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Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial
National Historic Site

Frequently Asked Questions

Questions about visiting Grosse-Île

  1. Are cars, bicycles, and other private vehicles allowed on the island?
  2. Can visitors stay on the island overnight?
  3. Is the site wheelchair accessible?
  4. Can I use my own boat to get to Grosse Île?
  5. Are dogs allowed on the island?

Questions about Grosse Île's History

  1. What is a quarantine station?
  2. What took place at the quarantine station?
  3. Is it true that the 1832 cholera epidemic proved disastrous on Grosse Île?
  4. How many people passed through Grosse Île during the 1847 sailing season?
  5. Is it true that on Grosse Île in 1847, under conditions of total anarchy, corpses were thrown into the sea or tossed haphazardly into holes in the ground?
  6. How many immigrants passed through Grosse Île between 1832 and 1937, while it was still a human quarantine station?
  7. Why did the Grosse Île quarantine station close its doors in 1937?
  8. Do the sailing ships that carried emigrants to Québec or to other ports on the east coast of America (New York, Boston, Philadelphia) still exist?
  9. How can I research ancestors who passed through Grosse Île?
  10. How does Ellis Island compare to Grosse Île?
  11. Was Pier 21 a quarantine station like Grosse Île?
  12. What is the connection between Strokestown and Grosse Île?
  1. Are cars, bicycles, and other private vehicles allowed on the island?

    No. The only vehicles allowed on the island are those belonging to Parks Canada. A transportation system is available on site.

  2. Can visitors stay on the island overnight?

    No, there are no facilities to house visitors on the island. There are also no campgrounds, as it is a national historic site, not a national park.

  3. Is the site wheelchair accessible?

    Some Grosse Île buildings are wheelchair accessible. These include the disinfection building, the Reception and Information Centre, and the third-class hotel where the cafeteria is located. The tourist trolley that takes visitors through the centre and eastern sectors of the island can be used by persons with disabilities. However, the site cannot provide wheelchairs to visitors who may need them.
  4. Can I use my own boat to get to Grosse Île?

    No, you must use the designated Grosse Île ferries.

  5. Are dogs allowed on the island?

    Only guide dogs are permitted on Grosse Île.

Questions about Grosse Île's History

  1. What is a quarantine station?

    A quarantine station is usually a secluded location not too far from a major immigration port. The government of a receiving country assembles and isolates travellers from countries where contagious diseases are prevalent or people who caught illnesses during the journey. Healthy individuals who travelled with sick people are also held in quarantine, along with their personal effects and other baggage. In certain eras, quarantine could last up to 40 days, but was generally much shorter.

  2. What took place at the quarantine station?

    Ships were inspected, the sick were hospitalized and treated, the healthy who had travelled with the diseased were put under observation, and the dead were buried. In the beginning, both infirm and healthy travellers were placed in the same area of the Grosse Île station. Starting in 1847, during the great typhus epidemic, workers started to assign the sick and the healthy to opposite areas of the island. The passengers were disinfected, along with their personal effects and baggage, and the boats in which they arrived. Over time, the disinfection method on the island developped considerably, and passengers also began to receive vaccinations.

  3. Is it true that the 1832 cholera epidemic proved disastrous on Grosse Île?

    The 1832 cholera epidemic was a tragedy in Canada. The Canadian government hastily set up a quarantine station on Grosse Île to fight the illness, which had been reported the year before. However, the station was built so quickly and its operating regulations were so badly carried out that the island failed as a protective shield. The statistics are telling. Despite the very high rate of immigration to the Port of Québec in 1832 (51,000), only 39 travellers were hospitalized on Grosse Île, and 28 were buried. Meanwhile, cholera claimed 1,900 victims in Montréal, and twice that number in Québec.

  4. How many people passed through Grosse Île during the 1847 sailing season?

    A record 98, 649 immigrants, many of whom were Irish and had suffered through the Great Famine in their country, arrived at the Port of Québec in 1847. During the ocean crossing, 5,282 passengers perished, whereas 172 births were recorded. While quarantined on Grosse Île, 3,389 people succumbed to illness, which means only 90,150 immigrants actually landed in Québec. The number of burials on Grosse Île that year vary according to different sources. A maximum of 5,424 travellers were buried, which includes those who perished on board quarantined vessels. The names of the dead are known, but the identities of the arrivals who were hospitalized or kept under observation are unknown.

  5. Is it true that in 1847, corpses were thrown into the sea or tossed haphazardly into holes in the ground?

    Nothing in the documentation consulted supports this claim. We know that when the navigation season opened, the medical superintendent of the station Dr. George Douglas asked the Catholic and Anglican clergy to take care of the dead. The clergy members paid strict attention to ensure burials were carried out according to sacred rites. Mass graves were indeed dug, but bodies were each placed in their own coffin.

  6. How many immigrants passed through Grosse Île between 1832 and 1937, while it was still a human quarantine station?

    We can't answer this question because we don't know the number of travellers who disembarked on the island without being hospitalized. However, we do have the following overall statistics: Over four million people entered Canada via the Port of Québec between 1832 and 1937. Up until 1913, about 32,000 were hospitalized on Grosse Île. Almost 7,500 immigrants were buried on the island during the 105 years it was used as a human quarantine station, including 5,424 in 1847.

  7. Why did the Grosse Île quarantine station close its doors in 1937?

    The closing was carried out in two steps. At the beginning of the 1920s, scientific, bacteriological and medical knowledge had progressed so much that experts worldwide agreed it was unnecessary to quarantine people suffering from minor contagious illnesses such as diptheria, scarlet fever, chicken pox and the measles. Instead, the sick were sent to isolation wards in regular hospitals. From then on, Grosse Île only kept patients suffering from typhus, cholera, smallpox, yellow fever and a few other diseases. However, those illnesses had become so rare on the St. Lawrence that the island's facilities were hardly used anymore. In the early 1930s, during the Great Depression, the dramatic drop in the number of immigrants to Canada and continued medical progress rendered Grosse Île useless. In 1937, Parc Savard Hospital in Québec took over the work of the century-old quarantine station.

  8. Do the sailing ships that carried emigrants to Québec or to other ports on the east coast of America (New York, Boston, Philadelphia) still exist?

    No. As far as we know, the original sailing ships that carried emigrants to the Port of Québec or to other American destinations no longer exist. However, construction of a full-scale replica of one of those ships, the Dunbrody, began in Ireland in 1996.

    The project, started by The John Fitzgerald Kennedy Trust, involved building an exact replica of the vessel. The Dunbrody offers an interactive exhibit with re-enactments of passenger and crew member life on board the mid-19th-century ship.

    Originally built in Québec for the Graves Family of New Ross, Ireland, the Dunbrody carried emigrants to the New World from 1845 to 1870. For additional information on the ship, see the Irish site “Dunbrody & The Spirit of Ireland” ( www.dunbrody.com ).

    Another special project was launched in Blennerville, Ireland, near Tralee, in 1993. The reproduction of the Jeanie Johnston, a three-masted barque built in 1847 in Québec, was completed in 2002. From 1848 to 1855, the ship transported 2,500 Irish emigrants to Québec, Baltimore and New York. The Jeanie Johnston replica departed from Ireland for America in February 2003; the ship came to Grosse Île in September 2003. For more information on the barque and its voyage, visit the Irish Website www.jeaniejohnston.ie .

  9. How can I research ancestors who passed through Grosse Île?

    More and more people are enjoying the captivating study of genealogy. To help you research, Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial will soon provide a list of boats that passed through the island in 1847. You already have access to the names of individuals buried there during its 105 years as a quarantine station.

    National Archives of Canada
    National Archives of Québec ( french only)
    Canadian Genealogy Centre

  10. How does Ellis Island compare to Grosse Île?

    Ellis Island, located in the port of New York, was a United States immigration station that operated from 1892 until 1954. About twelve million immigrants went through legal and medical screening and were registered by immigration authorities. Although some were sent back, most passed inspection and were admitted into the country. Many new arrivals purchased railway tickets at Ellis Island to continue their journeys to various parts of the United States. The former station is now the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.

  11. Was Pier 21 a quarantine station like Grosse Île?

    Pier 21, located in Halifax, opened in 1928. The immigration shed wasn't a quarantine station. New arrivals were questioned about their reasons for immigrating, and the Canadian government decided whether to accept or reject them. Immigrants learned about their new country, purchased train tickets to continue their voyage, etc. About 1,500,000 new arrivals passed through the shed, which closed in 1971. Pier 21 is now a national historic site, managed by the Pier 21 Society.

  12. What is the connection between Strokestown and Grosse Île?

    On May 25, 1998, Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site was twinned with the National Famine Museum of Strokestown Park located in County Roscommon, Ireland. The latter features a thematic exhibition on the famine that ravaged Ireland in the mid-19th century. Though separated by thousands of kilometres, the two heritage sites tell the same story in their own unique ways. The goal of the partnership is to provide more information about an important chapter in Canadian and European history.