James Heenan was a 38-year-old farmer in the township of Biddulph in Ontario when he married Mary Agnes Dewan on 23 February 1897.
The ceremony took place in St Patrick’s, a Catholic church that had been built between 1858 and 1859 to support the growing Irish community in Biddulph and neighbouring townships.
Irish Catholics, mainly from the counties of Tipperary and Cork, had begun to settle in this part of Ontario in the 1840s, around the time of the Great Famine in Ireland. Other settlers came from England and Scotland, attracted by the fertile soil in this part of the Huron Tract. Among them were a number of men with the surname of Heenan some of whom were implicated in one of the most notorious events in the history of Canada: the mass murder of 5 members of the Donnnelly family in 1880 .
Three Heenan men were implicated in the massacre: Dennis, Anthony, James and Michael. The full story is described in an earlier article on this website: The Murderous Heenan Family of Ontario.
I suspect the James Heenan who is the groom in 1897 is the son of one of these men. He was born in Biddulph in 1859, the grandson of Dennis Heenan who would have been among the first settlers in Biddulph, part of what was a British territory named Canada West.
Dennis Heenan is documented in the 1851 Canada West census as a farmer in Biddulph township. He is 51 years old and a widower, the head of a household which consists of a 21-year-old son James, a 29-year-old son Anthoney and a daughter in law Mary.
Dennis died in 1879, the year before the Donnelly killings but his family continued to farm land in the Biddulph township well into the twentieth century. His son James (for ease of reference I’ll call him James, senior) married an Irish girl called Bridget Hogan in 1858. The following year their first son, James (junior) was born.
In the record of the marriage of James (junior), in 1897 he is described as age 38, born in Township of Biddulph, resident of township of Biddulph ; bachelor, occupation of farmer. His bride Mary Agnes Dewan is slightly younger and also born in Biddulph to an Irish born mother.
I’ve not found much about this couple or whether they had any children of their own. James died as a result of appendicitis on June 6 1900. His wife Mary Agnes outlived him by several decades, dying on 24 Jan 1947. Both are buried at Saint Patrick’s Cemetery, in Biddulph.
If anyone knows of additional information about this couple, I’d love to hear from you.
Archives of Ontario; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Registrations of Marriages, 1869-1928; Entry for James Heenan; 1897; Reel: 93; ancestry.com
Diocese of London (Ontario); London, Ontario; Canada, Roman Catholic Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1760-1923 database; entry for James Heenan, 1859; ancestry.com