Ireland's Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is visiting New Brunswick this week as part of this year's International Famine Commemoration.
Heather Humphreys is making stops in Saint John, Miramichi and Moncton to pay tribute to the people of Canada who helped Irish immigrants flee the great potato famine of the 1840s.
Approximately one million people died between 1845-1852, and a million more left Ireland forever.
"It's very important that we remember and look back, because there's so much famine across the world and I think by having these commemorations, it raises the awareness of famine issues in the modern world," Humphreys said Friday on Information Morning Saint John.
"One of the legacies left behind by the famine in Ireland is the deep compassion which is felt by Irish people to those who suffer from hunger today."
Of the more than 100,000 Irish who sailed to Canada in 1847, an estimated one out of five died from disease and malnutrition.
In Saint John, up to 2,500 people were quarantined on Partridge Island with small pox and typhus fever during the peak of the Irish immigration.
The island was an entry point for newcomers to Canada.
Approximately 600 of them are buried in a mass grave on the island. Other Irish immigrants eventually settled in New Brunswick, Upper Canada and the United States.
"I'm here to say thank you to the Canadian people for the compassion their predecessors showed … because the devastating legacy of the famine is evident across the eastern region of Canada, where up to 20,000 Irish famine victims lie buried," Humphreys said.
"But thankfully, many more thousands survived the journey and went on to build lives here … Almost a quarter of the population in this region are of Irish ancestry. So it's important we link in with the Irish Canadians, and we meet them and those are strong links we want to maintain."
Humphreys will lay a wreath at noon at St. Patrick's Square in uptown Saint John on Friday.
She will then travel to Miramichi on Saturday, where she will visit Middle Island at 10 a.m., and meet with Bill Fraser, Minister of Tourism, Heritage and Culture.
Humphreys will also visit the Irish Families Monument at 2 p.m. in Moncton and then move on to Prince Edward Island on Sunday.
She previously made a stop in Halifax.
"It's a solemn occasion to remember, and when you think of the journeys they went on, it's quite harrowing … it's important that we remember what they went through," Humphreys said.
"It's in remembering these things that it reminds us of the compassion felt by the Irish people, but it also creates an awareness as to the obvious difficulties that result in famine and the terrible things that happen."
The first National Famine Commemoration Committee was established in July 2008, following a government decision to commemorate the Great Famine with an annual memorial day.
Since 2009, the program included an annual International Famine Commemoration at a location abroad.
Last year, New Orleans hosted the event.