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Irish-Canadian Documentary Heritage at Library and Archives Canada

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Symposium 2008

2008 Irish Studies Symposium: November 3 & 4

Session III: The Irish in Quebec

Grosse Île, Island of Commemoration and Remembrance
Mr. Jo-Anick Proulx, Parks Canada

Summary: As a quarantine station, Grosse Ile was the first point of contact with their new home for thousands of immigrants to Canada.

Initially constructed as a temporary facility, the quarantine station quickly became a permanent structure and played an important role in public health in Canada. More than four million immigrants arrived at the Port of Québec between 1832 and 1937. Close to 100,000 Irish immigrants arrived on the island in 1847, fleeing the Great Famine.

Weakened by malnutrition and poor conditions during the crossing, most were suffering from typhus. The authorities were overwhelmed, and the facilities were inadequate. During that year, 5,424 people were buried, and the future of the island changed forever.

In 1897, an idea developed: to erect a Celtic cross on the large promontory known as Telegraph Hill. Fifteen years later, in 1909, more than 2,000 people gathered to dedicate the monument. The cross still stands, and 2009 marks the centenary of this symbol that reminds us of the history of this site, where human dramas and acts of outstanding dedication were played out.

In Quarantine: Life and Death on Grosse Île, 1832-1937
Mr. Jean-Sébastien Potvin, Library and Archives Canada

Summary: In the 19th century, an increasing wave of people were leaving Europe to rebuild their lives in North America. Around 1830, an average of 30,000 immigrants arrived annually in the City of Québec, the main port of entry to Canada. Approximately two-thirds of these newcomers were from Ireland.

This unprecedented immigration along the St. Lawrence River took place at a time when major cholera and smallpox epidemics were sweeping through Europe. To help control the spread of disease, the quarantine station at Grosse Île, located in the St. Lawrence River downstream from the City of Québec, was established in 1832 and operated until its closure in 1937.

Through a variety of documents preserved and digitized by Library and Archives Canada, such as lists of births and deaths at sea, hospital registers, journals, letters, photographs and maps, ARCHIVED - In Quarantine: Life and Death on Grosse Île, 1832–1937 tells the story not only of the quarantine station, but also of the individuals who arrived on the island.

Where to Find Irish Ancestors Online at Library and Archives Canada
Ms. Sylvie Tremblay, Library and Archives Canada

Summary: Names of Irish immigrants can be found in many databases available online at Library and Archives Canada. This presentation focuses on 3 of them:

  • Montreal Emigrant Society Passage Book. Organizations such as the Montreal Emigrant Society were founded to help immigrants. This research tool provides access to 1,945 references to people who received aid from the Montreal Emigrant Society between May 12 and November 5, 1832.
  • Immigrants at Grosse Île. This database includes information on 33,026 immigrants whose names appear in surviving records of the Grosse Île Quarantine Station between 1832 and 1937. Parks Canada provided the data.
  • Immigrants to Canada Before 1865. This research tool provides access to 23,287 entries to immigrants from the British Isles (England, Scotland, Ireland) and the United States who came to Canada before 1865.

Odd Sources for Irish Protestant Information
Ms. Marianna O'Gallagher, Irish Historian

Summary: The church registers of Grosse Île, the Saint Lawrence River quarantine station below Quebec City, offer a mine of information on the origins of the thousands of people, mostly from Ireland, who came to Canada, fleeing famine in Europe.

These documents, registers of births, marriages and deaths were made during the summer of 1847, by the chaplains both Roman Catholic and Anglican who cared for the sick and dying in that tragic summer. The Anglican register is especially rich in information about the places of origin of Irish Protestants all over Ireland. The Anglican books (Saint John the Evangelist) are kept in the Archives of Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec. The Roman Catholic documents (Saint Luke of Grosse Île) are kept in the Archives of the dioceses of Ste. Anne de la Pocatiere. Both documents are also held within the pages of Eyewitness: Grosse Isle 1847 / Les témoins parlent: Grosse Île 1847, published by Carraig Books.

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