Irish Canadian Famine Research

Irish Canadian Famine Research

Month: May, 2014

The Famine Irish Remembered in Montreal

The Famine Irish Remembered in Montreal


By Alan Hustak for VMO
Monday, May 26th, 2014

Plans were announced Sunday for a $25 million park and interpretive centre that would tell the story of the famine Irish experience in Montreal in 1847.   

Victor Boyle, the National President of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, made the announcement during the annual Walk to the Stone on Bridge Street.

The Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation Program is to be one of four famine commemorative projects undertaken in Canada.  

It is hoped the project will be completed for Montreal’s 375th anniversary in 2017

“As Irish people, we don’t forget, and it is important we don’t forget,” Boyle said as his three-year-old grandson, Cian, climbed on the rock.

The Black Stone, in the middle of a traffic island on Bridge Street, is said to mark the spot where 6,000 Irish immigrants lay buried. Fleeing the potato famine in their homeland, they died of typhus contracted aboard so-called “famine ships.”

The Black Stone was erected above the mass graves in 1859. Now the plans are to build a more fitting memorial south of the Stone in the parking lot at the corner of Bridge and Irlandais Streets near the entrance to the Victoria Bridge.

“We can’t sit in the middle of the road forever,” said Foundation director, Diana English.  “The time has come to create a commemorative park and pavilion to reintegrate the site into the life of Montreal and at the same time add an important missing link to the history of Montreal, Quebec and Canada”

The first hurdle is to get title to the property surrounding the stone. Canadian National Railways sold some of it to the city in 1988, but there are nine other title-holders in the area, including the Anglican Diocese of Montreal.

“Today is about the remembrance of what was a holocaust in Ireland,” Dr. Ray Bassett, the Irish Republic’s ambassador to Canada, told a crowd of about 100 that had walked a kilometre from St. Gabriel’s church to the Stone.  “It was a catastrophe: one million dead, one million fled. There are 30,000 bodies lying in graves across Canada.”

New Orleans Judge James Mckay, vice president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians of America, said he hoped the Black Stone stands for “ eons to come.”

Montreal’s Irish community remembers Black ’47

MONTREAL – Thousands of Irish came to Canada during the potato famine in search of a better life, but many died from disease epidemics that hit Kingston, Toronto and Montreal.

Community members are now trying to raise awareness about it.

On Sunday, Irish-Montrealers marched to a large black rock that sits just to the left of the Victoria Bridge.

“There’s 6,000 people buried here,” said Dian English of the Montreal Irish Monument Foundation.

“They deserve a more fitting end than this.”

The 6000 people are the victims of the Black ’47, a year in the 1800′s during the Irish potato famine where about 100,000 Irish immigrants passed through Montreal.

Suffering from typhus, many came to North America in search of a new home – but ended up finding an early grave instead.
Now, members of Montreal’s community want to make the black stone the centerpiece of a park and a monument.

“We want to see a major park done here that has a cultural centre, that has four season sports, a real Canadian park,” said English.

But, the proposed park would reroute traffic going to the bridge, which could be an issue.

Not only is the stone in the middle of a major roadway, it’s in the midst of an area primed for development.

“To know the history of the space the people who built it, the people who played a role in populating it and make sure that history isn’t forgotten and try to give it back,” said Sterling Downey, a Montreal City Councillor.

“It doesn’t mean that you can’t develop. But there are intelligent ways of developing.”

Every year Montreal’s Irish community gathers at Saint-Gabriel’s Church in Pointe-Saint-Charles to walk to the black stone.

In the future, they hope they can make it more of a destination.

“People would be able to not only dodge traffic to spend time with the stone, but be able to spend time with their families, having picnics,” said Victor Boyle of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Canada.

The thousands of people who died in the so-called coffin ships are believed to be buried under what is now a parking lot.

Incredibly, there’s no known record of who they were.

“The famine for us was like our holocaust,” said Ray Bassett, the Irish Ambassador to Canada.

Bassett admits he couldn’t find the black rock when he first came to Montreal.

“It’s important these people are remembered,” he said.

“They’re human beings, their individuals.”

Turning the median strip into something more substantial is still just an idea on paper, but the people who gathered there don’t want the memory of Black ’47 to sit in the middle of a highway forever.

Shannonside Radio Documentary: “The Missing 1490 — Strokestown Famine Emigrants”, by Mary Mullins

Shannonside Radio Documentary: “The Missing 1490 — Strokestown Famine Emigrants”, by Mary Mullins

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Video Excerpts from National Famine Commemoration at Strokestown 2014

Video Excerpts from National Famine Commemoration at Strokestown 2014


The Creation of the Famine Museum at Strokestown Park House

The Creation of the Famine Museum at Strokestown Park House

Strokestown Park House Glass Memorial Wall listing the missing 1490 names of Famine emigrants to Quebec

Glass Wall listing 275 of our native Strokestown Families totalling 1490 of our residents who had to flee our town during the Famine. The ‘Missing 1,490 – Strokestown’s Famine Emigrants’ has now been launched. Is your Family name on the Wall ?

Canada Come Home Re-Enactment of Famine Evictions from Fitzwilliam Wicklow Estate

Canada Come HomeCanada Come Home Re-Enactment of Famine Evictions from Fitzwilliam Wicklow Estate \"Canada

The project Canada Come Home recognized the lives of Irish emigrants who left Wicklow to resettle in Canada during the Great Hunger. The event on Friday, September 13, 2013 included a reenactment of the Fitzwilliam Estate clearances.

Between 1847 and 1856, 6,000 tenants were forced to leave the Fitzwilliam Estate and many families went to Canada. Black ‘47 as it became known, was the worst year of the Great Hunger.

Canadian Ambassador to Ireland Loyola Hearn spoke at the event. The Independent quoted him, “The connections between Canada and Ireland have never been stronger or closer than they are today.” He added, “It is very appropriate in this, the year of the Gathering, that such an event as this is being held in Wicklow.”

A potato blight was carried by ships from the eastern seaboard of the United States and Canada to Ireland, where the blight wreaked havoc on the potato crop in 1845. Having only small plots of land, many Irish tenants had become dependent on the very nutritious potato, which gave high yields from a small plot.

The idea that charity was not automatically deserved and stress on self-reliance weakened British motivation to help victims of the Great Hunger. Following laissez faire, the notion that the government should interfere as little as possible with the economy, grain exports remained at pre-famine levels. The British opened soup kitchens in 1847, but closed them after only six months once the death toll started to subside.

Without another crop or the financial resources to buy grain the British were importing, many Irish died from disease or emigrated. The United States and Canada were popular destinations. Ships departing to these locations became known as ‘coffin ships’ as many of their passengers did not survive the journey. About one million died during the Great Hunger and another million emigrated. Today Ireland is a key advocate for finding solutions to world hunger.

CCH Earl welcomes Ambassador

‘The Earl Fitzwilliam’ welcomes Ambassador Hearn and his wife Maureen to Coollattin House

In the Wake of the Dark Passage: Irish Famine Migration to New Brunswick

In the Wake of the Dark Passage: Irish Famine Migration to New Brunswick

Members of the Laird Family at the graveside of Willie Laird of Killukin, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Roscommon who served with the Canadian Forces in the Great War. A memorial wreath was laid at his grave in St. George's Church, Carrick-on-Shannon by Canadian Ambassador, Loyola Hearn.  Photo: Keith Nolan

The province of New Brunswick in Atlantic Canada and The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick are proud to present an Exhibition commemorating two components of Irish history, which will run at St. George’s until 21st May.

H.E. Loyola Hearn, Canadian Ambassador to Ireland, accompanied by his wife, were guests of honour at several events hosted by Leitrim Tourism, Leitrim County Council, the Carrick-on-Shannon Heritage Group, and the Chamber of Commerce on the 10th of April.

A large crowd attended the reception in St. George’s Heritage Centre and viewed the new exhibition, which was accompanied by the magical music of Mrs. Ruth Waller on the Church’s 1847 Telford Organ…

Exhibitions on Loan


One exhibit entitled, “In the Wake of the Dark Passage”, deals with the impact of the Great Irish Famine of 1847 which led 30,000 immigrants to New Brunswick, Canada.

This display examines the nature of shipping in the 19th century and the rights and treatment of passengers aboard emigrant vessels.

The accompanying exhibit entitled, “An Honourable Independence – Irish Immigration and Settlement in New Brunswick, 1815-1855,” illustrates the migration and settlement patterns of Irish immigrants in the province and their experiences and contributions to Canadian society.

Historical photographs, documents, maps and census data, all drawn from the Provincial Archives, are showcased in this display.

Together, these displays provide a comprehensive and detailed exploration of the Irish immigrant story in early New Brunswick.

Irish history and heritage has been a theme of wide interest in the province where over 38 per cent of our population is of Irish descent.

Both exhibitions arrived in Ireland in September 2013 to be a focal point at ‘Canada Come Home’, one of the Flagship Gathering events in Co. Wicklow which attracted hundreds of Canadian visitors to the event in Coollattin House, former home of the Earls Fitzwilliam.

‘Canada Come Home’ celebrated the lives of all those who left Co. Wicklow for a new life in Canada and in particular the 6000 who were cleared from the Fitzwilliam Estate…

The “Dark Passage” exhibit was also shown at the National Famine Museum in Strokestown, the Derry Workhouse Museum, the Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire, and the Monaghan County Museum.

The Heritage Group is thankful to Lynne Reece Loftus and the staff of the Canadian Embassy in Dublin for facilitating the events.

The Exhibition will continue at St. George’s Heritage & Visitor Centre until 21st May. The Centre is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and from the 4th of May on Saturdays. For further information or to arrange group tours, please ring 071 962 1757.


Sources on Irish Immigrants to Canada and the 1847 Typhus Epidemic

Sources on Irish Immigrants to Canada and the 1847 Typhus Epidemic

Sources on Irish Immigrants to Canada and the 1847 Typhus Epidemic


A unique new source of information for some 1847 Irish immigrants to Canada has gone online. The Montreal Sisters of Charity, known as the Grey Nuns, kept a diary of sorts of the Irish immigrants they cared for in the summer of 1847, as well as the Irish widows and orphans they helped find homes.

Typhus felled many of these new immigrants. The typhus epidemic of 1847 was an outbreak of typhus caused by a massive Irish emigration in 1847, during the Great Famine, aboard crowded and disease-ridden ships known as “coffin ships.”

In Canada, more than 20,000 people died from 1847 to 1848, with many quarantined in “fever sheds” in Grosse Isle, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto and St. John.

In Montreal, between 3,500 and 6,000 Irish immigrants died of “ship fever” (typhus) in what were known as “fever sheds” in a quarantine area called Windmill Point in 1847 and 1848. These immigrants had been transferred from quarantine in Grosse Isle, Quebec, the Canadian equivalent of Ellis Island.

Due to a lack of suitable preparations, typhus soon reached epidemic proportions in Montreal. Three fever sheds were initially constructed, 150 feet (46 m) long by 40 to 50 feet (15 m) wide. As thousands more sick immigrants landed, more sheds had to be erected.

The number of sheds would grow to 22. Troops cordoned off the area so the sick could not escape. The Grey Nuns cared for the sick, carrying women and children in their arms from ships to the ambulances.

According to Montreal journalist and historian Edgar Andrew Collard, 30 of the 40 nuns who went to help became ill, with 7 dying. Other nuns took over, but once the surviving Grey Nuns had convalesced, they returned. Priests also helped, many falling ill after hearing the last confessions of the dying. When a mob threatened to throw the fever sheds into the river, Montreal mayor John Easton Mills quelled the riot by himself joining those providing care — giving patients water and changing bedding. He died in November, serving less than a year in office. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Montreal urged French Québécois to help their fellow Catholics. Many travelled to Montreal from the countryside to adopt children, in some cases passing their land on to them.

The typhus outbreak also hit Bytown (Ottawa). With the arrival of over 3,000 Irish immigrants, the fever first appeared in June 1847. The sick were initially cared for by the same community of Sisters, the Grey Nuns. As the numbers of sick swelled, “fever sheds” had to be erected in Ottawa too. Approximately 200 died in quarantine. The Rideau Canal was even shut down in an effort to prevent further spread of the outbreak.

The Digital Irish Famine archive contains the Annals of the Sisters. They are translated into English from the French, and the original French text is also part of the archive. All items are downloadable.

The documents are not indexed but are searchable, and still provide tremendous insight into the circumstances and effects of Gorta Mor — the Great Famine. They offer a stirring tribute to the Sisters of Charity and their care for the sick and dying.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny reads names of famine victims written on a glass wall in Strokestown Park House, Co Roscommon.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny reads names of famine victims written on a glass wall in Strokestown Park House, Co Roscommon.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny reads names of famine victims written on a glass wall in Strokestown Park House, Co Roscommon. Photo Brian Farrell