I’d like to wish everyone a very happy St. Patrick’s Day. And since this is the Scandalous Victorians blog, I’d like to tell you a little bit about Canada’s historical connection to my favorite country in Victorian times.
During the Great Famine of 1845-1850, thousands of starving Irish refugees fled to Canada, as well as the United States and Australia.
The conditions on the so-called “coffin ships” were brutal. Typhoid, dysentery, and other diseases ran rampant, and many died on the voyage that was supposed to take these people to a new and better life. Hundreds of children were orphaned, either on the ship, or later, at the quarantine station called Grosse Ile, not far from Quebec City.
But these children, as lost and bewildered as they must have felt, were not entirely alone. At that period in history, Quebec was mostly populated by French Catholics, who were eager to take in these children of their own faith. Not only were they welcomed with open arms, but most were able to keep their Irish surnames. So a little bit of Ireland survives in Montreal today.
It’s seen today in the Black Rock, also known as the Irish Stone, which stands at the approach of Montreal’s Victoria Bridge. During the construction of that bridge, the first bridge to span the mighty St. Lawrence River, workmen discovered human remains of Irish immigrants to Canada. They decided to erect a large stone that bears this inscription:
To preserve from desecration the remains of 6000 immigrants who died of ship fever A.D. 1847-8, this stone is erected by the workmen of Messrs. Peto, Brassey and Betts employed in the construction of the Victoria Bridge A.D. 1859