The commemorative intent of a historic site states why a site has been commemorated. A site’s commemorative intent is intimately linked with the specific qualities that led to its recognition as being of national historic significance and which ultimately justify its inclusion in the national historic sites system. For the most part, the definition of a site’s commemorative intent is based on recommendations of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada that receive ministerial approval.
In 1974, the Board expressed the opinion that the Grosse Île quarantine station is of national historic significance and recommended that a commemorative plaque be erected on the island. This plaque was unveiled in 1980, and pays tribute to the role of Grosse Île as a human quarantine station (1832 to 1937), especially during the great cholera and typhus epidemics that marked Canadian immigration in the first half of the 19th century.
In 1981, Parks Canada included the theme of immigration within the “social history” section of its National Historic Sites System Plan , specifically assigning it to the “peopling policies” component. This thematic component was among those given highest priority in the plan.
In 1983, the Board stated that immigration was one of the most important themes in Canadian history. The following year, it again emphasized this point: “The peopling of Canada through immigration is a theme of great national significance which should be the subject of major commemoration. In light of the number and quality of the in situ resources on Grosse Île related to the theme of immigration, the Minister should consider acquiring the Island, or portions of it, and there developing a national historic park.”
However, the following year the Board expressed its view that “the theme of immigration is of such complexity that it cannot be adequately dealt with at a single site.” Board members recommended investigating sites with concentrations of surviving resources sufficient for interpreting this theme, and which offer a range of historical periods and geographical distribution. This study is still underway.
Following public consultations in 1992-1993, the Board reviewed the commemorative theme of the site. In November 1993, it recommended “that the primary commemorative intent of the Grosse-Île should be to tell the full story of the Canadian immigrant experience through the 19th century to the closure of the quarantine station, with particular emphasis on the period prior to the First World War” .
The Board went on to stipulate that “the Irish experience in the tragic epidemic years and especially in 1847, is a major and extremely evocative aspect of the story of immigration to Canada in the period and, as such, should become a particular focus of the commemoration of the general theme of immigration at Grosse Île. In addition, since the lazaretto, monuments, burial grounds and graves on the island, most notably the Irish cemetery are seen to have a special importance, (…) these resources should be commemorated in a manner which reflects their intrinsic value.” These recommendations received the Minister’s approval.
In March 1996, the Minister of Canadian Heritage announced the specific commemorative intent for Grosse Île, stating that the site would henceforth be known officially as “Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada.” The ministerial news release stressed that Grosse Île had welcomed tens of thousands of quarantined immigrants and also specified that in 1847, over 5000 people, most of Irish origin, had perished there. At the same time, the Minister paid tribute to the station personnel and the families who adopted and cared for the orphans, particularly after the 1847 epidemic. 7
Finally, in summer 1998, the Board issued a statement that Dr. Frederick Montizambert, the medical superintendent of the Grosse Île quarantine station during the last 30 years of the 19th century, “is of national historic significance because his knowledge, his indefatigable efforts and his belief in the new science of preventive medicine (microbiology, epidemiology, disinfection, vaccinations) caused him to develop a new generation of Canadian quarantine stations which protected Canadians from the deadly epidemics that ravaged many parts of the world at the time.”
Based on the above, the site’s commemorative intent has been defined as follows:
Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada commemorates the importance of immigration to Canada, especially via the entry port of Québec, from the early 19th century until World War I. Grosse Île also commemorates the tragic experiences of Irish immigrants at this site, especially during the 1847 typhus epidemic. Finally, the site commemorates the role played by the island from 1832 to 1937 as a quarantine station for the port of Québec, for many years the main point of entry for immigrants to Canada.
7. In order to reflect the additions made to the site’s commemorative intent, a new HSMBC plaque was unveiled in 1998, as a replacement of the previous plaque set in 1980. In addition to referring to the role played by Grosse Île as a quarantine station, the new text stressed the phenomenon of immigration to Canada via the port of Québec and highlighted the tragic events experienced by Irish immigrants, primarily during the typhus epidemic of 1847.
Commemorative integrity of the site
Resources symbolizing or representing the national significance of Grosse Île
Grosse Île and its cultural landscapes
On-site cultural resources
Movable cultural resources
Messages of national historic significance
Messages for the Canadian public
Messages for visitors to the site
Other heritage values of the site
Precontact dimension of Grosse Île
Earliest settlers and agricultural use of the island before the quarantine station period
The Canadian Forces (1942-1945, 1951-1956)
Agriculture Canada (research and training station, animal quarantine)
International, national and regional links
Outstanding natural surroundings