an old poem of mine – Grosse Île

Grosse Île

We are guided through the Reception Hall,

lose the sound of the St. Lawrence River.

Gape at the baggage cages,

the immigrants’ luggage and clothing

packed on these

for disinfection

in the steam and sulphur



Our guide explains why the shower stalls

have wire mesh roofs.

To keep the people from climbing out.

I look inside the galvanized grey casing

and stare at the shower tube and the three

wrap-around shower pipes

and I step back.


Later we walk down the trail

to the Irish cemetery

from 1847,

the famine year,

the big death year.


There is still one building from then.

One old cover shed still there.


Later I read how the government debated

the costs of sheds to cover the immigrants,

to get them out of the tents and the open air.

Not enough money for milk and bread.

For medical supplies.

The doctors and nurses, the nuns and priests

falling sick, dying.


How the St. Lawrence was full of ships

anchored, waiting with their sick, and dying

with their dead lying in the bunks of the crowded

stinking lower decks.

Where family members were too frightened.

To touch their own dead, for burial.


I read the list of those who died.

Unknown Dutch man

Unknown Irish child

There was one William Gibson,

Captain of a ship out of Liverpool,

his ship with sick and dead

in 1847.


from the Parks Canada page:

Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada commemorates the importance of immigration to Canada, particularly via the entry port of Québec, from the early 19th century to the First World War.

Grosse Île also commemorates the tragic events experienced by the Irish immigrants at this site, primarily during the typhoid epidemic of 1847.

The commemoration on this site is also based on the role the island played from 1832-1937 as a quarantine station for the Port of Québec, long the main port of arrival for immigrants to Canada.

One thought on “an old poem of mine – Grosse Île

  1. I believe I read somewhere that Henry Ford, yep, the oringinal of the car clan, came through Grosse Ile, on to Montreal and from there through to the USA, his people coming through at the potato famine time.

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