’s Society of Montreal. This past June the Society and its members confirmed me as its Secretary, a humbling honour to say the least. The St. Patrick’s Society is the oldest of the “national” organizations in Canada, having come to life on March 17, 1834. The Society recently lost two Officers to resignation. As a result, this past Tuesday the Board was tasked with filling the vacant Treasurer and a vacant Vice President position. My colleagues have shown their confidence in my abilities by confirming me as a Vice President, one of three. Vice President is only a title. I continue to do the same things I was doing, for the most part.

While I look back at the closed door without regret and with great memories, I look forward to the open door with great anticipation for the Irish season to come. That’s from February 1 to April 1, right?

Do the Irish Need a Reason to Gather?

The last Thursday of every month, the Ireland Canada Chamber of Commerce (ICCC) holds a Craic agus Comhrá, the Irish equivalent to the French cinq à sept, an after work get together.

At the last Craic the ICCC and the St. Patrick’s Society worked together to attract recent Irish immigrants to the event through the Irish Immmigrant Integration Initiative. This month, the ICCC is opening up their Craic agus Comhrá to the entire community.

So, tomorrow, whether you’re a recently landed Irish immigrant or you are descended from Irish immigrants from years gone by or if you’re merely interested in meeting members of the Irish community of Montreal, head on down to the Irish Embassy Pub & Grill on Bishop Street. The Craic starts at 5:30pm. It’s a great opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones.

1856 Longueuil Explosion

Patrick Madden HeadstoneCote des Neiges Cemetery is chalk full of history. In a 2013 visit to the cemetery I came across many headstones that gave me pause to wonder. For example, one headstone reads







 Yes, *THAT* A.L. Van Houtte.

The one that caught my eye was one that read

“Sacred to the Memory of


who died by the Fatal Explosion at Longueuil

10th of June 1856

Aged 40 years

Native of the Parish of <illegible> Kings County, Ireland”


Who was Patrick Madden? How did he die? What were the circumstances surrounding the fatal explosion? A little research thanks to Google gave me some answers to my questions.

From his headstone we know Patrick Madden was born in Kings County, Ireland. Being 40 years old at the time of his demise, he was born somewhere around 1816. Did he come to the new world during the 1832 famine or perhaps during the Great Famine of 1847? I don’t know.

What I do know is Patrick Madden died in a fatal explosion at Longueuil on the 10th of June, 1856 and was subsequently buried in Cote des Neiges Cemetery. The fatal explosion mentioned on the headstone was aboard a Grand Trunk Railway steamship. Was Patrick Madden a passenger on the ferry? Not really. He actually was employed as a mail conductor. I’m not sure what that means however I presume he was responsible for getting the mail to/from Montreal. The Stanstead Journal, in its files from 1856, reported that the accident was the result of criminal recklessness and disregard of human life, on the part of the boat’s engineers and its managers. According to the report, a former fireman of the boat expressed that the boat’s engineers were not sober men.  27 people were killed and at least 40 injured when the ferry’s boilers exploded at the dock just after it had finished taking on passengers.[1]

The coroner’s jury strongly condemned the entire management of the boat and awarded a fine of 10 000$ against the Grand Trunk Railway Co.[2]

In the Journals of the Legislature of the Province of Canada for 1857, it is recorded that Catherine Madden was granted 75 pounds as a gratuity to her as “Widow of Patrick Madden, who lost his life by the late Steam Boat Explosion, at Longueuil, whilst in discharge of his duty as Mail Conductor”[3]

And so we know Patrick was married. And, following a little research, we know Patrick and Catherine were married March 6, 1848 at Notre Dame Basilica, that Patrick’s parents were Timothy Madden and Elizabeth Redmond, and that Catherine Mohan’s parents were John Mohan and the late Eleanor Gilligan, all from King’s County in Ireland. [4]The headstone tells us that their son John Madden was also buried in Concession F 00086G on October 19, 1853. Did they have other children? I don’t know.

What I do know is Patrick Madden from King’s County, Ireland went to work on the 10th of June 1856 expecting to go home at the end of his shift. However, due to the recklessness of the ship’s management he went to work that day and left Catherine Mohan a widow.


[1] A Century Ago, Stanstead Journal, June 21, 1956, p.4

[2] Charleston Mercury, July 9, 1856

[3] Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, 1857

[4] Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection)