In the late 1840s Ireland was in the throes of what has become known as the Great Potato Famine. Though what was so great about it is a mystery to me. Sadly many were forced to leave the Old Sod and head off for new lives in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and, Montreal. That sounds much easier than it was.
Passage was hardly cruise ship style and many died en route, having contracted typhus. So horrific was the loss of life that the vessels came to be known as coffin ships, their human cargo unloaded and moved to hastily built fever sheds.
More than 6000 Irish migrants died in these sheds. Subsequently workers who were erecting the Victoria Bridge came upon a mass grave. In 1859 a large monument, the Irish Commemorative Stone, known more commonly if less creatively as Black Rock, was set in place to commemorate the nameless victims.
To this day the ground is considered sacred by Montreal’s vibrant Irish community. Every spring there is a march from St. Gabriel’s parish to the Black Rock to pay respect to the victims there buried and ensure their memory survives.
There is a piece of land, a green space, located very close to the rock that all three levels of government informally promised to the Irish community as a memorial park to which the Rock could be moved. Currently the rock is located on a median between two lanes of traffic making access tricky at best, and downright dangerous at worst. However recently it was announced that Hydro Quebec had bought the land to build a power station for a transit system project.
Not surprisingly Montreal’s Irish feel they have been betrayed and scammed and are making a kerfuffle about it. On a couple of occasions city mayor Denis Coderre, who was this year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade Grand Marshall, promised to “champion” the park project.
Calling Mayor Coderre.
Perhaps hizzoner has a trick up his sleeve to make things right. Or it may be too late. The annual march is this Sunday. They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but I’ve got to think that a community of Irish descendants who feel scorned by some old sod may just cause some grief.
As for building a power station on land abutting a mass grave of Irish immigrants, I believe the potential for banshees and Little People to cause construction havoc is great. To say nothing of problems over the years to come.