Dozens of people in Saint John marked the beginning of St. Patrick's week with a ceremony Sunday at the Celtic Cross.

They were there to recognize Irish immigrants who helped build the city, and those who died on nearby Partridge Island.

The island was an entry point and quarantine station for newcomers to Canada. More than 1,000 people died there when typhus broke out in the late 1840s.

The island is a national historic site, but it’s not accessible to people who want to visit.

"There’s a lot of people in support of developing the island," said Bernard Cormier, a cultural affairs officer in the city. "Hundreds of people died there and it’s often compared to Ellis Island or the immigration pier in Halifax. It’s equally as important."

Cormier said there are concerns about the state of graves and old structures on the island.

He hopes federal, provincial and local governments can work together to preserve the history on Partridge Island and make it accessible to visitors.