Monday, July 18, 2016

Windmill Point

Windmill Point was a quarantine area where between 3,500 and 6,000 Irish immigrants died of typhus or "ship fever" in 1847 and 1848. The immigrants had been transferred from quarantine in Grosse Isle, Quebec.

Due to a lack of suitable preparations, typhus soon reached epidemic proportions in Montreal. Three fever sheds were initially constructed, 150 feet (46 m) long by 40 to 50 feet (15 m) wide. As thousands more sick immigrants landed, more sheds had to be erected.

The number of sheds would grow to 22, with troops cordoning off the area so the sick couldn't escape. Grey Nuns cared for the sick, carrying women and children in their arms from ships to the ambulances.

According to Montreal journalist and historian Edgar Andrew Collard, thirty of 40 nuns who went to help became ill, with seven dying. Other nuns took over, but once the surviving Grey Nuns had convalesced, they returned. Priests also helped, many falling ill after hearing the last confessions of the dying.

When a mob threatened to throw the fever sheds into the river, Montreal mayor John Easton Mills quelled the riot and provided care, giving patients water and changing bedding. He died in November, having served less than a year in office. 

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Montreal urged French Quebecers to help their fellow Catholics. Many travelled to Montreal from the countryside to adopt children, in some cases passing their land on to them.

During the mid-19th century, workers constructing the Victoria Bridge across the St. Lawrence River discovered a mass grave in Windmill Pointwhere victims of typhus epidemic of 1847 had been quarantined in fever sheds. The workers, many of whom were of Irish descent, were unsettled by the discovery and wanted to create a memorial to ensure the grave, which held the coffins of 6,000 Irish immigrants, would not be forgotten.

Erected on December 1, 1859, the stone was the first Canadian monument to represent the famine. The inscription on the stone reads:
"To Preserve from Desecration the Remains of 6000 Immigrants Who died of Ship Fever A.D. 1847-48
This Stone is erected by the Workmen of Messrs. Peto, Brassey and Betts Employed in the Construction of the Victoria Bridge A.D. 1859"

©2016 Linda Sullivan-Simpson

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