Our trip to Grosse Île, Québec -

The Irish Monument in the St. Lawrence River near Quebec City

We took the tour with Croisieres LaChance out of  Berthier-sur-Mer (near Montmagny). The cost was US$32.00 plus tax. The boat trip is about 45 minutes one way. Our only complaint was that the entire "travelog" on the boat was in French. We asked "En anglais?" and they found an English-speaking crewman to give us the "short version." We were two of only four English-speaking tourists on the boatload of maybe 50. (On the return trip, no such translation!)

On the island, we were immediately found by an English-speaking guide, who helped us arrange our sight-seeing most efficiently. We took the trolley to the East end of the island. We four English-speaking visitors had the last car on the trolley to ourselves with an English-speaking guide. His English was a bit halting but he did an excellent job, and was a charming guide. Next we went to the Cafeteria, where we could get a sandwich, soup or a hot plate (chicken or fish) along with a full line of beverages including beer. We then went with another English-speaking guide to the East end of the island. 

This is the part that will be of most interest to descendants of Irish immigrants of the 1840s. We visited the cemetery and saw a beautiful memorial, reminiscent of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC, with names of immigrants who died etched in clear glass. There were also "les inconnues" with a small "bateau" (or canoe) next to each "inconnue". We were told that as an "unknown" is identified, the "inconnue" will be erased and the name added to the larger panels.

We also saw the beautiful Celtic cross, and our guide translated the French portion -- quite differently worded than the English!  The English version reads: “Sacred to the memory of thousands of Irish emigrants who, to preserve the faith, suffered hunger and exile, in 1847-48, and stricken with fever ended here their sorrowful pilgrimage. Erected by the Ancient Order to Hibernians in America and dedicated Feast of the Assumption 1909” However, in French on the other side of the monument, the message reads: “In this secluded spot lie the mortal remains of 5,424 persons who, flying from pestilence and famine in Ireland in the year 1847, found in America but a Grave.”

Nearby is the Irish Cemetery.   Of the 7,480 people buried on Grosse Île, more than 6,000 are buried here. Coffins containing the bodies were piled three deep in the trenches and this photo shows the undulations of the ground.

There is an unusual memorial built near this cemetery. To me it evoked the hold of a ship where many of the emigrants suffered and died.

Then back to the "delousing sheds" (our term, not theirs!) which gave a very slight but chilling reminder of Dachau! Here you will receive earphones tuned to the language of choice. In these buildings, all the immigrants' belongings (including clothing) were put into a large wire container and moved via rails in the floor into an 'autoclave,' where they were subjected to superheated steam. The immigrants themselves moved into another room where they took showers with 'delousing' soap.

There is an interpretive section here to explain the system and give details and pictures of the process.


The full trip takes five hours - from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm. And LaChance DOES 'count noses' before they leave on the return trip! So no one is left behind!

Photos and Text  © 2004 - Kathleen Bloxsom Wagner - All Rights Reserved.

For more pictures and a "tour" of the island from Parcs Canada: