Emigration to Canada
Letter from the
Archbishop of Quebec
The following important
letter relative to the prospects and condition of poor Irish
emigrants arriving in Canada has been addressed by his Grace the
Catholic Archbishop of Quebec, to the Catholic Archbishops and
Bishops of Ireland. We deeply regret to find that so many of our
unfortunate countrymen have fallen victim to disease and want.
They fled from Ireland to escape those foul destroyers: but
alas! they were inadequately provided with the means to make a
healthy or comfortable voyage, or to locate themselves in their
adopted country, so as to be able to reap the reward of their
toil and industry:--"
CIRCULAR LETTER TO THE ARCHBISHOPS AND BISHOPS OF IRELAND
Quebec, the 9th June 1847.
"MY LORD AND VENERABLE BROTHER--The voice of religion and
humanity imposes on me the sacred and imperative duty of
exposing to your Lordship the dismal fate that awaits thousands
of the unfortunate children of Ireland who come to seek in
Canada an asylum from the countless evils afflicting them in
their native land.
Already a considerable number of vessels overloaded with
emigrants from Ireland have arrived in the waters ot the St.
Lawrence. During the passage many of them weakened beforehand by
misery and starvation, have contracted fatal diseases, and for
the greater part have thus become victims of an untimely death.
This was but the natural result of their precarious situation.
Crowded in the holds of the vessels, unable to strictly adhere
to the rules of cleanliness, breathing constantly a putrid
atmosphere, and relying frequently for nourishment upon
insufficient and very bad provisions, it was morally impossible
to escape safe and sound from so many causes of destruction.
Anchoring at Grosse-Isle, about 30 miles below Quebec, where
they are compelled to perform a quarantine, the transatlantic
vessels were most commonly infected with sick and dying
emigrants. Last week at that station more than 2,000 patients,
of whom scarcely more than half could find shelter on the
The others were left in the holds of their respective vessels,
in some cases abandoned by their own friends, spreading
contagion among the other healthy passengers who were confined
in the vessels, and exhibiting the heartrending spectacle of a
morality three times greater than what prevailed ashore.
Our provincial government has undoubtedly manifested the
greatest zeal and most parental anxiety in assisting the unhappy
emigrants, but yet could not in due time employ the requisite
precautions to meet their manifold wants. The consequence is,
that vast numbers sighed, and do still sigh, in vain after the
charitable care so necessary to the preservation of human life.
Already more than a thousand human beings have been consigned to
their eternal rest in the Catholic cemetery, precursors of
thousands of others who will rejoin them if the stream of
emigration from Ireland continues to flow with the same
One Catholic clergyman alone, in ordinary circumstances,
ministered to the spiritual wants of the quarantine station; but
this year the services of even seven at a time have been
indispensably required to afford to the dying emigrants the last
rites and consolations of their cherished religion. Two of these
gentlemen are actually lying on the bed of sickness, from the
extreme fatigues they have undergone and the fever they have
contracted in visiting the infected vessels and the hospitals on
the island to accomplish the duties of their sacred ministry,
and gladden the last moments of the Irish emigrant.
The details we receive of the scenes of horror and desolation of
which the chaplains are daily and ocular witnesses, almost
stagger belief and baffle description; most despairingly and
immeasurably do they affect us, as the available means are
totally inadequate to apply an effectual remedy to such awful
Many ot the more fortunate emigrants who escape from Grosse-Isle
in good health, pay tribute to the prevailing diseases at Quebec
or Montreal, and overcrowd the hospitals of these two cities,
where temporary buildings are erected for the reception of a
greater number, without still affording sufficient
Amid the present confusion, we have had neither leisure nor
opportunity to ascertain the number of orphans and families that
are thrown for support on public charity.
I deem it necessary to mention that those who have escaped from
the fatal influence of disease, are far from realizing on their
arrival here, the ardent hopes they so fondly cherished of
meeting with unspeakable comfort and prosperity on the banks of
the St. Lawrence. To attain so desireable an end, they should
possess means which the greater number have not, and which
cannot be rendered available and efficacious, unless emigration
be conducted on a more diminished scale.
I submit these facts to your consideration, that your lordship
may use every endeavor to dissuade your diocesans from
emigrating in such numbers to Canada, where they will but too
often meet with either a premature death, or a fate as
deplorable as the heartrending condition under which they groan
in their unhappy country. Your lordship will thus open their
eyes to their true interests, and prevent the honest, religious,
and confiding Irish peasantry from being the victims of
speculation and falling into irretrievable errors and
I have the honor to remain, my lord and venerable brother, with
sentiments of profound respect, your most humble and obedient
Archbishop of Quebec