Explore the tragic history of Irish emigrants in Kingston with KFPL

Image via KFPL.

Kingston Frontenac Public Library (KFPL) invites patrons to uncover the hidden stories of courage and compassion that lie beneath the surface of Kingston’s rich history.

On Saturday, Jun. 3, 2023, Dr. Katherine Hull will explore the tragic journey of Irish emigrants during the peak of the Great Famine in 1847 and the heroic efforts of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph in providing care and support, according to a release from KFPL.

During the mid-19th century, Ireland was ravaged by the Great Famine, caused by a devastating potato blight, crop failures and absentee landlords. In their desperate search for survival, thousands of Irish departed for North America, the library shared.

However, their hopes for a better life were marred by the harsh realities of the journey. According to the release, overcrowded ships exposed passengers to deadly typhus, and many arrived in North America either gravely ill or orphaned. The sick and dying were received in Kingston at the “fever sheds” on the waterfront. The Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph cared for these vulnerable individuals and found homes for the many orphans left behind, KFPL said.

A sad reminder of this tragic period lies in the mass grave near Kingston General Hospital. It is estimated that approximately 1,400 typhus victims were laid to rest there, their resting place ultimately impacted by the hospital’s expansion over the years, KFPL stated. In 2021, Archaeological Services Inc. undertook the task of recovering and documenting the remains.

From 2 to 4 p.m., Dr. Hull will talk about that project as well as the Irish famine, emigrants and the typhus epidemic, at the Isabel Turner Branch, according to the release.

“This event not only serves as an opportunity to learn about a significant yet often overlooked aspect of our shared history, but it also pays tribute to the resilience of the Famine Irish and the compassionate care they received in Kingston,” said Anne Hall, Local History and Heritage Librarian at KFPL.

Library patrons can register for this thought-provoking event online at https://calendar.kfpl.ca/event/8076241 or by phone at (613) 549-8888.

2 thoughts on “Explore the tragic history of Irish emigrants in Kingston with KFPL

  • Everyone else seems to receive compensation for hardships suffered many years ago, shouldn’t they also?

    • Those are quite possibly some of my ancestors, but the only time I ever made note of it (to the Globe & Mail, as I recall) was in response to a fellow in Toronto who was having a memorial built there – to which I objected. I think an obsession with the past *can be* terribly unhealthy, and said so.He was newly from Ireland, and I wrote that if he wanted to relive his battles with England, to go back to Ireland to do so.
      Now, however, sometimes I find I will take note of this mass burial, for exactly the reason you suggest: I think it’s unhealthy for everyone, and not just descendants of the Irish.
      Why unhealthy? For one thing, ironically, these things are almost always terribly ahistorical. With respect to mass graves, for example: I have an uncle buried in one, and being from a remote part of the province myself, I am well aware of how common that is. Somehow, the relevant context is never brought up and, with young or new Canadians, there is no first-hand knowledge that would correct the historical record. For those folks, I would just suggest: check out Covid-19 and New York City’s Potter’s field! (New York City, mind!)
      For another thing, where historical ignorance is joined by the right sort of incentives, the common understanding of these episodes ends up being dictated by intimidation on the one side and …well, something on the other side that I am having trouble finding a polite word for. This is fatal to the sort of individual values on which nations must be based.

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