Montreal’s Irish community is celebrating what amounts to them like a seismic transfer of land, historically speaking.
The Anglican Diocese of Montreal is ceding the territory surrounding “Black Rock,” the site of a mass Irish grave on Bridge Street, to the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation.
The change in ownership allows the non-profit foundation to start raising funds to eventually build a memorial park dedicated to the 6,000 Irish immigrants who were buried in 1847 at Black Rock, a large engraved stone.
“This piece of land of on which the Black Rock sits was always very crucial to the development of our memorial space,” Fergus Keyes, president of the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation, told Global News.
The mass grave site, marked by the Black Rock monument is in the area below Bridge Street, the Réseau express métropolitain (REM ) line and property owned by Hydro-Quebec.
Six thousand Irish immigrants were buried there in 1847 after contracting typhus, a highly contagious disease.
More than 100,000 Irish people emigrated to Canada in 1847, many of them coming to Montreal. But during the trip thousands became ill during the ocean voyage and died. Workers building the Victoria Bridge in 1859 discovered the mass grave below what is now Bridge Street and installed “Black Rock” to mark the location.
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“This is the largest burial space of famine victims outside of Ireland,” Keyes said.
During the Irish famine, the mayor Montreal at the time, John Easton Mills, built sheds to segregate and care for the sick. He, too, contracted typhus and died.
Three years ago, REM officials worked with archeologists and excavated some of the remains of the Irish victims. Bones are now being analyzed with DNA testing.
”Once we have DNA we hope to spread that around the world and see if we can find some descendants or maybe identify one or two of the victims,” Keyes said.
For now, a massive fundraising campaign is being launched to build the memorial park and eventually shift Bridge Street.
”It’s always been a complaint of our community that you can’t access the Black Rock without running across a bunch of traffic,” Keyes said.
Keyes hopes construction on the Park can begin at the end of 2024 or early 2025.
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