Irish Immigration
Home Radio Television Curio.ca
CAPH banner left CAPH banner centre CAPH banner right
Pre-Confederation British North America
Irish Immigration
Header 3 Header 4 Header 5
History Home
Irish Immigration

Pre-Confederation British North America became home to thousands of people fleeing poverty or oppression in their homelands with hopes to build a better life. In the 1840s, Irish peasants came to Canada in vast numbers to escape a famine that swept Ireland.
Robert Whyte kept a record of the terrible conditions many Irish immigrants endured while crossing the Atlantic in so-called "coffin ships" during the 1840s.  (As portrayed by Robert Haley in Canada: A People's History)
Robert Whyte kept a record of the terrible conditions many Irish immigrants endured while crossing the Atlantic in so-called "coffin ships" during the 1840s. (As portrayed by Robert Haley in Canada: A People's History)

Year after year, the potato crop failed in Ireland. Unable to pay the rent, families were evicted from their homes by ruthless landlords. By the time the worst was over, one million people had died of disease and starvation. Survivors were forced to emigrate.

The Irish peasants came to North America in overcrowded and unsanitary ships known as "coffin ships." Cabin passenger Robert Whyte recorded the horrifying conditions in the steerage section of a ship."

"Passing the main hatch, I got a glimpse of one of the most awful sights I ever beheld. A poor female patient was lying in one of the upper berths - dying... She had been nearly three weeks ill and suffered exceedingly until the swelling set in, commencing in her feet and creeping up her body to her head. Her afflicted husband stood by her holding a "blessed candle" in his hand awaiting the departure of her spirit."

Ships flying the flag of disease were forced to dock at the quarantine station on Grosse le, an island located in the St. Lawrence, downriver from Quebec City. For many Irish immigrants it would be their only glimpse of the new land. In 1847, 50 people a day died of typhus at Grosse le.

Many children whose parents died were adopted into French-Canadian families but their Irish names have lived on: Doyle, Murphy, Ryan, Johnson.

The Irish famine gave rise to a movement called Young Ireland, who members swore to free their country from Britain by any means, even armed rebellion. One member of the movement was a young writer named Thomas D'Arcy McGee who would move to Montreal in 1857 and become one of the Fathers of Confederation.

top of page


Last Topic:
Underground Railroad

Current Topic:
Irish Immigration

Next Topic:
Montreal-City of Wealth and Death

British North America
British North America
read more ...

Life in the Colonies
Life in the Colonies
read more ...

Underground Railroad
Underground Railroad
read more ...

Montreal-City of Wealth and Death
Montreal-City of Wealth and Death
read more ...

The Railway
The Railway
read more ...

American Civil War
American Civil War
read more ...

history home | explore the episodes | biographies | teacher resources | bibliography | games and puzzles | sitemap | contact us
cbc home | tv episode summaries | merchandise | press releases | behind the scenes | audio/video

copyright � 2001 CBC