A Canadian Family

Natives, French Canadians, Acadians

The Irish And The Queen Victoria Bridge

One of the first big waves of Irish settlers into Quebec arrived in the 1840s. They were hired – along with many others from Great Britain – to work on the construction of Montreal’s Victoria Bridge. Not only was their life hard, but the cost of their passage to Quebec was taken out of their paycheques.

As is so often the case with the Irish – there’s also a sad story associated with this. The Irish bridge workers had seen the location (near the Victoria Bridge) of a mass grave of thousands of Irish immigrants who had died during Quebec’s 1847/48 typhus outbreak. They asked – and were granted – permission to raise a Black Stone (officially called the Irish Commemorative Stone) and you can see this today on the Montreal end of the Victoria Bridge.

Inscription on the rock

To preserve from desecration the remains of good immigrants who died of ship fever A.D. 1847-48. This stone is erected by the workmen of Messrs. Peto. Brassey & Betts employed in the construction of the Victorai Bridge A.D. 1859

Montreal, – Monument eleve a la Pointe Saint-Charles aux victimes du typhus,

Source Le Monde Illustre, 1895 (Bibliotheque nationale du Quebec)

Notes by reader Suzan

I believe that the Irish, Quebecois and Aboriginal (most likely Mohawk given the proximity to Kahnawake) men, women and young child workers went on strike in protest of being forced to exhume the bodies of the Irish. The stone reads “to preserve from desecration” for that reason. Some accounts had children digging up parents or husbands unearthing the remains of wives and children.
The Grand Trunk was a British company. There were no shed tears over Irish, French and Mohawk requests of sentimentality. A refusal to dig by starved labourers, all of whom were considered the lowest of the low in 19th century Montreal society, threatened profits. In the end, I think the bridge was rerouted slightly aside because of the number of bodies. I applaud your search for humanity and pride in ancestry.
Go to Canadian Illustrated News at Archives Canada and search under the title ‘Unearthing the Dead to Make a Way for the Living. A Sketch on Cemetery Street, Montreal’ It shows the unearthing process. It was an 1871 publication.
I, too, am very proud of my Irish ancestry.
Happy St Pat’s
Suzan

Related Posts:

Bridges Over The St-Lawrence River(3): Victoria Jubilee Bridge, Montreal, Quebec

Bridges Over The St-Lawrence River(4): Victoria Jubilee Bridge, 1905

Further Reading:

Ireland Monument Canada » The Irish Stone Montreal

The Shamrock and the Maple Leaf – Monumental Differences

 

January 23, 2010 - Posted by | . | ,

3 Comments »

  1. The Irish folk are so brave. They came by the thousands to make a new life, to fight for freedom–across America and Canada.

    I am proud to have Irish blood running through my veins.

    Lovely post. Indeed. Thank you.

    Like

    Comment by Beth | January 23, 2010 | Reply

  2. I believe that the Irish, Quebecois and Aboriginal (most likely Mohawk given the proximity to Kahnawake) men, women and young child workers went on strike in protest of being forced to exhume the bodies of the Irish. The stone reads “to preserve from desecration” for that reason. Some accounts had children digging up parents or husbands unearthing the remains of wives and children.
    The Grand Trunk was a British company. There were no shed tears over Irish, French and Mohawk requests of sentimentality. A refusal to dig by starved labourers, all of whom were considered the lowest of the low in 19th century Montreal society, threatened profits. In the end, I think the bridge was rerouted slightly aside because of the number of bodies. I applaud your search for humanity and pride in ancestry.
    Go to Canadian Illustrated News at Archives Canada and search under the title ‘Unearthing the Dead to Make a Way for the Living. A Sketch on Cemetery Street, Montreal’ It shows the unearthing process. It was an 1871 publication.
    I, too, am very proud of my Irish ancestry.
    Happy St Pat’s
    Suzan

    Like

    Comment by Suzan Porter | February 2, 2012 | Reply

    • Suzan, if you are still able to read a reply to your post, know that the CBC is preparing a docudrama of the construction of the Victoria Bridge and will bring light on the Irish construction workers. A number of volunteers are trying to identify the Irish workers by name and trying to connect those historical people to their descendants. Can you help? Ed

      Like

      Comment by Ed O'Shaughnessy, descendant of Griffintown resident | March 9, 2016 | Reply


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