A terrible toll
In early October 1847, with the approach of winter, the several hundred sick people still hospitalized on Grosse Île were gradually transferred to Montreal or Québec City. By October 21, all the immigrants had left the island. The authorities officially closed the station on November 3 and could now take stock of the devastation that has remained without parallel in Canada’s public health history.
Inauguration ceremony for the Celtic Cross, August 15, 1909
Archives nationales du Québec
(hereinafter referred to ANQQ)
During the previous six months, 398 ships had been officially inspected at Grosse Île. Approximately 100 000 immigrants had sailed for Québec City during the sailing season that year, but over 10 000 of them would never set foot in the Old City. Of the 90 000 immigrants who came ashore at Québec – three times as many as in 1846 – six out of seven were of Irish origin.
The toll in human lives was astounding: over 5000 perished at sea and 5424 were buried on Grosse Île. Thousands more died in Québec City, Montreal, Kingston and elsewhere. The unprecedented scale of the summer of 1847 catastrophe resulted in one of the most outstanding movements of solidarity ever seen along the St. Lawrence shores. Hundreds of Irish orphans were taken in by numerous French-Canadian families, who brought them up as their own. The Irish catastrophe also led to heroic and courageous actions by station personnel, who often risked their lives to bring help and comfort to the suffering.
As a tribute to all the victims of the Irish catastrophe of 1847, the Celtic cross was erected on Grosse Île in 1909 by the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Every year in August, this long-established Irish society still holds a traditional memorial pilgrimage to Grosse Île.
Origin and context of the project
Quarantine and public health
1847, year of tragedy
Canadian immigration in Québec City during the years of the Grosse Île quarantine station