Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada commemorate the importance of immigration to Canada, particularly via the entry port of Québec, from the early 19th century to the First World War.
Grosse Île also commemorates the tragic events experienced by the Irish immigrants at this site, primarily during the typhoid epidemic of 1847.
The commemoration on this site is also based on the role the island played from 1832-1937 as a quarantine station for the Port of Québec, long the main port of arrival for immigrants to Canada.
Finally, Grosse Île bears witness to the work of Dr. Frederick Montizambert in the field of preventative medicine and public health in Canada.
Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada were twinned on May 25, 1998 with the National Famine Museum of Strokestown Park in Ireland. Even if separated by thousands of kilometres, these two heritage sites tell, in their own way, the same story: Grosse Île, land of hope for thousands of Irish immigrants who left their native land.
1847: A TRAGIC YEAR AT GROSSE ÎLE
By André Charbonneau, Historian – September 1995
The tragic events at Grosse Île in 1847 stemmed from the Great Irish Famine, one of the pivotal events in the history of Ireland. During that agonizing upheaval, this lasted less than a decade, this country’s population declined by over 2 million. One half of these died from starvation, disease or malnutrition, while the other half emigrated. The current population of Ireland is still smaller than it was in 1841!
The Great Famine, which lasted from 1845 to 1848-1849, reached a climax in 1847. In Québec and Grosse Île, the situation soon became tragic, with over 100 000 immigrants arriving in a single season. In previous years, the average number of newcomers had been 25 000 to 30 000. Most of the immigrants who landed here at the height of the famine were Irish. Already weakened by malnutrition and starvation, they had been crowded aboard unsanitary sailboats, unfit for transporting human beings. They reached their destination in a deplorable state, many already infected with typhus, a disease which soon reached epidemic proportions.
In 1847, 398 ships were inspected at Grosse Île and 441 registered in Québec. Seventy-seven carried over 400 passengers each. Seventy-three ships were from Liverpool, which was the main port of departure, while 50 hailed from Limerick. Another thirty-three were from Cork, 29 from Glasgow, 27 from Dublin, 26 from Sligo, 24 from Bremen, Germany, and 21 from Belfast. Although ships normally took an average of 45 days to make the crossing, 26 of those that set sail in 1847 took over 60 days to reach Grosse Île. And while vessels were usually quarantined for an average of 6 days at the island, several stayed there for over 20 days that year.
The situation was precarious at Grosse Île. Even though the quarantine station had been enlarged considerably during the season, it was barely equipped to meet the demand and its staff was overworked. Several ships had to anchor off the island while they awaited inspectors and medical personnel.
The tragic events of 1847 took a heavy toll: over 5 000 people died at sea and 5,424 people were buried at Grosse Île. Thousands more died in cities elsewhere in Canada.
The Celtic Cross
|Built in 1909 under the auspices of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, this cross honours the memory of the Irish immigrants who perished from typhus between 1847-1848. The top part of the monument-a Celtic-style cross with a circle intersecting the four arms-was cut from Irish stone. The cross stands approximately 15 metres high. This trilingual monument – French, English, and Gaelic – recalls the tragic destiny of Irish immigrants during the Great Famine.|
The Monument to Physicians
|Carved from a marble stele, which is decorated with a cornice and topped with an urn, the monument was built around 1853 by Dr. Douglas, the first superintendent of the quarantine station. The monument bears witness to the tragic events that occurred at Grosse Île during the widespread epidemics in 1847. The oldest commemorative artefact on Grosse Île, the monument presents the names of doctors who gave their lives through their devotion to sick immigrants: Doctors Benson, Pinet, Mailhot, and Jameson, who were typhus victims in 1847; and Doctors Panet and Christie, the former a victim of cholera in 1834, and the latter of typhus in 1837.|
The Irish Cemetery
|The Irish cemetery was laid out in 1832 on a plateau between two crags located southwest of Cholera Bay. Until 1847, individual burials were performed at the cemetery. That year, because of the high rate of mortality from typhus, long trenches were dug to serve as mass graves. According to some accounts, coffins were sometimes stacked three deep in the trenches. The cemetery’s relief still shows where these mass graves were dug. In addition, the Irish cemetery holds over 6,000 of Grosse Île’s 7,553 burial plots. It owes its name to the main victims of the cholera (1832-1834) and typhus (1847) epidemics: the Irish immigrants.|
In August 1998, Parks Canada inaugurated the Grosse Île Memorial. Created by artist Lucienne Cornet and the Émile Gilbert and Associates architect firm, the Memorial commemorates the memory of the Irish and other immigrants who perished on the island, and of those who sacrificed their lives to nurse and comfort the sick immigrants.
The work was inspired by the intensity of the location. Through a series of corridors, the Memorial leads visitors into the earth, a symbol of darkness, before emerging into the light, in an area where the names of those who died were engraved. Located near the Irish cemetery, the Memorial proposes a symbolic voyage, making the visitor relive the emotions provoked by the anxiety of a trying crossing, the conclusion of a merciless famine, and by the desire and the hope of discovering a new land. The work was inaugurated in the presence of the President of Ireland, Ms. Mary McAleese.
List of Names on the Memorial
1847 – 1851
CORRIGAN / Carrigan