History Overview of the “Black Rock”

1847, was about the middle year of a five (5) year famine in Ireland. Originally referred to as “The Potato Famine”, the event is generally currently called “The Great Hunger”.

Detailed records are scare, but it is estimated that one million or more men, women and children died in Ireland during this period. And, approximately one million more left Ireland in search of a better life.

Of the one million that left Ireland, it is believed that about 100,000 headed for what was then the colonies of British North America (now, Canada).

These immigrants were poor, suffering from malnutrition, and also carried with them the dreaded “ship’s fever”, which we now know was typhus. A very contagious and deadly disease, with a strange incubation protocol.

As they travelled to Canada, many died on the voyage and were buried at sea in the cold Atlantic. Again, it is difficult to determine how many died during the trip with estimates varying widely from 5,000 to more than 15,000.

On arrival on the shores of Canada, more died in the Maritime colonies (provinces), with some buried around St. Andrew’s in New Brunswick.

Their first port of call in Lower Canada (Quebec) was at the quarantine island called Grosse Ile. (This island is found just downriver of Quebec City and is today a National Historic Site)

At Grosse Ile, the small and overworked staff of Doctors, nurses and support staff, tried their best to determine who might be infected by Typhus and these individuals were removed from the many ships that arrived there in 1847-8. At this location, where at least some attempt was made to record the deaths, more that 5000 of these individuals died and were buried at Grosse Ile.

The men, women and children that were “deemed well” were allowed to continue their trip on to Montreal. Of course, it became obvious quickly that many of the people allowed to continue were not well and carried the Typhus with them.

In Montreal, the John Mills, the Mayor of Montreal at the time realized that he would have to segregate these sick Irish from the general population. Again, as an estimate, it is believed that about 70,000 Irish immigrants arrived in Montreal when the population of the Island of Montreal was only about 50,000.

John Mills had a number of fever sheds constructed in an area of Montreal known as Point St. Charles. Some records indicate that there were 21 of these large sheds – about 100’ X 50’ while others note about 23 – 25 sheds.

And during the very hot summer of 1847 (sometimes referred to as a Calcutta Summer), more that 6000 more Irish immigrants died and were buried in the area.

In one of the greatest humanitarian efforts ever seen in Montreal or Quebec or Canada, Montrealers at the time, led by the “Grey Nuns”, and representing every language, religion and cultural group in Montreal at the time went to these fever sheds to provide care and comfort to these sick and dying Irish.

A number of these “caregivers” also became infected with typhus and gave their lives for the effort – including John Mills, the Mayor, who spent his evenings providing nursing care to these victims.

Of the survivors that were then allowed to continue onward from Montreal, they continued to die in Cornwall, Kingston, Ottawa, Toronto etc.

In 1859, the workers building the Victoria Bridge in Montreal discovered the remains of a number of these Irish victims. Most of these workers were Irish, and since it was only about 12 years after the event of Black ’47, it is possible that some of these workers were also survivors.

These workers removed a large boulder from the St. Lawrence River and placed it over the bones that they had discovered. They noted that this Rock should remain there as long as the “river flows and the grass grows”. Over time, with the nearby railway and heavy traffic the boulder became a deep black color from the pollution. And is referred to as The Black Rock.

It is likely that with more than 6000 victims, that this burial area is the largest one outside on Ireland; and that the Black Rock is the first memorial anywhere in the world to the Great Hunger of Ireland.

The Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation, a dedicated, non-profit and volunteer group is working closely with both Hydro Quebec who owns the property, and the City on Montreal, to build a beautiful world class Memorial space around the area of the Black Rock



In 1847-8, Montreal was growing and progressing. During the terrible event of the Irish Immigrants, a number of other things were happening as the city grew and prospered….

  • 1847 – The Montreal Telegraph Company founded. In 1850, the year prior to Hugh Allan's presidency, Montreal Telegraph Co operated merely 500 miles of line, all in the province of Canada.
  • 1847 – Telegraph service between Montréal and Toronto, between Montréal and Quebec City, and between Montréal and New York City established.
  • 1847 – Bonsecours Market opened. It housed City Hall between 1852 and 1878.
  • 1847 – The first Bonaventure Station is built on Saint Jacques Street as the main terminal for railway from Montreal to Lachine.
  • 1847 – The railway from Montreal to Lachine is opened.
  • 1847 – Desbarats & Derbyshire (Georges-Édouard Desbarats and Stewart Derbyshire) start a glass factory at Vaudreuil.
  • 1847 – January 30 – Lord Elgin, Governor, arrives at Montreal.
  • 1847 – The first mass is celebrated in St. Patrick's Basilica on St. Patrick's Day, March 17.
  • 1847 – September 1 – Lord Elgin visits the fever sheds at Windmill Point.



Some interesting Historical writings concerning the event of 1847-8 and the Black Rock


Black Rock Manifesto – November 13 1981


The Ship Fever Monument – The Gazette – December 3 1898


Tried to move the Stone for Expo  Gazette – May 27th 1966


Mary Cox became Madame Roberge Gazette May 25 1934 – Grosse Ile


The Grey Nuns Gazette Aug 19 1986


Black Rock Service – May 28 1928


General Irish 1980


General Irish 1975


Good overview – Slattery –  May 1972


Some victim remains were found and reburied in 1942

The 6000 Irish victims of Black 47 were buried over a wide area, often simply in quickly dug trenches. Of course, the shoreline around the area has changed a great deal between 1847 and today. As a result, the exact location of these graves is difficult to determine & bones of victims are still occasionally found. The last major reburial of some found bones seems to have been in 1942, almost exactly 100 years after the event. This article from the Gazette, October 31st 1942 notes the ceremony that took place at that time.


Andrew Collard – 1970


St Stephen’s Anglican Churchyard