Toronto's Ireland Park Foundation is creating a park in honor of Dr. George Robert Grasett, who cared for the Irish famine immigrants who arrived in Canada fleeing starvation. 

The spread of disease happens quick and fast, especially in 1847 when Irish refugees fled the famine and brought deadly diseases to Toronto.

A Toronto organization, Ireland Park Foundation, announced in 2017 that they intend to rename a park “Dr. George Robert Grasett Park” due to the Protestant doctor's compassion towards the Irish when they arrived in Toronto fleeing the Great Hunger.

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The organization is the same group behind Toronto's immensely moving Ireland Park, where statues by Irish sculptor Rowan Gillespie represent the starving Irish who landed on Canada's shores, mirroring a similar installation, also by Gillespie, on the Dublin quays.

Ireland Park. Photo: Dan Grant/Creative Commons

Ireland Park. Photo: Dan Grant/Creative Commons

The Irish faced harsh encounters with the people of Toronto due to the spread of disease and negative news coverage. Not only were the Irish forced to migrate to free themselves from the famine but they faced immense backlash and hatred for moving and bringing the typhus fever and cholera they contracted on land with them.  

As a 2017 story by John Doyle in the Globe and Mail chronicles, over 38,000 Irish immigrants arrived in Toronto in the summer of 1847 - the worst year of the famine. The city, which then had a population of only 20,000, had to face one of their biggest healthcare challenges with the enormous influx of people.

In 1847, Toronto was a small and very British area filled with Protestant churches. The Irish came sick and poor needing a lot of resources during this time.

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News reports across Canada were highly negative and filled with fear-ridden rhetoric about the Irish. From a report from Montreal Witness, in July of 1847: “The immigrants are carrying their destitution and disease to every locality of Canada West into which they have yet penetrated.” 

Dr. George Robert Grasset dedicated his life to caring for people and doing right. He opened his arms and made it his duty to help those in need. Dr. Grasett died at the early age of 36 in July of 1847, of typhus - the very disease he sought to treat. He knew the consequences of working and treating the Irish immigrants but he took the risk to help.

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He will now be honored for his selflessness and his bravery - work on the park is ongoing. 

The plans for the pedestrian park in his honor. Image: DENEGRI BESSAI STUDIOS

The plans for the pedestrian park in his honor. Image: DENEGRI BESSAI STUDIOS

Did you know about Dr. George Robert Grasett and his work with Irish immigrants? Let us know in the comments.

*Originally published in 2017, updated in 2019 - for more up to date info, visit the park's website. 

Ireland Park in Toronto honors the victims of Ireland's Great Hunger. Benson Kua / Creative Commons