Irish famine victims remembered

  • June 25, 2007
{mosimage}TORONTO - At the June 21 opening ceremony of Toronto’s Ireland Park, Mayor David Miller quoted Canadian poet Al Purdy, saying, “Sometimes we may go back to the country of our defeat ... but it’s been a long time since, and we must acquire the way of strangers.”
Located on the Bathurst Quay at Toronto’s harbourfront, Ireland Park commemorates some 1,100 Irish immigrants who died of typhus and cholera after coming to Toronto to escape the famine in 1847.

The park features statues by artist Rowan Gillespie, a cylindrical tower of glass bricks that is illuminated at night and a large wall of Kilkenny stone slabs engraved with the names of many of the deceased. Thanks to the research of Dr. Mark McGowan of the University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, to date 675 names of the deceased have been discovered and recorded on the stone of the monument, which was designed by Jonathan M. Kearns.

{sidebar id=2}Irish President Mary McAleese was on hand for the ceremony, delivering a speech that praised the city of Toronto for welcoming the Irish in 1847 and for honouring them with the memorial park 160 years later. In the years following the famine, she said, one million people died and two million disappeared into the world to be lost and forgotten, except for here in Toronto.

“It is quite an extraordinary story,” McAleese said, recalling the work of Toronto’s first bishop, Michael Power, who tended to the the sick and dying immigrants. In doing so, Bishop Power became one of the sick and died of typhus on Oct. 1, 1847.

McAleese also said that although the remains of most Irish Catholics who died in 1847 lie below what is now the playground of St. Paul's Catholic School next to St. Paul’s Basilica in downtown Toronto, the sight of children of all backgrounds playing together on the playground “is a wonderful, wonderful tribute to those whose bones lie beneath.” The deceased would be thrilled to have children who are “happy, healthy, equal and whose lives matter so much to those who care for them” playing above their graves, she said.

Also at the ceremony were Toronto’s Archbishop Thomas Collins, chairman of the Ireland Park Foundation Robert G. Kearns, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, retired Anglican Archbishop of Toronto Terence Findlay and Seamus O’Regan of CTV’s Canada AM.

The ribbon cutting and opening ceremonies were just two of several events taking place on June 20 and 21 in honour of the Ireland Park Foundation. The previous evening a gala cocktail and “The Arrival” concert were held at Roy Thomson Hall, and following the opening ceremony, a gala dinner was hosted at the Michael Lee Chin crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum.

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