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You are Driving on Sacred Ground: Montreal's Irish Memorial Park

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--March 20, 2017.

Most people driving into Montreal have no idea that the road exiting off the Victoria Bridge runs over the burial place for 6,000 Irish immigrants. Even most Montrealers are unaware of the significance of the large black stone sitting in the median at that same exit.

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“A huge black rock like a bad tooth pulled out of the river and placed on the common grave by the working men that built the Victoria Bridge” is how David Fennario described the stone. The Irish workmen who dug it up insisted their bosses do something to recognize that their bridge would run over the graveyard of those Irish, less fortunate than themselves, who escaped the potato famine only to die of typhoid fever in Montreal.

The inscription on it says: “To preserve from desecration the remains of 6,000 immigrants who died of ship fever A.D. 1847-48, this stone is erected by the workmen of MESSrs. Peto, Brassey & Betts, employed in the construction of the Victoria Bridge A.D. 1859.” Not even a mention that the immigrants were Irish and that the workmen too were Irish!

This whole area should be developed as a Memorial Park.

On Grosse Isle near Montmagny 5,424 Irish are buried. But these souls are remembered by the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada. Opened in 1993, it was realized because the Ancient Order of Hibernians of Canada, Quebec’s Irish community, and politicians at all levels worked together.

The Irish who came on to Montreal and suffered and died in the fever sheds are the next chapter in this Canadian story, but what do they get? A rock standing in the median at the Montreal exit from the Victoria Bridge! The area merits a designation as a national historic site, but a Memorial Park owned and operated by the City of Montreal would do fine.

The famine Irish died 170 years ago. How much longer before we honour them?

The Irish community has waited long enough. The Montreal Irish Memorial Park Foundation has encountered hurdle after hurdle in its recent efforts to get a park built. The burial area is currently occupied by some industry and the Casino’s overflow parking lots. The title to the land must be transferred to the City of Montreal before a project can be started. What is holding the process up now? Let’s do it now. Yes, together we can.

Not only would reclaiming that land be a fitting resting place for the Irish buried there, but it would also provide the green space Griffintown residents were promised by the condo developers whose support for the park will demonstrate their commitment.

We have a dream. If we build it, they will come.

Several teams of architecture students at McGill have come up with plans for what a Memorial Park could look like. I heard Zhong Cai present his and Zoey Cai’s project. It is beautiful and well designed, with bicycle and walking paths to bring people to the site. Their plan includes a sporting field and seating, a cultural centre, an exhibition space, and a worthy setting for the Black Rock.

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The Park could be a major cultural destination as well as a tourist site that will revitalize this downtrodden corner of Griffintown. Mayor Denis Coderre and City Hall are keen to build a Memorial Park that local people as well as those from other parts of Montreal and the South Shore can enjoy and be proud to share with visitors interested in Montreal’s history. No dream is realized without strong leadership. We’re counting on you, Montreal.

JUST DO IT!!
When a Memorial Park is built, all citizens will benefit. Here are some ideas about what an individual like you can do right now. Take your pick.
• YOU can send this article to your friends or post it on your website, or twitter it. Find article in Bloomsday’s March Newsletter: https://bloomsdaymontreal.com
• YOU can send a message to Major Denis Coderre at:
https://mairedemontreal.ca/en/contact-mayor
• YOU can write a letter to The Gazette: letters@montrealgazette.com
• YOU can contact your City Councillor, Member of the Legislative Assembly, Member of Parliament, or condo developer (residents of Griffintown)
• YOU can send a donation to the Montreal Irish Memorial Park Foundation http://www.montrealirishmonument.com/donations
• YOU can send a letter of support/cheque to: Montreal Irish Memorial Park Foundation, 2679 Wellington Street, Montreal, Quebec H3K 1X8