Grosse Ile Part IV


  • Some historians have calculated that children outnumbered adults two to one on the ships of 1847. More than 90 000 immigrants entered the Saint Lawrence that year.  There must have been many children among the thousands who died at sea. Quebec City offers a list of more than 600 children adopted in the Catholic diocese of the time. 
  • Three Rivers people clamoured for children, according to a letter of Father Bernard O’Reilly. The sisters of Providence and the Grey Nuns in Montreal have lists of children less detailed than the elaborate record kept by the Charitable Ladies of Quebec.  Kingston’s then new Hotel Dieu Hospital received some hundred, and the Sisters there kept lists and told their story of local kind reception by Catholics and Protestant alike. 
  • Among the many stories that have been told, two are particularly vivid: Leo Tye told the story of his grandfather, Daniel Tighe, who as a twelve year old from Lisinuffy in County Roscommon, came on the ship Naomi with his younger sister Catherine.  After the father Bernard’s death in Ireland, the mother Mary Kelly took off for Canada on board the Naomi, one of Mahon’s ships.The Queen paid my grandfather’s passage to Canada.  The priest came from St. Croix de Lotbiniere to Quebec  to get the children.  They were fourteen in his cart, and one little girl cried so hard, the priest kept her on his lap all the way to St. Croix.   They stopped where people were ready to give them some dinner. 
  • There Mr. and Mrs. François Coulombe indicated that they would like to take care of an orphan.  They were older and did not have any children, but they owned a farm.  Mr. Coulombe in fact had worked for the former owner and after that man’s tragic drowning on his way to market, had married the widow.  When the couple indicated that they could care for Daniel, his sister Catherine saw that her brother was going away, so she clung to him, and both children began to cry.  The surprised Coulombe couple shrugged, and said, “On va prendre les deux.” (“We’ll take them both.”)  When Daniel was eighteen the Coulombes called in the local notary and deeded their land to their adoptive son.   
  • The Reilly girls’ story is different:  when the little steamship brought them up to Quebec, Helena, Bridget and Mary (12, 7, and 5) were transferred into a smaller boat which took them on a smaller river to a big convent, the General Hospital of Quebec.  A beautiful photograph exists of the three.  Did their parents turn up and claim them? The father was in hospital, the records tell us. Helena Reilly decided to become a religious there, and in her career became a writer, producing the history of the foundation of the hospital and a biography of Bishop de St. Vallier, the founder of the Order.  Bridget married in the local parish; but Mary remained sickly all her life.
  • The trauma of travel for a five year old from Roscommon to Cork to board the ship Avon was only compounded by the dreadful conditions on that ship, conditions so bad that the Avon is cited six times in the Royal Commission Report about Grosse Ile that summer.  Of the 550 passengers on the Avon, 136 died at sea, and others died at the quarantine station for total of 246. Hubert Robson was another of the chaplains who sent children to a good destination. Father Hubert Robson of the parish of Montmagny, the nearest mainland parish to Grosse Ile, sent the two Quinn boys, also from Roscommon, Patrick and Thomas (12 and 6)  to the Seminary in Nicolet near Montreal, where they were adopted by Georges Bourke, the caretaker of the seminary. 
  • Today the Museum of the seminary holds a souvenir of that time: a small linen jacket that Thomas wore when he arrived.  Both Patrick and Thomas became priests.  Some time later, the parishioners of St. Bibiane’s Church in the village of Richmond, Quebec, were delighted when they heard that their new curate was to be Rev. Thomas Quinn.  They rejoiced, most of them Irish, because they had long hoped for a priest who could address them in English.  Great was their dismay when Father Thomas arrived, and they found that he had lost any English he ever had. Not surprising, for he had, after all, been adopted at the age of six into Mr. Bourke’s family.  The people of Richmond taught him English! Father Thomas Quinn became pastor of the parish and then Chancellor of the Diocese.