O’HARA, FELIX, businessman, office holder, and judge; b. in Ireland; d. 9 Sept. 1805 in Gaspé, Lower Canada.
After leaving Ireland Felix O’Hara went to live in the colony of New Jersey. A naval lieutenant in the British forces, he was put on half pay shortly after the conquest of New France. In the spring of 1764 he settled at Gaspé with his wife, Martha McCormick, and two sons; theirs was one of the first English-speaking families to take up residence in that region.
Upon his arrival O’Hara became head of a fishery in Baie de Gaspé. The following year he was appointed justice of the peace. In 1767 Lieutenant Governor Guy Carleton granted him and his partner, Quebec merchant John McCord, 1,300 acres of land located partly in the centre of the village and partly on both banks of the Rivière York. McCord seems never to have lived at Gaspé; consequently O’Hara was able to use the grant for his own benefit. Diversifying his activities, O’Hara two years later obtained a licence to sell alcoholic beverages, which he probably carried in the store he owned. In addition to fishing and trading he farmed and raised livestock; in 1777 he had 17 head of cattle. From 1780 he also owned a sawmill located at Anse aux Cousins.
After complaining to Carleton of being “abandoned, forsaken as in a desert,” in 1779 O’Hara received a commission as a judge of the Court of Common Pleas established that year at Gaspé, with an annual salary of £100. But this court, of which Charles Robin* and Isaac Mann were also to be members, functioned badly because the means of communication were inadequate; both judges and litigants found it difficult to get to Percé, where the court sat. In the year following this appointment O’Hara also accepted the position of collector in the Gaspé custom-house, which at that time was a branch of the Quebec one [see Thomas Ainslie]. In 1785, with the backing of the Jersey merchants trading on the coast, O’Hara asked the government to make the custom-house independent, a request that was finally granted. In addition to these functions O’Hara represented the lieutenant governor of the District of Gaspé, Nicholas Cox*, during his frequent absences. Like Cox, he complained to Governor Haldimand of American privateers in the district; the privateers attacked in 1782, took him prisoner, but acquitted him “of the crime of being rich.”
In May 1783 O’Hara acted as guide to Justus Sherwood, who had been sent by Haldimand to the Gaspé to examine the possibility of settling loyalists there in the hope that they might engage in the fishing industry. The following year some five or six hundred loyalists began moving into the region. O’Hara immediately judged them to be malcontents, unreliable and difficult to please. He soon got into trouble with them. In 1785, because O’Hara, it seems, was showing signs of greed, the loyalists set fire to the woods on about 800 of the 1,500 acres he had received as a grant from Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton* that year.
In 1789, when Carleton (now Lord Dorchester) set up a land board for the District of Gaspé, O’Hara agreed to be a member of it. This board, which in addition to Cox, Robin, and O’Hara included a loyalist and two Canadians, was to examine requests for land and to issue certificates of grants. On 25 Feb. 1795 the British government at last recognized O’Hara’s abilities and experience in the legal field by appointing him judge of the Provincial Court of Gaspé, which had been created in 1793, and he received an annual salary of £200.
O’ Hara died at Gaspé on 9 Sept. 1805. In the will he had drawn up a month before, he bequeathed to three of his grandsons the seigneury of Grand-Pabos, which he had purchased from Haldimand’s heir for 2,000 livres in 1796. Curiously, he left nothing to his wife, who was obliged to seek a pension from the government. In August 1806, with the support of her son Henry and Thomas Dunn, the president and administrator of Lower Canada, she obtained an annual allowance of £50.
A sensible, well-informed man according to Bishop Charles Inglis of Nova Scotia, Felix O’Hara initiated the rapid economic development of the Gaspé area. Ambitious and interested in acquiring property, he tried to exploit its major resources – the fishery and the forests. At least three of his seven children distinguished themselves in the region. Oliver became customs agent at New Carlisle, and Edward* was the first member for Gaspé in the House of Assembly of Lower Canada. For his part, Hugh became justice of the peace at Gaspé in 1788 and his commission was renewed six years later; in 1801 he replaced his father in the custom-house at Gaspé. He also acted as business agent for a Jersey company and for Pierre Brehaut. He died in 1818, victim of a contagious fever caught in helping some immigrants whose ship had cast anchor at Gaspé.
ANQ-Q, CN1-253, 30 April 1813; CN1-262, 15 nov. 1796; CN1-284, 1er mai 1810. Quebec Gazette, 24 Aug. 1769, 12 May 1785, 29 June 1786, 2 April 1789, 1 March 1792, 10 July 1794, 5 March 1795, 10 Oct. 1805, 6 Jan. 1811, 10 Dec. 1818. Patrice Gallant, Les registres de la Gaspésie (1752–1850) (6v., [Sayabec, Qué., 1968]). “Papiers d’État – Bas-Canada,” PAC Rapport, 1891: 25; 1892: 254–58. P.-G. Roy, Les juges de la prov. de Québec. C.-E. Roy et Lucien Brault, Gaspé depuis Cartier (Québec, 1934). Réginald Day “Il y a deux siècles: les O’Hara à Gaspé,” Rev. d’hist. de la Gaspésie (Gaspé, Qué.), 9 (1971): 342–97; 10 (1972): 31–35. David Lee, “La Gaspésie, 1760–1867,” Canadian Hist. Sites, no.23 (1980).