The city of Kingston in Ontario, Canada, has never forgotten the thousands of Irish immigrants that crossed the ocean in cramped, pestilent conditions known as the Fever Ships. 50,000 people fled from the Potato Famine (An Gorta Mor translated as the Great Hunger) arriving on the shores of Canada in 1847.
Several thousand peasants disembarked in Kingston looking for a better life although most of them were sick and dying from Typhus. Approximately 1400 people died including a number of the denizens of Kingston who fell ill while tending to the sick. The immigrants were buried in a common grave, several layers deep, south of the grounds of Kingston General Hospital.
The mass grave was abandoned until 1894 when a monument unveiled by Archbishop Cleary was erected in their memory. It features the Angel of Mercy standing on a four sided block of stone.
The front panel contains a Celtic cross, and a dedication in Gaelic is inscribed on the side.
A second side is inscribed;
‘On the 6th of August 1894, this monument was erected by James Vincent Cleary, Archbishop of Kingston in memory of his afflicted Irish compatriots, nearly 1,400 in number, who, enfeebled by famine, in 1847-8, ventured across the ocean in unequipped sailing vessels, in whose fetid holds they inhaled the germs of the pestilential “ship-fever” and on reaching Kingston, perished here, despite the assiduous attention and compassionate offices of the good citizens of Kingston. May the Heavenly Father give them eternal rest and happiness in reward of their patient suffering and Christian submission to His holy will, thorough the merits of His divine Son, Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.’
In 1966, to allow for expansion of Kingston General the buried remains, and the Angel of Mercy monument, were relocated to the north-west corner of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery at Kirkpatrick and Division streets.
THE TYPHUS EPIDEMIC 1847
Though typhus had been epidemic periodically in Canada since the 1650’s, the worst outbreak occurred in the summer of 1847. In that year some 90,000 emigrants embarked for Canada, most of them refugees from the potato famine then ravaging Ireland. Nearly 16,000 died of typhus, either at sea or after their arrival in Canada. Those stricken while passing through Kingston found shelter in makeshift “immigrant sheds” erected near the waterfront. Despite the efforts of local religious and charitable organizations, notably the Sisters of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph and the ladies of the Female Benevolent Society, some 1,400 immigrants died. Buried near the present general hospital their remains were re-interred here in 1966.
AN GORTA MOR PARK
In 1998, the Kingston Irish Famine Commemoration Association was instrumental in naming a small park on the waterfront at Ontario and West streets, Án Gorta Mór Park. A Celtic Cross Memorial was installed the following year.
The base contains an inscription in French on one side and an English dedication on the reverse side; In memory of An Gorta Mor 1847- 1848 Erected by The Kingston Irish Famine Commemoration Association 1998
Incorporated into the design of the Celtic cross is a sailing ship. A dedication engraved below states in English; On This Shore More Than 1500 Irish, Fleeing THE GREAT HUNGER Along With Compassionate Citizens Of Many Faiths, Who Cared For Them, Died Of Typhus In The Fever Sheds Of Kingston. 1847 – 1848 WE HOLD THEIR MEMORY SACRED.
The reverse side of the cross contains bas-relief of a harp surrounded with shamrocks. The above inscription is reiterated in Gaelic.
Local citizens who died while attending to the sick were buried in The Upper Burying Ground also known as McBurney Park (and Skeleton Park). In 2002 a Celtic Cross Memorial was erected on the site.
An inscription in on the front panel states; In memory of the / Est. 10,000 mainly Irish & Scottish / Immigrants buried / here in Kingston’s / upper cemetery / 1813 – 1865 / May they rest / in peace
An additional inscription on the rear of the monument’s base states; Donated By Kingston Irish Folk Club Tir Na Nog Irish Pub Kingston Brewing Co. City Of Kingston March 2002
A plaque marking the exact location of the mass gravesite funded by Kingston Irish Famine Commemorative Association and Kingston General Hospital was unveiled in 2002. It is located on Stuart Street at the main entrance of Kingston General Hospital.
KINGSTON GENERAL HOSPITAL ROLE IN TYPHUS EPIDEMIC
In 1847 and 1848 this site became the largest of the city’s mass graves for more than 1,400 Irish immigrants who died in fever sheds adjacent to Kingston General Hospital and Emily St. after fleeing “The Great Hunger” in Ireland. The plaque commemorates them and the selfless care givers who died nursing them.
In 1966, many remains from this site were re-interred beneath the Angel Of Mercy in St. Mary’s Cemetery. Others discovered in 1990 now rest in Catarqui Cemetery. In 1998, a Celtic Monument honouring all who died was raised in “An Gorta Mor” Park.
Erected by the Kingston Irish Famine Commemoration Association, with the support of Kingston General Hospital in 1999.
The city of Kingston hosts annual ceremonies to commemorate this moment in history.