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Professor Mark McGowan on the Famine Irish in Bytown

Exterior shot. Bearded man with greying hair wearing glasses and dark blue jacket and dark trousers, viewed from the knees up, speaking to camera. He is standing in front of a railing with a canal and lock behind him that feeds into a large river. Across the river can be seen a cylindrical shaped building with a green roof and a green bridge with hills on the horizon. A statue can also be seen to the right and above the bridge.

I’m Mark McGowan with the Department of History at the University of Toronto, and I’m here in Ottawa, just up from the Ottawa River, where the Rideau Canal

Illustrated painting of canal with elevated embankments emptying into river fades in. In the middle ground right a steamer can be seen at a dock with many logs floating in the foreground. A person walks towards viewer along a dirt road on the right hand side of the illustration. In the background, the opposite shore of the river, forests, and rising hills can be seen .Caption: “Thomas Burrowes painting done from the Royal Engineers Office at the first eight locks in May of 1845. North entrance of the Rideau Canal from the Ottawa River [1845]” at bottom of screen.

empties or at least joins the Ottawa River.

Behind me is Nepean Point –

Illustrated black and white street map fades in with Nepean Point peninsula prominently marked on it. “Riviere Ottawa” is inscribed on map around the peninsula. Caption: “Early Bytown street map with Emigrant Hospital and out buildings in on Bolton (now Bruyère) street, and Catholic Cathedral General Hospital on St. Patrick Street, Archives of the Sisters of Charity Ottawa -P-M1/0006” at bottom of screen.

currently with the statue of Samuel de Champlain on it. But in 1847 it was the site of considerable activity because Irish Famine migrants had come to the city, and many of the diseased and those infected with typhus were in fever sheds right adjacent to Nepean Point.

They were under the care of the Grey Sisters of Montreal, who at that point had a branch in Ottawa under Mother Élizabeth Bruyère.

Black and white portrait of middle aged woman wearing a nun’s habit and a large silver cross viewed diagonally in oval frame with gold trim fades in. Caption: “Portrait of Mother Élisabeth Bruyère, founder of the Sisters of Charity (Grey Nuns) of Ottawa” at bottom of screen.

Of particular note were at least sixty children who were orphaned during the process of migration from Ireland through Grosse Île, through Montreal, up the Ottawa, and finally here at Bytown

Black and white illustration of nun in habit clasping arms with female child in a dress, three wooden buildings with gabled windows and trees in background fades in. Caption: “Bytown Grey Nun with orphaned child in front of Carney and Emigrant Hospital on Bolton (now Bruyère) street, Archives of the Sisters of Charity Ottawa -P-M1/0004” at bottom of screen.

– who needed special attention because their parents were dead and they had nowhere to go.

It was Mother Bruyère and the Sœurs de la Charité de l’Ottawa, or the Grey Nuns of Ottawa, who made accommodation for them: first in the sheds, and then in their hospital, until such time as they could be placed with families here in Bytown. Some Irish, but many French Canadian families.

It is part of the Famine legacy that is often forgotten – particularly given the attention that is offered by historians and popular focus given to Montreal and Toronto – Ottawa is often overlooked.

But here was one of the nerve centres in the upper Ottawa Valley to take care of Famine migrants: many of whom died here, and others who moved on into the interior of the province into places like the upper Ottawa Valley.

Final image of water with onscreen Ireland Park Foundation logo. Celtic style music playing.