The Irish settlers in western Canada were not, for the most part, newly arrived from Ireland. The major immigration directly from Ireland had ended before 1860. The families who moved to the West after 1870 were people of Irish heritage whose parents or grandparents had pioneered in eastern Canada. They were mainly Protestant.
The Potato Famine, 1846-1851
The potato was the main food source for a majority of people living in the south and west of Ireland. In some poor parts of the country, it was the only food. Thus, the Potato Famine was a major event in Irish history. It destroyed the way of life of millions of Irish people. The famine occurred when a fungus disease infected potato crops across much of Europe. In Ireland, the fungus ruined the crops in 1845, 1846 and again in 1848.
Between the years 1846 and 1851, more than 1,000,000 Irish people died from starvation and disease. Another 1,000,000 emigrated, mainly to the United States and Canada. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean in ships where weak and hungry people easily caught deadly diseases. Some ships became known as "coffin ships" because of the number of people who died during the crossing. In 1847 alone, nearly 17,000 people died on the ships before they reached North America. Their bodies were slipped into the sea for burial.
The government decided that no immigrant ships could dock directly at Canadian ports. They first had to go to quarantine stations, where people who were sick or dying might be cared for and the ships could be disinfected. After that, the ships could move on to ports where the immigrants would disembark.
fungus: a growth similar to a mould. The fungus that attacked the potatoes in Ireland caused them to rot in the ground.
quarantine: a process to keep people on newly arrived ships away from others for a period of time, until doctors could be sure that no one on the ships carried infectious diseases