Irish Canadian Famine Research

Irish Canadian Famine Research

Montreal Irish Monument Foundation

Montreal Irish Monument Foundation

Welcome to the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation Website. We invite you to peruse those sections that may interest you in this extraordinary story!

and to acquaint yourself with our plans…

The Black Rock was placed here 155 years ago to mark the actual site of a tragedy.. and to preserve  from desecration the remains of 6000 Irish who died of ships fever here in escaping death by starvation in their homeland.

Hundreds of their orphaned children were adopted into Quebecois families. Of some 100,000 who came through Montreal in 1847,  tens of thousands fell ill but recovered from their ordeal to move on to live all over Québec, New York, Boston,  and the rest of Canada and the US. Those that survived intermarried.  Their music, humour and some say disposition have become an integral part of the Quebecois character. Today more than 40% of Quebecois have Irish ancestry. Some do not even know it!


Much of the events of “Black 47” in Montreal have been buried. This site has seen its share of hostile takeover attempts and has been loyally defended by generations of eloquent Irish descendants. The site is a testament to courage and a reminder to value life and freedom.


Now the time has come to create the commemorative park and pavilion that these events merit. The Montreal Irish Monument Park will reintegrate this site into the life of Montreal, while adding an important missing link to the history of Montreal, Québec and Canada.

We can’t sit in the middle of the road forever!


An Irish Memorial at the Black Rock

An Irish Memorial at the Black Rock


The Black Rock, at the northern end of the Victoria Bridge, is a memorial to Irish immigrants who died of “ship fever” in 1847-48.

Photograph by: ANDRE PICHETTE

In Montreal’s Calcutta-like hot summer of 1847, large numbers of Irish immigrants were arriving in the city. Many had ship fever (typhus) and as result, approximately 6,000 men, women and children died and were buried in the area around the Montreal side of the Victoria Bridge.

In effect, everyone crossing the bridge is driving over a cemetery. Currently, the only monument to this tragic event is a rock known as Black Rock, which sits by itself while cars zoom by on both sides.

During the annual Walk to the Rock last month, an announcement was made that a new group called the Montreal Irish Memorial Park Foundation had been formed, with the objective of having all levels of government support the building of a large cultural green space in the immediate area.

At the moment, the area is rather desolate, and most of the property appears to be owned by the city of Montreal and/or the federal government. As such, the property is logically a good choice for a new green-space development, under the city’s plan to expand green spaces. There has been a lot of political interest in green-space issues in recent months.

The concept of this memorial-park proposal would be to honour these 6,000 immigrants who died; to honour the many French-speaking Quebec families who adopted, and gave homes to, the almost 1,000 children who were orphaned by this tragedy; and to honour the many Montrealers who went out and gave aid to these poor immigrants and caught the fever and died themselves, including John Mills, who was mayor of Montreal at the time.

This general area also appears to have been an important meeting place for aboriginal groups prior to the arrival of Europeans.

On a practical level, a properly designed cultural park, with sports facilities, would provide green space in the rapidly developing Griffintown area. It would make for a much nicer entry to the city of Montreal over the Victoria span. It could perhaps as well be a tourist attraction for the millions of Irish in North America whose ancestors arrived in that 1847 summer and survived.

It would seem that the city and federal government would like to designate this whole area for light industry and/or housing.

Since the area is currently wide open, with a great deal of space taken up by a seldom-used city parking lot, it would not be difficult to design and build a cultural green space. There would be no demolition required; the city of Montreal has a budget for green-space development; and extra funding is available as a result of developers in Griffintown having been obligated to set aside some funding for green space in the district. What’s more, some individuals, as well as groups in the local Irish community, have indicated they would be willing to donate to a memorial-park initiative.

This could certainly be a big, beautiful and positive project for Montreal. And if planning were to start soon, the basic green space could likely be ready for 2017 — the 375th anniversary of Montreal and 150th anniversary of Canada.

It is never easy to get green-space development included in urban planning. Can I suggest that any and all Montrealers interested in a Montreal Irish Memorial Park send an email to our mayor, Denis Coderre, asking him not to approve any plan for light industry around the north side of the Victoria Bridge until this green-space possibility is studied properly?

I would also like to invite Gazette readers to look at the Montreal Irish Memorial Park Foundation’s web page (, and leave their comments and suggestions.

Battle to mark grave of 6,000 Great Hunger victims of Black ’47 in Canada

Battle to mark grave of 6,000 Great Hunger victims of Black ’47 in Canada


The Irish community in Montreal plans to build a park and monument to commemorate the 6,000 Irish victims of ‘Black ’47,’ the worst year of Ireland’s Great Hunger, buried in the area.

An annual tradition among the Irish community in Montreal took place on Sunday, May 25. The community gathers at Saint-Gabriel’s Church in Pointe-Saint-Charles to walk to the black stone near the Victoria Bridge. The stone marks the graves of the 6,000 Great Hunger victims.

Known as the “Irish Commemorative Stone,” “The Black Rock,” “The Ship Fever Monument,” and “The Boulder Stone” it was erected in the mid-19th century by construction workers building the Victoria Bridge. Many of these workers were of Irish descent and wanted to mark the spot.

The inscription on the simply rock reads, “To Preserve from Desecration the Remains of 6,000Immigrants Who died of Ship Fever A.D. 1847-48

“This Stone is erected by the Workmen of Messrs. Peto, Brassey and Betts Employed in the Construction of the Victoria Bridge A.D. 1859″

The discovery and planned official memorial of these Great Famine remains mirrors that of the recent events in Staten Island, where two coffins filled with the remains of Famine victims were buried on the ground of the newly built St. George Courthouse. It is believed that the new courthouse rests upon thousands of Great Hunger dead.

Thousands of Irish traveled to Canada during the Great Hunger (1845 to 1852), but many died from disease. During the worst year, Black ’47, it’s estimated that 100,000 Irish immigrants passed through Montreal. Six-thousand of these souls are buried at the site of the black stone.

Dian English of the Montreal Irish Monument Foundation told the Global News, “They deserve a more fitting end than this.”

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

The proposed park could have planning issues as it would reroute traffic going to the bridge. The stone is not only in the middle of a major roadway, but it is in an area primed for development.

Sterling Downey, a Montreal City Councillor said the proposed park would enable Montrealers “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.

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

The community’s aim is to make this area a destination to learn and remember Irish history, a history which sadly left few written records. Although an estimated 6,000 people are buried in the area, there are no records of who these people may have been.

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

He pointed out that when he arrived in Montreal he found it difficult to locate the black rock.

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

“They’re human beings; their individuals.”

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.”

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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The Creation of the Famine Museum at Strokestown Park House

The Creation of the Famine Museum at Strokestown Park 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

National Famine Commemoration at Strokestown and the Irish Famine Migration to Canada

National Famine Commemoration at Strokestown and the Irish Famine Migration to Canada


The annual famine commemoration took place in Strokestown, County Roscommon on Sunday May 11.

Irish leader Enda Kenny, who was present, stated, “In remembering our past, we must not lose sight of our present.

“Our history of famine means that Irish people have a particular empathy with those suffering the effects of hunger in the world today.

“As Taoiseach, in honor of our Famine dead, I’m proud to be able to say that combating global hunger and undernutrition is central both to Ireland’s foreign policy and to our overseas development-assistance programme – Irish Aid.”

Strokestown now houses the famine museum. In 1847, 5,000 Irish left Co Roscommon on four ships bound for Canada. Fewer than 1500 people survived, but until this year, the destiny of those “missing 1490” remained unknown.

A project by the University of Maynooth has uncovered the fate of a large number of the survivors. A memorial wall was unveiled this weekend containing the names of the emigrants.

Dr Ciarán Reilly of the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates, NUI Maynooth in conjunction with Strokestown Park House, led the research.

He found much of the information for the project from the Strokestown archive, which houses more than 50,000 documents, the majority related to the Great Famine.

The people were mass evicted from the Strokestown estate in Co Roscommon after Major Denis Mahon inherited the 11,000 acre estate following the murder of Rev Maurice Mahon, third baron Hartland in November 1845.

After years of neglect and mismanagement, the estate was nearly £30,000 in debt and suffering from gross overcrowding.

John Ross Mahon, the land agent, came up with the scheme of assisted emigration after discovering that it would cost over £11,000 annually to keep the people in the Roscommon workhouse but only £5,800 to help them emigrate.

“In May, 1847 1,490 tenants left from the Strokestown estate for Quebec in British North America (Canada). They were accompanied on their walk to Dublin, by the Royal Canal footway, by the bailiff, John Robinson who was instructed to stay with them all the way to Liverpool and ensure that they boarded the ships,” Dr Reilly told

They left on four ships: the Virginius, Naomi, John Munn and the Erin’s Queen.

“The Mahon tenants were amongst the first to be characterized as sailing on coffin ships during the Famine,” said Reilly. “With Cholera and typhus rampant the emigrants were exposed to the ravages of disease.”

The journey took the lives of many of passengers and the majority of those who lived became sick.

Reilly says the survivors were described as “ghastly, yellow-looking spectres, unshaven and hollow cheeked.”

To trace the lives of those who survived the arduous trip, Dr Reilly searched census records, the Strokestown newspapers archive, obituaries, and many online archives, including the Library of Congress.

He found many of the Strokestown emigrants were interviewed by Canadian papers once they landed. Reilly told that obituaries were also helpful, as the Irish communities in various countries tended to post “a lot of fairly informative obituaries” that often included the names of famine ships.

Several of the immigrants, such as Michaell Flynn, James Higgins and Thomas Fallon, fought in the American Civil War. Patrick McNamara was a laborer on the construction of the Blue Ridge Mountain Railroad Tunnel.

Mary Tarpey, who lived to be 106, had the distinction of being the oldest person in Long Island at one point. “She attributed her longevity to a daily glass of whiskey,” said Reilly.

The famine and the long and harsh conditions of the journey to the United States also took a mental toll on many people.

“The ones that don’t adapt and don’t make it in America, you would find them in asylums,” said Reilly.

“I found several in mental asylums within a year or two of reaching America. It’s obvious they have left scarred and totally can’t adapt. Others you find in almshouses.”

Dr Reilly will publish his findings this fall in “Voices of the Great Irish Famine: The Strokestown Archive Revealed.”

The Taoiseach Enda Kenny attended the commemoration with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan. Kenny unveiled the memorial wall at Strokestown Park listing the names of the formerly “missing 1,490.”


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