Magazine article Anglican Journal

Grosse Ile Pilgrimage: Grim Anniversary; Pilgrimage Marks 150 Years after Famine

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Grosse Ile Pilgrimage: Grim Anniversary; Pilgrimage Marks 150 Years after Famine

Article excerpt


Grosse Ile, Que.

"There are about 1,800 sick on the island, (besides a great and increasing number in the ships) of which about one tenth are Prot(estant)! Many in the ships, and sometimes whole families, sick, who arrived here from home in good health. I spent the greater part of yesterday in going from ship to ship and visited, after which I made partial visits to the hospitals. Mr. (Forest) takes the tents, the buildings, the ships and the funerals, just as it happens. There is full and hard work for three clergymen, one for the tents, one for the buildings, one for the ships. We witness most deplorable scenes, but the poor people are so glad to receive our ministrations and in not a few instances, in the midst of dirt, sickness, want and affliction, are so resigned and full of faith, that it is soothing to visit them. In fact, if it were not for the sense of one's utter inability to do all that is wanted, I could cheerfully give myself up to this kind of work."

Bishop George Jehoshaphat Mountain, third (Anglican) bishop of Quebec, in a letter to his son, Armine, June 12, 1847.

One hundred and fifty years after that summer, Quebec Bishop Bruce Stavert journeyed to the island. He joined almost 2,000 modern pilgrims on Grosse Ile to mark the solemn anniversary of the worst of the famine. At an outdoor ecumenical service, Bishop Stavert shared the stage with Archbishop Andre Gaumond, Roman Catholic archbishop of Sherbrooke, at a service on the theme of resurrection.

"It's a humbling experience for me and any clergy to come on pilgrimage here, remembering so many of our predecessors," said Bishop Stavert. "Today is truly a day of remembrance, when we pray for the repose of the souls of those who died (here) and thanksgiving for the care given to the sick and dying."

The bishop added that he and Archbishop Gaumond's presence on the island together was a symbol of the ecumenical work that was done there years before.

"Bedless persons in tents. I saw two lying on wet ground in rain, one a woman very ill, with head covered up in her cloak, on a bed of rank wet weeds. Bundle of rags lying on the floor of tent; orphan covered up within, dying, and covered with vermin from head to foot, unowned, and no connection to be traced (this the case with other orphans also); gave his name in sharper voice than could have been looked for from the little exhausted object, without uncovering himself; voice came out of the rags. Inmates of one tent, three widows and one widower, with remnants of their families, all bereft of their partners on the passage. Filth of person, accumulated in cases of diarrhea. Three orphans in one little bed in corner of tent full of baggage and boxes, one of the three dead, lying by his sick sister. Dead boy under the tree, who passed on foot, in a division of sick, from east end (of the island), and sat down to die on his road."

Bishop Mountain, writing of his 1847 visit to Grosse Ile

With conditions like that, there could have been no surprise that it was difficult to find Anglican priests to serve the desperate situation on Canada's largest quarantine station of its time. But the problem was not with a lack of priests wanting to serve - it lay with the congregations of Quebec, which were reluctant to allow their priests to serve an island riddled with deadly cholera and typhus.

Before 1847, the Anglican Church Society provided the island with a chaplain to minister to the relatively small (compared with the Roman Catholics) population of Protestant immigrants, says a history of Quebec, Strangers and Pilgrims. But with the scores of mostly Irish arriving that year because of massive famine in their own land, it soon became clear that "no one man could perform such duty."

In that fateful year, the worst of the Irish famine, 85 per cent of the 100,000 immigrants on their way to Quebec City via the St. …

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