Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently announced that $5.13 million (US$4.1m) in funding is to be awarded to Grosse Île, Quebec, and the Irish Memorial National Historical Site located there.
The island, located on the St. Lawrence River about 50 miles east of Quebec City, historically acted as Canada’s version of Ellis Island. It was the point of entry into the country for immigrants, including many Irish, before the Second World War.
The island also served as a quarantine station for the Port of Quebec akin to Staten Island in New York. Many Irish lost their lives here during the typhus epidemic of 1847, a year that is named Black ‘47 in Irish history in memory of the worst period of the Irish Famine and the vast numbers of Irish leaving the country for foreign shores.
The island is locally known as “L’Íle des Irlandais,” The Island of the Irish, because of the several thousand Irish buried in mass graves there. Many of those who succeeded in escaping the famine and survived the Atlantic crossing, died as a result of fever once on the island.
The port of entry and quarantine station was quickly set up on the island in the 1840s when authorities learned of the massive number of sick passengers aboard ships on their way to Quebec. All of the ships were required to dock at this quarantine station before anybody made it into Canada.
Quebec had seen large numbers of immigrants arriving in the country prior to the Irish famine, but nothing on that scale. In 1830, two thirds of the 30,000 people who arrived at the port were Irish. In 1847, however, 100,000 Irish people attempted to enter the port in their effort to escape starvation at home.
These passengers knew little of the hardships and sickness that they were still to face. Between 1832 and 1837, there were 7,480 burials recorded on the island. In 1847 alone, this number reached 5,424 with many Irish people also listed as being buried at sea.
The Irish Memorial National Historic Site stands on the island in memory of the immigrants, the employees of the quarantine station, the sailors, the doctors and the priests who perished aboard the ships on the journey to Canada, waiting in the dock or at the quarantine station.
It was dedicated to the famine victims in 1996 to protect the mass gravesite. For over a hundred years, The Grosse Île Celtic Cross, erected by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, has stood in commemoration of the Irish who reached the Grosse Île’s shores.
The new funding comes as part of a national initiative to entice more Americans to visit Canada. The Canadian Federal Government announced they will invest $30 million dollars (US$24m) in tourism over the next three years in an attempt to increase the number of tourists traveling north over the border.
Speaking at Grosse Ile. Prime Minister Harper said that the new tourism campaign will partner the Canadian Tourism Commission with provincial bureaus in the hope of bringing up to 680,000 Americans to Canada over the next three years.
Last year, around 70% of overnight tourists to Canada came from the US (11.5 million people).
The new campaign and additional funding is expected to create or maintain 2,900 Canadian jobs.