Toronto is among cities such as New York and Montreal that have established a memorial park of its own to honor the Irish Famine immigrants.
Ireland Park, dedicated to the Irish Famine Immigrants of 1847, was completed in the summer of 2007 in a spot on Toronto’s serene waterfront.
Acclaimed Dublin artist Rowan Gillespie was commissioned to craft the sculptures that are scattered throughout the site.
Gillespie met with the Ireland Park Foundation in 1996, where he agreed to work on the site if the chairman of the foundation, Robert Kearns, could secure a waterfront location.
Kearns teamed up with City Councilor Olivia Chow and acquired the southeast corner of Bathurst Quay in Toronto as the future site of Ireland Park. The area, Kearns told Toronto’s Bulletin, is meant to “symbolize the triumph over adversity.”
Toronto’s Ireland Park features seating areas made of limestone from a Kilkenny quarry, which mimics the unique rocky Irish landscape.
Gillespie created five bronze cast sculptures for the area, which depict individual Irish immigration stories, both hopeful and tragic. Between May and October 1847, around 38,000 Irish immigrants traveled to Toronto to escape the Great Famine. The sculptures dedicated to these brave men and women are placed among Irish oak trees at the site.
“The Jubilant Man” is dedicated to the generations of Irish who contribute to the celebration of their heritage in Canada.
“Pregnant Woman” is dedicated to the generations of Ireland’s immigrant sons and daughters.
“Woman On Ground” reminds people of the devastation of hunger.
“The Orphan Boy” is dedicated to the memory of the members and supporters of the St. Patrick’s Benevolent Society of Toronto who gave of themselves in the care of others in need, and to the many whose lives were saved.
“The Apprehensive Man” is in honor and recognition of the many individuals and organizations who contributed to the creation of Ireland Park.
Gillespie’s works of art are part of a series located in Dublin to commemorate Irish Famine emigrants. Seven sculptures remain in Dublin, while just five were sent to Ireland Park. According to Kearns, this move recognized “those who did not survive the journey.”
The official opening of Ireland Park took place on June 20 and 21, 2007, and featured a celebratory concert at Roy Thomson Hall attended by the Irish President Mary McAleese.