Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada

On-Line Visit

Grosse Île at a glance - West Sector

The Celtic Cross

The Celtic Cross
The Celtic Cross
© Parks Canada / P. Gauthier

Built in 1909 under the auspices of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, this cross honours the memory of the Irish immigrants who perished from typhus between 1847-1848. The top part of the monument-a Celtic-style cross with a circle intersecting the four arms-was cut from Irish stone. The cross stands approximately 15 m high. This trilingual monument - French, English, and Gaelic - recalls the tragic destiny of Irish immigrants during the Great Famine.

The Monument to Physicians
The Monument to Physicians
The Monument to Physicians
© Parks Canada / L. Delisle

Carved from a marble stele, which is decorated with a cornice and topped with an urn, the monument was built around 1849 by Dr. Douglas, the first superintendent of the quarantine station. The monument bears witness to the tragic events that occurred at Grosse Île during the widespread epidemics in 1847. The oldest commemorative artifact on Grosse Île, the monument presents the names of doctors who gave their lives through their devotion to sick immigrants: Doctors Benson, Pinet, Mailhot, and Jameson, who were typhus victims in 1847; and Doctors Panet and Christie, the former a victim of cholera in 1834, and the latter of typhus in 1837.

The Irish Cemetery

The Irish Cemetery
The Irish Cemetery
© Parks Canada / P. Gauthier

The Irish cemetery was laid out in 1832 on a plateau between two crags located southwest of Cholera Bay. Until 1847, individual burials were performed at the cemetery. That year, because of the high rate of mortality from typhus, long trenches were dug to serve as mass graves. According to some accounts, coffins were sometimes stacked three deep in the trenches. The cemetery's relief still shows where these mass graves were dug. In addition, the Irish cemetery holds over 6 000 of Grosse Île's 7 553 burial plots. It owes its name to the main victims of the cholera (1832,1834) and typhus (1847) epidemics: the Irish immigrants.

The Memorial

The Memorial
The Memorial
© Parks Canada

In August 1998, Parks Canada inaugurated the Grosse Île Memorial. Created by artist Lucienne Cornet and the Émile Gilbert et associés architect firm, the Memorial commemorates the memory of the Irish and other immigrants who perished on the island, and of those who sacrificed their lives to nurse and comfort the sick immigrants.

The work was inspired by the intensity of the location. Through a series of corridors, the Memorial leads visitors into the earth, a symbol of darkness, before emerging into the light, in an area where the names of those who died were engraved. Located near the Irish cemetery, the Memorial proposes a symbolic voyage, making the visitor relive the emotions provoked by the anxiety of a trying crossing, the conclusion of a merciless famine, and by the desire and the hope of discovering a new land. The work was inaugurated in the presence of the President of Ireland, Ms. Mary McAleese.

The First-Class Hotel

The First-Class Hotel
The First-Class Hotel
© Parks Canada / P. Gauthier

This new hotel was built in 1912 to accommodate travellers who were placed under medical observation. From the ships, passengers could easily discern the huge white building, its chimneys, and its high gables. This long structure was made of concrete and erected on a headland set back from the quarantine station. Between 1916 and 1917, a dance pavilion was erected by roofing the platform where the water tanks had been.

The Second-Class Hotel

The Second-Class Hotel
The Second-Class Hotel
© Parks Canada / P. Gauthier

This building was erected in 1893 and was initially used as a first-class hotel. When a new first-class hotel was built in 1912, it was "demoted" to a second-class hotel. The hotel is a huge wooden two-storey building with a front facade stretching for 46.3 m. A perpendicular rear wing served as the kitchen. Originally, the hotel was designed to house 152 first-class travellers, also called cabin passengers on shipboard. Hence the building's prominent location, its elegance and highly finished interior, including a large dining room, a spacious sitting room, water closets and washrooms.

The second-class hotel was part of a remarkable complex for healthy immigrants. The first-, second-, and third-class hotels show the metamorphosis of immigration by ship in the second half of the 19th century; there was a structure for the different classes of travel. The hotels were built to respond to the pressure placed by shipping companies on the government to set up detention rooms for immigrants at the quarantine station that were in keeping with the immigrants' travel classes.

The Third-Class Hotel

The Third-Class Hotel
The Third-Class Hotel
© Parks Canada / P. Gauthier

The third-class hotel, built in 1914, is the most recent of the three hotels on Grosse Île. Designed to hold 140 beds divided among 52 rooms, this hotel is also the largest of the island's hotels. With its simple form, this long concrete building was painted on the outside, thus toning down its austere appearance. Inside, the layout was innovative compared with other hotels, as it included kitchens and dining areas in each extremity and at either end of each floor of the building. The living quarters were located in the centre. The third-class hotel offered limited comfort. The rooms had no washstands and the partitions did not reach the ceiling. Moreover, each room had either two or four cots used for sleeping. Nevertheless, electricity and central heating were introduced to the building. The construction of the third-class hotel completed the renovations to the buildings intended to accommodate healthy immigrants. Today the third-class hotel shelters a food service where you will find sandwiches, refreshments and snacks. A dining room is also provided.

The Old Wash House

The Old Wash House
The Old Wash House
© Parks Canada / P. Gauthier

This structure was built between 1855 and 1856 near the shoreline. It was used to wash immigrants' clothing-a task that used to be performed by the immigrants themselves in the St. Lawrence River. With its hip roof and dormer windows added on after 1908, this long wooden building exudes an air of harmony and elegance. Inside, three of the four original chimneys have been preserved. One of the chimneys is still flanked with the fireplaces in which cast iron cauldrons were used to wash clothing. The southern facade, dotted with numerous window and door openings, reveals the strong link between the wash house and the river. One of the many temporary buildings that dominated Grosse Île's landscape during the various epidemics, the wash house is the only structure still standing which attests to one of the important steps in disinfection as practised into the mid-19th century.

The Summer Kitchen

The Summer Kitchen
The Summer Kitchen
© Parks Canada / P. Gauthier

A summer kitchen was built in 1893 to complete facilities for second-class passengers. Located near the Old Wash House, it demonstrates the concern for improving the living conditions of immigrants held at the station. The building now houses an exhibition on Canadian immigration - a co-operative effort with the Museum of Civilization.

The Bakery

The Bakery
The Bakery
© Parks Canada / P. Gauthier

Located just north of the island's three large hotels near the immigrants' kitchen, the bakery, built between 1902 and 1910, supplied them with bread. Inside the wooden building are the old stove, a long kneading trough and a dough mixer.

Almost square, the building has a hip roof with a square skylight in the middle that also has a hip roof and a chimney. This was one of the major renovations to the quarantine station in the early 20th century. The bakery served immigrants and, like the hotels, helped improve the detention conditions on the island.

The Disinfection Building

The Disinfection Building
The Disinfection Building
© Parks Canada / P. Gauthier

The disinfection building was constructed at the north end of the western dock in 1892. Its architecture changed several times, taking its current form in 1927. From its beginnings, this building enclosed three disinfection chambers on the main floor and 14 showers on the upper floor. It also housed boilers - three at the outset and six by the early 20th century - to provide steam for disinfection chambers and hot water for showers.

By the early 20th century the number of showers increased as well, to 44. In 1902 a generator room was added. On the main floor three rail tracks allowed disinfection carts carrying baskets to enter the chambers. The disinfection building was restored between 1992 and 1997 and still houses major disinfection and energy-production facilities (disinfection chambers, boilers, steam equipment, dynamos, and showers). Moreover, it is now presenting displays on the historical background of the quarantine station.

Plumbing and Carpentry Workshop
Plumbing and Carpentry Workshop Plumbing and Carpentry Workshop
© Parks Canada / J. A. Proulx
Located near the disinfection building, this wooden construction, probably built in 1914, served as a workplace for Grosse Île's plumber and carpenter. Over the years, other workshops were added and, in 1945, the Canadian army converted it into a laundry facility. The building shows the different trades involved in maintaining the quarantine facilities.

It currently houses Grosse Île's reception and information centre and a gift shop.

The Electrician's House

The Electrician's House
The Electrician's House
© Parks Canada / P. Gauthier

Built before 1850, this wooden house is one of the four oldest buildings still standing on Grosse Île. It served as the residence of the quarantine station's medical assistant until 1893. Its location on the island kept the medical assistant close to his work, which was primarily to do health and hygiene inspections on ship's passengers and the ships themselves.

Later, the house lodged electricians, including one who died tragically in the disinfection building's generator room.

Vaccination and Medical Examination Office

Vaccination and Medical Examination Office
Vaccination and Medical Examination Office
© Parks Canada / P. Gauthier

Built around 1906-1907 near the guard post, this building, often called the "maternity house" was originally used to accommodate an administrative office, a doctor's office, a vaccination room for immigrants and a waiting room.

The construction of this building, almost square in shape with a gable roof and an enclosed gallery along all four sides, was among the major renovations made to the quarantine station at the beginning of the 20th century. The building provides a glimpse into various activities related to the operation of the quarantine station.

Guard Post
Guard Post Guard Post
© Parks Canada / J. A. Proulx

The guard post was built on the isthmus joining the west and centre sections of the island, between 1893 and 1902. A shingled tower with a six-sided sloped turret roof sheltered the guard responsible for preventing the healthy immigrants under observation from coming into contact with the villagers residing in the centre section.

The guard post illustrates how the island was laid out to keep the sick immigrants at a safe distance from the immigrants in preventive detention.

The Medical Assistant's House
The Medical Assistant's House The Medical Assistant's House
© Parks Canada / Jacques Beardsell

The medical assistant's house was specially built for him in 1892-1893. The home is a rectangular, two-storey wooden building with a two-storey kitchen annexed to it. The roof has four sloping sides and a small widow's walk that extends around three of the house's outer walls. The building is of a bourgeois style and has kept its original form. Among the surrounding outbuildings, the remains of the wood shed and storage shed have not been located yet; however, the vestiges of the well and of another building have been found during archaeological probes. This residence occupies a choice location which afforded the health officer an excellent view of the St. Lawrence River, the sector for immigrants under observation and the wharf. This vantage point was important since the officer was responsible for inspecting passengers and ships off the island.