The Heney (Heany) Family
The story of John 'Chevalier' Heney (1821-1909)
by John J Heney, Canada (Great-great-grandson)
In the 1841 census of Killeshandra we read of a Harriet Heany, widow of Peter, in Portaliffe or Towns Park, Killeshandra. Those of her children who emigrated to North America would change the spelling of the family name to Heney. John was among them. He had been born on 16 April 1821, and been apprenticed as a cobbler in Killeshandra to his brother-in-law Charles Sheridan.
John took a temperance pledge in 1841, and emigrated to Canada two years later, aboard the SS Naparima bound from Dublin. The brigantine had to return to port after a mid-Atlantic storm. Finally, on 30 April 1843, they set sail again, arriving at Quebec City five weeks later. Heney settled in that city for a short time before setting off to try his luck in the remote settlement of Bytown (now Ottawa).
John's brother Thomas emigrated to the Ottawa Valley perhaps with or shortly after John. One of his sons, Michael Heney, worked for John on construction before becoming an engineer and building the White Pass and Yukon Railroad linking Alaska and Canada's Yukon Territory. As a result, there is a Heney mountain range in the district and other Heney landmarks. Another of Thomas's sons left for Wisconsin where there is a numerous branch. Another settled in Seattle, Washington.
A third of Harriet's sons, George, emigrated to the United States, where one of his sons became the sheriff of Cleveland, Ohio. Owen Heney, who had worked with his brother John in the cobbler's shop in Ireland, eventually lived out his days travelling between George's family and John's in Ottawa.
John quickly found employment as a cobbler in Ottawa with a saddle maker -- an Ulster Orangeman named -- John Heney. While John would soon embark on his own career, both Johns would sit on city council, with the subject of our story being called "Red John" because of the colour of his hair. He would sit on city council for 37 years, a record which still stands today in the province of Ontario. Heney's last civic activity was to run for mayor in 1890, an election he lost.
Heney started his own shoe business, eventually employing 27 people. In 1868 he branched out into the fuel business, providing the Parliament Buildings with cordwood. What eventually became John Heney & Son moved to coal and then fuel oil before being sold in the 1960s as the largest fuel company in Eastern Ontario.
John was also a public contractor. He was involved in the building of the Georgian Bay Branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway (around Georgian Bay off Lake Huron); expanding Fort Calgary for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police after the temporary stockade was replaced; building wharves and breakwaters from Nova Scotia to Ottawa, and dredging canals. One of his marine projects was on Grosse Isle, the island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River which became the infamous quarantine station for Irish immigrants during the famine which Heney himself escaped by only a few years.
John married Mary Ann McManus, ten years his junior, in 1849. She was one of the first to be born in early Ottawa, and was of Irish stock, raised it seems by her stepfather whose surname was Wade. They had 11 offspring, four of whom died as children. (Only one son, and the second of the boys to be named John, married. He carried on the family business, and also married a woman of an Irish Catholic family. John Jr. and his wife Ellen O'Connor had 11 children. He remained prominent in Ottawa business life until his sudden death in 1928, after which the company passed to a third generation president, his son John.)
The senior Heney was noted for his good works. He helped found the Irish Catholic Temperance Society in Ottawa, supported hospitals, and was a founding member of the Ottawa Board of Trade. As a result of his community service, he was the recipient of a papal knighthood to the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, bestowed by Pope Leo XIII in 1889. For this, John would become known widely as Chevalier Heney. In 1897 he and his wife travelled throughout Ireland where he was a delegate to the Irish Home Rule Conference in Dublin. There he was accused by local press as having some connection with the British, a fact which was publicly debated but unsubstantiated.
Newspaper accounts of Heney's public life are rich with anecdotes, noting that he never lost a quick wit and a thick Irish brogue. By the end of his life, John had extensive real estate holdings. He died in 1909 and was buried in the family plot in Ottawa. Two Heney stained glass windows, one dedicated to him, can be found in the city's oldest Catholic basilica. Mary Ann Heney died in 1913. The Public Archives of Canada holds some 100 glass-plate photographs of Heney, his children and grandchildren, most from the last century. There is also a Heney Collection in the Ottawa City Archives based on the history of the family.