“Saving the Famine Irish” Exhibition comes to Montreal
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.
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.