As part of this year’s International Famine Commemoration, Ireland's Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys is visiting New Brunswick this week.
CBC News reports that Humphreys will make stops in Saint John, Miramichi and Moncton to pay tribute to the people of Canada who helped Irish immigrants escape the Famine of the 1840s.
"It's very important that we remember and look back, because there's so much famine across the world and I think by having these commemorations, it raises the awareness of famine issues in the modern world," Humphreys said Friday on Information Morning Saint John.
"One of the legacies left behind by the famine in Ireland is the deep compassion which is felt by Irish people to those who suffer from hunger today."
More than 100,000 Irish sailed to Canada in 1847 — nearly one out of five died from disease and malnutrition.
Partridge Island in Saint John was an entry point for the newcomers. Up to 2,500 people were quarantined on the island with small pox and typhus fever. Approximately 600 immigrants are buried in a mass grave on the island.
"I'm here to say thank you to the Canadian people for the compassion their predecessors showed … because the devastating legacy of the famine is evident across the eastern region of Canada, where up to 20,000 Irish famine victims lie buried," Humphreys said.
Humphreys schedule included a visit to the Irish Families Monument in Moncton, a meeting with Bill Fraser, Minister of Tourism, Heritage and Culture, and a laying of a wreath at St Patrick’s Square in uptown Saint John.
"But thankfully, many more thousands survived the journey and went on to build lives here … Almost a quarter of the population in this region are of Irish ancestry. So it's important we link in with the Irish Canadians, and we meet them and those are strong links we want to maintain."
"It's a solemn occasion to remember, and when you think of the journeys they went on, it's quite harrowing … it's important that we remember what they went through," Humphreys said.
"It's in remembering these things that it reminds us of the compassion felt by the Irish people, but it also creates an awareness as to the obvious difficulties that result in famine and the terrible things that happen."
The National Famine Commemoration Committee was established in 2008, following a decision by the government to commemorate the Famine with an annual memorial day. An annual International Famine Commemoration at a location abroad was included in the program in 2009. Last year’s event was hosted in New Orleans.