The state felt a duty to help the destitute. Cornerstone of policy was a rigorous quarantine for each vessel. No immigrant to leave the station until passed by a government doctor. To enforce this, emigration officials were stationed at every port of embarkation. This was paid for by a grant from the Imperial Gov. & a 5s tax for each adult, which the shipping agents included in the fare.
1846 - Most of immigrants healthy & industrious, if poor. Plenty of work. 25,000 absorbed
easily into economy (1/3 had gone to U.S. upon embarkation).
1847 - Within a week of 1st vessel's arrival hospitals filled. By end of May 12,000 on Grosse
Island, & few had any shelter at all. Thousands had to __ the open, dying "like fish out
of water" among the stones & mudflats of the beaches. Because of lack of space they
had to send some on without quarantine, & typhus was spread to every town from
Quebec to Montreal & father west. When the Irish arrived people fled from Toronto &
Kingston into the countryside. In Montreal today is a great mound bearing the legend,
"The remains of 6,000 immigrants who died of ship's fever." At the end of the season
Canada could see the disorganization of their society - almost 20,000 immigrants, 30%
of the entire Irish emigration, had died by the close of 1847. Another 30,000 had crossed
over to the U.S., in spite of the barriers raised against them. Canada was left with the
sick & infirm & destitute. In this somber picture shone the courage of those who
attended the sick. 23 or 26 doctors at Grosse Island contracted the fever; almost 40 of
the staff died; 19 priests went down with typhus. At Montreal a whole congregation of
nursing nuns succumbed to the fever; at Point St. Charles the Bishop himself was a
1848 - Whole quarantine system set on a new basis. The stations were enlarged & put under
military control, the inland transportation system overhauled. The emigration was
smaller, only 25,000 to Canada. Mortality at sea averaged only one death per vessel, &
up to midsummer only 50 people had died at Grosse Island. 8,000 it was estimated
went on to the U.S..
1849 - Very small immigration. Fares had been inflated, so it cost less to go to the U.S.. The
immigration to Canada continued to be small, although they needed & wanted added
labor & colonists.
Nova Scotia (before the famine)
A small group of emigrants from Cork & Waterford came to Nova Scotia in the 1820s. The attorney general of the province stated that the first 5 families who settled in "Irish Town" (in the wilderness) had not 5 shillings among them when they entered "the bush." "They subsisted upon potatoes & herrings & other things which I gave them. About 40 or 50 bushels of potatoes & a half a barrel of herrings will be sufficient provision for one of these families for a year; & next year they are able to provide for themselves." So much better was this meager diet than the food upon which many thousands subsisted in Ireland that they "move heaven & earth to obtain a chance to emigrate to America."
- Guillet, The Grt. Mig., p. 225
Quebec & Montreal
The next stage of the immigrant's pilgrimage took him to Montreal, & as it was invariably made by river boat it sometimes differed from the ocean passage in little but length... In normal times the Quebec to Montreal lap of the journey took from one to two days. Later the steamboats were faster & some made the trip overnight. To the cabin passenger it was a pleasant, scenic trip. To the deck passengers, often different. In bad weather the lack of sleeping accommodations made the voyage miserable. William Peacock spent 2 nights onboard a steamship packed with 800 passengers.
- p. 160-61 [no source given; possibly Guillet, The Great Migration]
In the great ship fever year of 1847 many thousands of the most destitute were crowded into steamships as if they had been so many cattle, and forwarded at government expense into the interior, where they arrived more dead than alive. Citizens at lake ports recall with horror the sight of the sick, lying in groups on the open wharves, and actually overrun with rats.
- Guillet, The Great Migration, p. 163