Human bones found in Gaspé could be from 1847 shipwreck

Human remains found last week in Quebec's Gaspe region might be those of Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine who died in an 1847 shipwreck, Parks Canada said Wednesday.

87 people died when ship carrying Irish immigrants went down

The Carricks of Whitehaven went down off the coast of the Gaspé in 1847. (Vimeo)

Human remains found last week in Quebec's Gaspe region might be those of Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine who died in an 1847 shipwreck, Parks Canada said Wednesday.

Archaeologists found bones and skeletons of at least eight individuals — likely five adults and three children — near Cap-des-Rosiers, Que. in late July.

Parks Canada archaeologist Martin Perron said that although the remains need to be analyzed before drawing conclusions, all available evidence suggests they belong to victims from the Carricks of Whitehaven, an Irish ship that sank during a storm off the Gaspe coast while on its way to Quebec City almost 170 years ago.

Perron said the bones appear to be quite ancient, and were likely hurriedly and haphazardly placed together in a shallow trench.

The July discovery follows another one nearby in 2011, later determined to have been the remains of three European children who were also likely aboard the ship, he said.

"All these elements point towards a mass grave that is quite ancient, which could be linked to the Carricks shipwreck,'' Perron said.

The Carricks was one of many ships that carried the hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants who came to Canada fleeing poverty and starvation in 1847-48.

Historians believe more than 80 of the almost 200 people aboard the Carricks died.

Quebec filmmaker Viveka Melki, who is working on a documentary about the wreck, believes the bones found by Parks Canada belong to the Carricks victims.

As part of her research, Melki said she discovered an obituary for a priest that tells the story of a mass grave dug on the beach and a shore strewn with bodies.

She said the discovery of the bones last month was an emotional one.

"It's not been easy for us or for the descendants (interviewed) in the film to even suppose that this might be the grave,'' Melki said.

Parks Canada has set up a security perimeter and will continue to probe the site, using ground-penetrating radar next week to look for anomalies in the soil that might suggest other graves.

Perron said analysis of the remains could teach researchers about how the dead were buried, their state of health, and possibly even their identities.

"There's a way to give a second life to these bodies and make them talk, thanks to the different analyses that can be done,'' he said.

Archaeologists continue to dig and analyze human bones and articulated skeletons found near a monument for the victims of the 1847 shipwreck. (Parks Canada)
In 2011, bones were found on a Cap-des-Rosiers beach a few hundred metres away from the grave.

A coroner concluded they belonged to three young Europeans who suffered from malnutrition, potentially linked to the Maritime tragedy.

with files from CBC News