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 island.

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 abundance.

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 calamities.

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 accommodation.

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 irreparable calamities.

I have the honor to remain, my lord and venerable brother, with sentiments of profound respect, your most humble and obedient servant."

+JOS. SIGNAY,

Archbishop of Quebec

  

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