Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Visiting Grosse Ile ~ Irish Immigration to Canada ~1832-1937

 I am blogging my visit to 
"Grosse Ile" (Big Island). (2009).
This Island served as a  Quarantine Station
 for Immigrants coming into Canada
 during 1832-1937. 
"Grosse Ile" a tiny island, 
located in the St. Lawrence River,
 east of Quebec City. 

"Grosse Ile" served as  a quarantine station to help control the spread of the cholera and small pox epidemic (ravishing Europe at that time) that infested immigrants coming into Canada from Europe during the Potato Famine and cholera outbreak.

I went with the Irish Society of Richmond, Quebec.
The trip was organized by 
 Mark O'Donnell of Richmond. 
 (R.I.P. Mark)

We took a bus from Richmond, 
followed the Rte. 20 going east and 
passed Quebec City to the town of 
There we took a boat to the island.

We boarded a boat for a 45 minute ride to Grosse Ile 
The Island in the distance

A nice day for a boat ride

A view of the hospitals above.

In 1974, the Old Quarantine Station became a 
National Historic Site under the jurisdiction of
Parks Canada.
 Disinfection Building, on the dock.

In this building are
The original steam disinfection apparatus,
 showers and waiting rooms.
These huge boilers provided steam for 
disinfecting and hot showers. 
Employees in period costume, 
illustrate the disinfection process 
that immigrants had to undergo as of 1893.

 It is believed that over 3000 Irish died 
on the island and over 5000 are currently 
buried in the cemetery there; 
many died en route,  from hunger and 
disease during the long voyage across
the Atlantic,  on cargo boats.

Most who died on the island 
were infected with typhus
which sprang up from the
 conditions there in 1847. 
The Huge Glass Panel with all the names.
Those who died at Grosse Ile or on boats, immigrants,
employees and sailors names are on this plaque.  
My family name, being "Day" 
I researched W.O. Day, the only "Day" on the list.
 (Click here  Federal Gov't Data Base)
The info. gives his age as 2 yrs. old. died 1847 in Hospital at Grosse Ile,  buried in the Cemetary on the Island. He arrived on the ship Wandsworth from the port of Dublin, Ireland. (Wandsworth is a town in England) I wonder what happened to his parents? 
I am of English/Scottish descent and 6% Irish.
I am native of the Gaspe coast in Eastern Quebec.
One of the ships on route to Grosse Ile was 
shipwrecked of Cap des Rosier in the St. Lawrence. 
     Here is a report on Irish in Gaspe from CBC, July 2019.

I hope to visit the site this Summer.

Buses are provided for tours
 around the Island

Vaccination and Medical Examination Office 

Anglican Church. 
There is also a Catholic Church on the Island

Doctors Home

In one of the Hospitals, red windows and walls 
to protect the eyes from light exposure
 from Smallpox disease.

One of the 3 hotels /hospitals that housed and treated the sick.
 There are many other buildings on the Island.
Some have been restored.

The disinfection station on the dock


In August 1998, Parks Canada 
inaugurated the 
Grosse Île  and the Irish Memorial.
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.

Marianna O'Gallagher

We were fortunate to have her as our guide for part of our visit. 
She was 80 yrs. old at that time.
An Irish historian from Quebec City who wrote extensively on the history of the Irish in Quebec City.
She was involved in the creation of Grosse Ile National Historic Site and the revival of the Quebec City St. Patrick's Day celebrations.

I must admit I was emotionally moved 
by the story of Grosse Île, due to the
human tragedy that took place on this island.
A learning experience about Canadian History 
that I don't remember learning in school. 
Although, I am surprised at the care  
Canada provided for these immigrants in
 search of a new land, after the long voyage
  and misery on cargo boats they endured to
 get here.

The Government of Canada has a Database that allows people to trace certain immigrants and  members of their family. :

There's more to this Island,  than I have blogged.
 It's a lot to take in/absorb on one visit. 
I'm hoping to return one day.

A book on Grosse Ile.

 Thanks for your visit

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