Ireland Park is a memorial to the Irish Famine experience in Toronto and has been described as a bridge from the past to the future linking two nations –Canada and Ireland. Experiencing Ireland Park for the first time I was overcome with sadness for the destitute people who experienced the trauma of famine in 1847.
The Great Potato Famine occurred between 1845-1851 and caused such destruction and famine in Ireland that a million people died and another two million fled the country by embarking on overcrowded boats headed to Canada. At that time Toronto’s population was only 20,000 people. Having heard of the flight of the Irish immigrants Toronto tried to prepare for the arrival of thousands from Ireland however they were not prepared for sheer volume of people that would arrive by boat across the Atlantic. Having received word that many were ill the province directed the Toronto City Mayor to build hospitals and sheds for the Irish migrants. Sadly many did not survive the voyage or died upon their arrival.
In June 1847 Toronto struggled with hundreds of sick immigrants arriving which increased the pressure for more for medicines, beds and large facilities. A sympathetic Toronto worked tirelessly to care for infectious patients by admitting them to the General Hospital in order to control the spread of contagious diseases to the local population.
The medical crisis continued to deepen in July when, the chief medical officer at the Emigrant Hospital died of a fever and construction workers, stopped working because so many of their men had fallen ill. Public scandal also spread over allegations of how the sick were being treated and money was being spent. In the end nearly 1,100 of the 38,560 migrants died and were buried in Toronto.
By 1848 much of the migrant population left Toronto in search of family who had already settled in Canada over the past 30 years. They moved to look for work in either British North America or the United States with only about 3000 Irish choosing to remain in Toronto.
The event changed Toronto forever and left its mark on the city.
Ireland Park depicts the people who fled the potato famine in Ireland and arrived in Toronto with arms outstretched in search of a new life. The statues are heart wrenching and the limestone wall now bears the names of some of the 675 people who died. These names are etched in between the walls of the stone pillars.
I highly recommend a visit to see the Famine Memorial, however, I must honestly say that I personally was not prepared for the emotional feeling that it evoked upon walking through Ireland Park my first time. Ireland Park was first opened in 2007, however, access has been closed due to construction. Ireland Park re-open to public access in June 2014. For more information on the Ireland Park Foundation.
Directions to Ireland Park from Making Waves Boatel: Walk west along the dock toward the Canada Malting Silos. Just past the marina entrance the walkway on the east side of the Canada Malting Silos will come into view. Walk along the pier to the end to reach the monument.