Grosse Île: looking to the future
Now, at the dawn of a new millennium, people setting foot on Grosse Île arrive by the same river that brought immigrants to our shores many years ago. History buffs, tourists and pilgrims alike are invited to steep themselves in the memory of Grosse Île, listen to the island tell its story, and discover its rough yet tranquil charm, its austere yet welcoming beauty.
On their arrival, visitors are welcomed inside the former disinfection building, as were the immigrants entering quarantine at the beginning of the 20th century. This building has been preserved and restored to its condition circa 1927, complete with the apparatuses and equipment used for disinfecting immigrants and their belongings. As they suddenly adopt the position of new arrivals, visitors experience the jolt of going into quarantine. Then, before setting off on a tour of the island, they are given an idea of the changes that took place at the station over different periods of time and of the major stages which marked the history of immigration to Canada. Finally, visitors learn about the formidable human drama that shook Grosse Île in 1847.
All heritage buildings and works periodically undergo conservation measures to ensure that they remain in viable condition. The protection of cultural resources, including meaningful archaeological and ethnological resources, plays a key role in maintaining the commemorative integrity of the site.
The island’s rusticity has been preserved. Likewise, the main features which particularized the landscape throughout its history have been restored – most notably, the division of the island into three distinct sectors. The monuments erected in memory of the dead are carefully tended. The boundaries of the island’s three burial grounds have been marked off and their locations have received appropriately visual identification. In addition, the layout lends itself to pilgrimage. In the Irish cemetery stands a memorial to the thousands of people, most of them Irish, who were buried on the island.
In addition to the disinfection building and nearby carpentry and plumbing workshop, many of the some 30 buildings still standing on the island are open to visitors who want to learn more about the past. The second-class hotel houses a thematic exhibit on the multifaceted history of immigration. A computerized database on the immigrants who passed through the port of Québec City is available for querying. Visitors can also move through the upper floor, where bedrooms are located, and catch a glimpse of the daily life of quarantined immigrants at the turn of the century.
The disinfection building (prior to 1910)
Immigrants who spent time on Grosse Île during the station’s early years experienced more primitive conditions. These are depicted in the wash house, built in 1855. The 1847 tragedy, which was to mark the island forever, is recounted in the lazaretto, the only hospital still standing. This emotional and intellectual experience enables visitors to comprehend the scale of the catastrophe which befell the immigrants and the heroic efforts made to care for the sick and relieve their suffering.
The Catholic and Anglican chapels, which have preserved their original interior furnishings, show how religion played a part in comforting the island’s occupants. In their own way, the chapels evoke the passage of time and the seasons, the pain of losing dear ones, but also joy-filled Sundays and holidays. Visitors can go there for quiet reflection and occasionally take part in services.
A visit to the Catholic presbytery, in the heart of the village, introduces visitors to the station personnel. Who were these courageous and dedicated individuals? What were their duties and how did they live? How was the village organized? Visitors have the opportunity to appreciate the generous spirit shown by the island-dwellers.
Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada is administered by Parks Canada, which has joined with others to promote the site and offer activities, facilities and services enhancing the public’s experience of the island.
The South Shore is the “natural” gateway to Grosse Île: centuries-old interrelationships have made the island part of this region. That is why the South Shore is a front-line partner for Parks Canada and stands to benefit from the thousands of tourists and daytrippers who visit the island from May to October every year. Grosse Île is a shrine dear to the hearts of the Irish community. It is also nationally and internationally renowned as one of the foremost Canadian and Quebec heritage tourism sites. A visit to the island is a must for all who are interested in the history and culture of Canada and Canadians.
Grosse Île is a place people come back to, owing to its island charm and emotion-laden landscape, its evocation of heritage values stemming from two centuries of history, and the variety of enriching experiences it offers visitors today. Those who journey to Grosse Île return home inspired and transformed.
The Catholic presbytery (prior to 1913)
Philippe Gingras Collection
Preservation and presentation concept
Respecting the spirit of the place
Comprehensive and specific view of history
Grosse Île: looking to the future
Management objectives and key actions
Ensuring the commemorative integrity of the site
Commemorative plaques and monuments
Movable cultural resources
Communicating the site’s messages and heritage values
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada facilities
Preserving and presenting the natural environment
Shared management of the site