Following the Footsteps of Immigrants

Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site

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Photo: Philippe Gauthier

Island’s Priest, Nurse Sarah Wade, Superintendent Georges-Élie Martineau,  Immigrant, Schoolteacher Eugénie Rousseau 

In the 19th century hundreds of families from European countries, mainly Ireland, sailed for Canada to start a new life. Among the family names of those who came are Kennedy, Morrison, McCarthy, Fitzgerald, Armstrong, Moore, and Higgins. Did any of your ancestors make the journey? Find out what life was like for immigrants arriving at the first quarantine station in Canada! You may walk in their footsteps and meet personalities from the past who will help you relive the disinfection process these late-19th-century newcomers were required to undergo.

Immerse yourself in a completely different period

From the moment you arrive, superintendent Georges-Élie Martineau will coldly issue medical inspection directives and rules for staying at Grosse-Île. No use resisting! Quarantine station employees will then introduce you to the steam rooms and disinfection showers, where everybody must immediately report! Your skin will crawl as village nurse Sarah Wade enumerates the horrific symptoms of contagious and deadly illnesses present on the island, such as typhus and cholera. On the village road, schoolteacher Eugénie Rousseau will ask your children to join the others seated on the school benches. Watch out! The island’s priest will try to convert you to save your soul and prevent contagious disease from spreading through miasmas.

Now open to the public…  

Inaccessible for many years, Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site was the scene of great human tragedy between 1832 and 1937. On foot or by trolley you can travel close to 8 km through the village, the hotel area, and the cemeteries as you admire some forty buildings including hotels, chapels, and the disinfection building. And if you like you can also head for adventure on the new 2.5 km walking trail recently developed by Parks Canada, which passes through a hundred-year-old forest. Aboard a cruise ship along the majestic St. Lawrence River to Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site, you will be delighted by this picturesque trip to the heart of the Isle-aux-Grues archipelago and its 21 islands.