Irish Canadian Famine Research

Irish Canadian Famine Research

Month: April, 2016

Bravery of the Grey Nuns of Montreal during Great Famine honored

http://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/Bravery-of-the-Grey-Nuns-of-Montreal-during-Great-Famine-honored.html

IrishCentral Staff Writers April 20,2016.

 

Montreal’s Grey Nuns are being honored, in a touring exhibition, for their charity in caring for and dying with the sick Great Hunger victims in the fever sheds by the St. Lawrence River.

In the exhibit entitled “Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger,” which was on show at the Centaur Theatre in Montreal last week, examines the nuns’ heroism and that of other locals. At least seven nuns died and many became severely ill as they nursed the Irish and found homes for the 1,500 orphans. At least 6,000 Irish people lost their lives.

When the coffin ships from Ireland began arriving in 1847 there were 50,000 people in Montreal. Over 100,000 Irish, emaciated and often diseased with typhus and other deadly infections, were on their way to Quebec and understandably many Montrealers were afraid. Many wanted the new arrivals pushed into the St. Lawrence River and at one-point Mayor John Mills was forced to deter a mob from doing so.

The immigration depot on Grosse Île near Quebec City was unable to handle the deluge of Irish refugees and as many as 5,000 died there. Another 5,000 – at least – died during the crossing from Ireland. Those Irish who survived were quarantined in the 22 fever sheds, built near where Victoria Bridge now stands.

Bridget O'Donnel, a victim of Ireland's Great Hunger, was interviewed by The Illustrated London News in 1949.

Bridget O’Donnel, a victim of Ireland’s Great Hunger, was interviewed by The Illustrated London News in 1849.

The Grey Nuns, also known as the Sisters of Charity, were the first order to be called to help the Irish. There were just 40 nuns in the group and most of them became infected with typhus. They carried the sick Irish from the ships to the sheds where they cared for them. At least even Grey Nuns died, but those who recovered from the disease came back and continued to care for those who needed it.

There were 1,500 orphans left after the massive number of deaths. The Nuns found them homes either with other Irish families or French Canadians.

Also among those caring for the Irish were Catholic and Anglican clergymen, and several priests also lost their lives. There are also tales of British soldiers on security detail at the sheds giving up their rations to feed the Irish.

The Nuns’ own writings on the disaster are the “most detailed eye-witness accounts of the suffering,” according to the National University of Ireland, Galway, Famine Archives. Their annals have been digitized, transcribed and translated and can now be read online.

The nuns amazing work was also described by John Francis Maguire in “The Irish in America,” in 1868. He wrote:

“First came the Grey Nuns, strong in love and faith; but so malignant was the disease that thirty of their number were stricken down, and thirteen died the death of martyrs. There was no faltering, no holding back; no sooner were the ranks thinned by death than the gaps were quickly filled; and when the Grey Nuns were driven to the last extremity, the Sisters of Providence came to their assistance, and took their place by the side of the dying strangers. But when even their aid did not suffice to meet the emergency, the Sisters of St. Joseph, though cloistered nuns, received the permission of the Bishop to share with their sister religious the hardships and dangers of labor by day and night.”

Jason King, from the National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway, and Christine Kinealy, director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, put together a portrait of these incredible caregivers for the new exhibition. The exhibit has been on show at the Great Hunger Museum in Hamden, CT for a year will and now tour for a short time, beginning with Montreal.

“The story of the Grey Nuns, and of the other religious orders who helped the dying Irish immigrants, is one of kindness, compassion and true charity,” Kinealy said.

“Nonetheless, almost 6,000 Irish immigrants perished in the fever sheds of Montreal. They had fled from famine in Ireland only to die of fever in Canada. This is a remarkable story that deserves to be better known.”

Fergus Keyes, the Director of the Irish Monument Park Foundation, told the Montreal Gazette, “The exhibit is to concentrate on the people who went to help them, and in many cases gave up their life.

“That included John Mills, the mayor of Montreal at the time, who wasn’t Irish, wasn’t Catholic, but he set up the sheds and went and nursed the Irish and it cost him his life. Sometimes he’s called the Martyr Mayor of Montreal.”

It’s hoped that the presence of the exhibition in Montreal will help highlight the campaign to create a park honoring those who lost their lives. Currently the only monument is the “Black Rock” monument, an engraved boulder under Victoria Bridge.

 

black-stone-18

Boulder under Victoria Bridge to commemorate those who died during the Great Hunger and construction of the bridge.

 

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Montreal Famine Irish Walk Featured in Irish Times

http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/montreal-s-irish-story-gets-a-new-chapter-1.2616295

Montreal’s Irish story gets a new chapter

Irish writers played a prominent role in Blue Metropolis festival, telling new Irish stories in a Francophone city rediscovering its Irish roots dating to the Famine and beyond

Jeff Heinrich,  Apr 19, 2016

Montreal Famine Walk 6

Donovan King leads walking tour to Black Stone of Famine Irish sites in Montreal.

The Blue Met’s Irish events included a walking tour of Old Montreal, the Lachine Canal and neighbouring Griffintown (now undergoing heavy gentrification) and Pointe-Saint-Charles, both once heavily Irish.

There’s enough local lore there to – fittingly – fill a book.

Participants followed the annual pilgrimage route of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, culminating in the Black Rock by the Victoria Bridge that marks the burial site of 6,000 mostly Irish immigrants who died of ship fever in 1847-’48.

Montreal Walking Tour 5

Proceeds of the tour went to the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation, which wants the area redeveloped into a commemorative park that does justice to the memory of the dead, some of whom died building the original railroad.

“There’s an expression here that goes: there’s an Irishman under every railway tie,” said tour guide Donovan King, himself of Irish descent. “They were seen as expendable labour.”

That gritty reality is also something that Montreal’s Irish look for when they read Irish writers – harsh modern times that for some reflect their own upbringing in Canada.

Montreal Famine Walk 4

Montreal Famine Walk 3

Montreal Famine Walk 2

Montreal Famine Walk 7

 

Behind the Scenes: Montreal Launch of the “Saving the Famine Irish” Exhibit

From Donovan King:

I had a great day setting up this exhibition, curated by Dr. Jason King and Dr. Christine Kinealy, with my fellow directors at the Irish Monument Park Foundation. Exhibit Launch Montreal 14Exhibit Launch Montreal 2

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Exhibit chronicles nuns’ care of Irish immigrants

http://www.rcinet.ca/en/2016/04/12/exhibit-chronicles-nuns-care-of-irish-immigrants/

Grey Nuns aid poor

Founded in 1737, the Grey Nuns became providers of health care and social services, coming to the aid of the poor and the sick.
Photo Credit: CBC/McCord Museum

By Lynn Desjardins Tuesday 12 April, 2016

Tens of thousands of people fled the disease and misery of the Irish potato famine in the 1800s and came to Canada sick and poor. In Montreal, three orders of nuns led by the Grey Nuns fed and cared for them, some of the sisters succumbing to disease themselves. An exhibition which chronicles the effort is now touring Montreal at the request of the The Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation.

The painting entitled “Le Typhus” by Theophile Hamel shows Montreal nuns caring for sick Irish immigrants.
The painting entitled “Le Typhus” by Theophile Hamel shows Montreal nuns caring for sick Irish immigrants. © Collection of Priests of Saint-Sulpice of Montreal, Marguerite/Photo Normand Rajotte

Irish immigrants as ballast

Those fleeing Ireland found it was cheapest to come to Canada. The United States had imposed a tax on immigrants and the voyage was very expensive. Canadian shippers offered cheap passage and essentially used Irish travellers as ballast on ships that otherwise would have returned empty from having delivered lumber to England.

The ships were not suitable for passengers and people had to bring their own, often, meagre provisions for the five-to-10 week crossing. Many were malnourished and already incubating disease like typhus and famine fever.

Prof. Christine Kinealy says the exhibit provides a sense of the suffering of the Irish immigrants and of the compassion of the nuns.
Prof. Christine Kinealy says the exhibit provides a sense of the suffering of the Irish immigrants and of the compassion of the nuns. © Countryside Studios

‘What happened is remarkable’

Some 75,000 Irish arrived in Montreal in 1847 alone and over 6,000 of them died. “What happened is remarkable,” says Christine Kinealy, director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, U.S. and co-curator of the exhibit.

“A number of Catholic religious orders led by three groups of nuns asked permission from the bishop if they could establish fever sheds and establish them near the dockside, so away from the main community.

“They were given permission and the nuns, led by the Grey Nuns opened 22 fever sheds to look after the poor immigrants. We don’t know how many lives precisely were saved, but we can only imagine thousands were saved,” says Kinealy.

Listen

Citizens, afraid of catching diseases, rioted but the trouble was quelled by Mayor John Mills, who approved the sheds, nursed the ill himself, caught typhus and died of it.

Meticulous French records translated

The nuns continued to care for survivors, helping them until they got established and finding homes for more than 1,500 orphaned children. They documented everything meticulously in French. Several documents have been translated and are part of the exhibition along with many artefacts.

One relates the story of a woman named Rose who was thought to be dead and whose children were sent for adoption. Rose survived and found two of them, but not the third. One day at mass, a child rolled a marble toward her and she turned out to be the long-lost daughter.

Suffering and compassion

“It’s a very human story,” says Kinealy. “There are also within the archives lists of the orphans who were left. And when you see their youth and their conditions, again it’s very, very moving…

“You get a sense of the history but also of the suffering of the Irish immigrants and of the compassion of the sisters.”

Saving the Famine Irish exhibit comes to Montreal

Saving the Famine Irish exhibit comes to Montreal

Centaur Reception

A special opening reception at the Centaur Theatre for the “Saving the Famine Irish” Exhibition, Monday, April 11, 2016.

MONTREAL – It is a story of survival and compassion.

The exhibit comes from Connecticut’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University, which hosted the exhibition from March 17, 2015 until March 17, 2016.

The exhibit tells the story of the Grey Nuns, who helped sick Irish immigrants landing in Quebec after they fled the famine during the summer of 1847.

“The story of the Grey Nuns and of the other religious orders who helped the dying Irish immigrants is one of kindness, compassion and true charity,” said Christine Kinealy, founding director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac.

Kinealy is also one of the curators of the exhibit.

“Nonetheless, almost 6,000 Irish immigrants perished in the fever sheds of Montreal,” she said.

“They had fled from famine in Ireland only to die of fever in Canada. This is a remarkable story that deserves to be better known.”

The foundation hopes the exhibit will help highlight the Black Rock monument – an engraved boulder that sits under Montreal’s Victoria Bridge in commemoration of the Irish famine victims.

The foundation would like to  see the monument become a green space and cultural park to honour those who perished, as well as the people who helped them during the trying times.

Irish famine exhibit celebrates courage of Montreal’s Grey Nuns

René Bruemmer, Montreal Gazette

A wreath sits at the base of the black rock in Point Saint Charles, Montreal, Sunday, May 31, 2009, after a ceremony to commemorate the Irish immigrants who died of typhus in Montreal after fleeing the potato famine in 1847. photo  THE GAZETTE/Graham Hughes.
A wreath sits at the base of the black rock in Point Saint Charles, Montreal, Sunday, May 31, 2009, after a ceremony to commemorate the Irish immigrants who died of typhus in Montreal after fleeing the potato famine in 1847. photo THE GAZETTE/Graham Hughes. Graham Hughes / Montreal Gazette

 

When no one wanted the starving Irish, Montreal’s Grey Nuns cared for the new immigrants, many of whom were stricken with typhus. Several of the nuns would die. As would the mayor of Montreal.

A new exhibit titled Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger running this week at the Centaur Theatre chronicles their heroism and that of other religious orders and Montrealers.

When the coffin ships started arriving from Ireland in 1847, unloading passengers into fever sheds in the south of the city, many residents wanted the new arrivals pushed into the St. Lawrence. At one point Montreal’s mayor deterred a mob from doing so.

There were only 50,000 people in Montreal, and many were terrified. More than 100,000 emaciated, often diseased Irish were on their way to Quebec after the potato crop in Ireland failed two years in a row. The British government was unable to care for the starving and America had enacted strict standards for immigration that included costly ship fares out of reach of the impoverished Irish.

 

So they came to Quebec, paying cheap fares to be packed by the hundreds in dank holds, used as ballast in British trade ships that usually shipped lumber. Five thousand died on the crossing, their corpses tossed overboard. Unable to handle the deluge at the immigration depot on Grosse Île near Quebec City, where as many as 5,000 would die, many of the ships were waved on to Montreal by immigration officials.

The ill and the dying were quarantined in the 22 fever sheds built near where the Victoria Bridge now stands.

The Grey Nuns, or Sisters of Charity as they are also known, were the first religious order called in to assist the Irish. Only about 40 in number, most of them would become infected with typhus themselves, carrying the ill from the ships to the sheds and administering to them. Seven of them would die. Those who didn’t convalesced, then came back to continue caring for the Irish. They would nurse them back to health and find homes for more than 1,500 orphans, either with other Irish families or, in most cases, with French Canadians, which is why Quebec’s Irish roots run so deep.

Many members of the Catholic and Anglican clergies, including several priests, gave help, sometimes at the cost of their lives. British soldiers on security detail gave up their rations to feed the starving.

Digging through the annals and archival records of the Grey Nuns, Jason King, a Montrealer now at the National University of Ireland, and Christine Kinealy, director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, have put together a portrait as seen through the eyes of the many caregivers. On display in Connecticut for a year, the modest exhibit of explanatory texts, artifacts and sculptures will tour various locations in Montreal, beginning with the Centaur Theatre.

“The exhibit is to concentrate on the people who went to help them, and in many cases gave up their life,” said Fergus Keyes. “That included John Mills, the mayor of Montreal at the time, who wasn’t Irish, wasn’t Catholic, but he set up the sheds and went and nursed the Irish and it cost him his life. Sometimes he’s called the Martyr Mayor of Montreal.”

Keyes is the director of the Irish Monument Park Foundation, which is working to establish a memorial park to honour the 6,000 Irish who would die in Montreal. At present, the only memorial to the dead is the massive Irish Rock that was unearthed by Irish labourers building the Victoria Bridge and placed over a burial spot on Bridge St. near the span to protect it from desecration in 1959. Keyes’ foundation is working to create park space near the memorial, as has been done in several North American cities.

Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger runs at the Centaur Theatre, 453 St-Francois-Xavier St. in Old Montreal, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily until April 17.

Launch of the “Saving the Famine Irish” Exhibit at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre

http://mtltimes.ca/saving-famine-irish-exhibition-comes-montreal-2/Famine-Exhibition-Map-FT5S

The Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation is hosting “Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger,” at the Centaur Theatre from April 11th until April 17th. It is arriving from the Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University, Connecticut, which hosted the exhibition, curated by Dr. Jason King and Dr. Christine Kinealy, from March 17th, 2015 until March 17th, 2016.

This moving exhibition tells the story of the religious orders in Montreal whose members gave selflessly to Irish immigrants during the summer of 1847 – their time of greatest need.

Many thousands of people fled from Ireland during the Great Hunger and immigrated to Canada, the only doors never closed to the Irish. Famine immigrants to Montreal were not only among the poorest of the poor, but many of them arrived already sick with typhus fever. Despite this, a number of people in the English and French Canadian communities provided the ailing and the dying with shelter and support. At the forefront of this compassionate movement were the Sisters of Charity, also known as the Grey Nuns.

“The story of the Grey Nuns, and of the other religious orders who helped the dying Irish immigrants, is one of kindness, compassion and true charity,” Christine Kinealy, founding director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac and a professor of history,  said. “Nonetheless, almost 6,000 Irish immigrants perished in the fever sheds of Montreal. They had fled from famine in Ireland only to die of fever in Canada. This is a remarkable story that deserves to be better known.”

This exhibit is being hosted by the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation to help underscore the need to create a suitable memorial at the site of the “Black Rock” , which marks Montreal’s Irish Famine cemetery. This new green space would honour the 6000+ Irish immigrants who died and were buried in the area in 1847; as well as the many Montrealers who went to their aid, including John Easton Mills, the Mayor of Montreal at the time. He personally provided care and comfort to these unfortunate immigrants, caught typhus, and died as a hero. It would also honour the many brave French-speaking Quebec families that adopted more than 1000 Irish orphans, resulting in an estimated 40% of Quebecers having Irish ancestry today.

WWL

 

 

“Saving the Famine Irish” Exhibition comes to Montreal

http://mtltimes.ca/saving-famine-irish-exhibition-comes-montreal/Black Rock - 1859 (0)

This moving exhibition tells the story of the religious orders in Montreal whose members gave selflessly to Irish immigrants during the summer of 1847 – their time of greatest need.

Many thousands of people fled from Ireland during the Great Hunger and immigrated to Canada, the only doors never closed to the Irish. Famine immigrants to Montreal were not only among the poorest of the poor, but many of them arrived already sick with typhus fever. Despite this, a number of people in the English and French Canadian communities provided the ailing and the dying with shelter and support. At the forefront of this compassionate movement were the Sisters of Charity, also known as the Grey Nuns.

“The story of the Grey Nuns, and of the other religious orders who helped the dying Irish immigrants, is one of kindness, compassion and true charity,” Christine Kinealy, founding director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac and a professor of history,  said. “Nonetheless, almost 6,000 Irish immigrants perished in the fever sheds of Montreal. They had fled from famine in Ireland only to die of fever in Canada. This is a remarkable story that deserves to be better known.”

This exhibit is being hosted by the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation to help underscore the need to create a suitable memorial at the site of the “Black Rock” , which marks Montreal’s Irish Famine cemetery. This new green space would honour the 6000+ Irish immigrants who died and were buried in the area in 1847; as well as the many Montrealers who went to their aid, including John Easton Mills, the Mayor of Montreal at the time. He personally provided care and comfort to these unfortunate immigrants, caught typhus, and died as a hero. It would also honour the many brave French-speaking Quebec families that adopted more than 1000 Irish orphans, resulting in an estimated 40% of Quebecers having Irish ancestry today.

 

Montreal Irish Monument Foundation with Black Rock

Co-curator Dr. Jason King meets with Directors of Montreal Irish Memorial Park Foundation Fergus Keyes, Victor Boyle, and Donovan King to discuss future plans.

Saving the Famine Irish: the Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger

http://www.greynun.org/2015/06/saving-the-famine-irish-the-grey-nuns-and-the-great-hunger

Irish FaminePainting on the ceiling of Bon Secours Church in Old Montreal

 

Sister Marlene Butler received information from a friend in Connecticut about the exhibition telling the story of the Grey Nuns who gave selflessly to the Irish Famine immigrants in Montreal.  Within a few days, Sister Anne Marie Beirne called to tell her she had received information about a conference to be held at Quinnipiac University from June 3 to 6.  During the Conference there would be a presentation entitled “Sacred and Sacrilegious Women’s Testimonials:  the Grey Nuns and Maria Monk” by Jason King from the University of Galway.  They went for the talks on Friday, June 5 and to see the exhibition.  They were warmly welcomed and experienced a very inspiring day including a visit to the exhibition.

Jason King explored the controversy around Maria Monk that erupted in 1836 around accusations of institutional concealment of females and child victims of illegitimacy.  There was a sense of public fascination “with the concealed women and children incarcerated in these institutions to develop lurid fantasies about them.”

In his presentation, King argues that “the sacred images and religious iconography of French-Canadian and Irish female religious caring for Montreal’s famine immigrant in the “Saving the Famine Irish” exhibit were directly influenced and shaped by the sinister impressions of Maria Monk a decade earlier, which they sought to repudiate and replace”. He wanted to show that these sisters worked in a very anti-Catholic environment.

According to King, the annals of the Grey Nuns of Montreal  gave  the best and most detailed accounts in North America  describing  the plight of the Irish famine immigrants.  The Grey Nuns  worked with the women and orphans in the fever sheds in Old Montreal.  Many of them  lost their lives caring for the women and children.  The Grey Nuns were the first to be called to care for immigrants in the fever sheds.  Following them were the Sisters of Providence and the Sisters of St. Joseph.  The only image of them is in the painting of Theophile Hamel “Le typhus” ( 1848).

Click here to be linked to the Grey Nun annals

Grosse-Île: A Choral Story/ Une Histoire Chorale

Grosse-Île: A Choral Story/ Une Histoire Chorale

March 12th and 13th:  50 artists will take the stage at the Palais Montcalm in Quebec City to sing the story of Grosse-Île quarantine station, summer 1847.  Projections depict the island and relics of that summer; lighting and period costumes set the mood; first person narrative brings memory to life.  Supported by a musical trio of piano, guitar and flute, the voice of each singer will echo across the sea of time calling to us in the 21st century. Employing four languages, French, English, Gaelic and Latin, John Halpin’s lyrics capture a complex cultural mosaic.   Crisp vocal rhythms and rich four-part harmonization support lyrical solo performances, speaking of starvation, hope, desperation, sharing, illness, comforting, death, loss, and the will to carry on.

On the island we meet an elderly couple, Sean and Brigid, the story narrators, remembering their childhood experience in the summer of 1847; Eileen, a suffering Irish immigrant; Darah and Donal, a young Irish couple struggling to heal and restore their people; Skews, an English ship mate stricken by typhus; Doctor d’Amour, searching desperately for a ‘cure’; Father Charles, struggling to be the hand of God amidst a sea of pain and misery.  Over 5000 Irish immigrants died and were buried on Grosse-Île that fateful summer.  The authenticity of Sean and Brigid’s first hand experience of the quarantine station is tempered by the filter of time, the joy of the years won with their own survival and the courage and strength they attribute to the remarkable people they encountered on Grosse-Île.  In the end, it is the heart felt appeal of Father Charles to the faithful parishioners of Montmagny that opens the doors of the Québecois to the stranded Irish orphans.  This is the message of hope at the heart of Grosse-Île:  a story as much for our time as any; a story of anguish relieved by welcome… A story that must be told!

Grosse-Île: A Choral Story/ Une Histoire Chorale is a 2 hour narrative musical performance, written by three Quebeckers, Margaret Forrest, John Halpin and Hubert Radoux, and produced by Les Productions Cibles.  The 40 voice choir, Dal Segno, under the direction of Guillaume St. Gelais is joined by 7 soloists.

Grosse Île musical commemorates Quebec’s Irish heritage

Grosse Île musical commemorates Quebec’s Irish heritage

The bilingual production of Grosse Île: Une Histoire Chorale, which was shown last Saturday and Sunday at the Palais Montcalm, pulls at the heart strings.

“I hope that people feel the pain,” said co-author Margaret Forrest.

In 1847, immigrants traveled across the ocean from Ireland to get away from famine.

“They have to hope and come to Quebec, but then the landlords and the people on the boats are not necessarily nice to them and they get sick,” explained Marie-Maude Potvin, a singer and actress in the musical.

Suffering from cholera and typhoid fever, when the Irish finally arrived in Quebec, they were quarantined on Grosse Île.

“I was surprised that I didn’t know about the story,” said Katee Julien, another singer and actress.

“I think it’s important for us people from Quebec City to know about that because it’s about us. You don’t know why some streets have Irish names.”

This original play – and original score – commemorates the over 5,000 Irish immigrants buried on the island.

Greg Halpin plays two characters, both of whom die from disease.

“Throughout the play, there’s just constantly this chorus that keeps echoing back, of hope and how you get through these kinds of tragedies,” said Halpin.

The story takes place almost 170 years ago, but the imagery is all too reminiscent of Syrian refugees who have died in similar journeys by boat.

“People who were actually dying on the shoreline and they had no place for these people. They had no place to bury them,” said Radoux.

“It is so timely,” said Forrest.

“We’re so estranged to this notion of people having a right or a need to change the place they live. We tend to say ‘pull up your boot straps and change your own place’…but this is the time to open our arms.”

Forrest insisted Quebecers should welcome newcomers, who so quickly become part of our heritage.