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A Depressing Period


by Sylvie Tremblay, Library and Archives Canada

During the summer of 1832, more than 3,000 people died of cholera in the city of Québec alone, or approximately 10 percent of its population. The number of deaths was even more disturbing at the quarantine station.

In 1847, immigration to Quebec was very high (almost 100,000 immigrants) -- partly because the Irish were fleeing the famine in their native country, and were emigrating in greater numbers. A typhus epidemic then struck Quebec, resulting in approximately 18,000 victims in Canada. Pierre J. Olivier Chauveau, who was living in Québec during the epidemic and took refuge on the Islet, relates in his 1853 novel Charles Guérin: "... at all hours of the day, hearses were making their way to the cemetery [Saint-Louis cemetery]; but in the evening it was a disorderly procession, a very race to the grave .... The Irish were practically the only ones to gather to escort the remains of their relatives or friends." (Chauveau, p. 301). The names of 5,424 people who died at the quarantine station are inscribed on a monument. The quarantine station on Grosse-Île, where 8,339 people of different nationalities were buried in various cemeteries, operated until 1937.

Like many immigrants, Robert Hume experienced the conditions at the quarantine station. Born on March 5, 1818, he was the son of John Hume and Ellen Patterson of the county of Northumberland in England. When he was around 15 years old, he developed an interest in farming, and in May 1836, embarked on a ship bound for the city of Québec to explore the possibility of buying some land. He describes his experience on Grosse-Île in his personal diary: "We are now anchored at Grosse Ile the quarantine station, which we in company of several other large vessels .... here we have to undergo an examination [...] got underweigh [sic] and dropped to the Quarantine Station alongside several Irish vessels which were landing their passengers." Robert Hume did not stay on Grosse-Île.

Since he was in good health, he continued his trip and travelled to the area around Cobourg and Port Hope in Upper Canada, present-day Ontario, where he bought land in Hamilton Township. He died there in 1878.

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