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Kingston Famine Orphans Mark McGowan Transcript

Interior shot of man with dark hair and beard, wearing glasses, framed close up from below shoulders, speaking to camera. Behind him can be seen three rows of bookshelves.

I am Mark McGowan, professor of History at the University of Toronto, and I am here in my office at the University of Toronto to talk a little bit about Irish Famine orphans when they arrived in what was then known as Canada West, and is now the province of Ontario.

Their first major port of entry for Irish Famine migration was the small town of Kingston [with] about ten thousand people at the time. In that town there were hundreds of children who had either lost one parent or both parents, [and] who had to be taken in either by the House of Industry, the General Hospital, or the Hôtel Dieu which had been recently established by the Hospitaller Sisters of St Joseph. [It was] an order from Montreal that had been brought to Kingston specifically to engage in health care by Bishop Phelan.

Interestingly enough, on the eve of the Famine migration, so that is in the spring of 1847, the Hôtel Dieu wasn’t even complete. In fact, the male dormitories were still without a roof. The complex itself only had five orphans.

But during the course of that spring and summer, it was necessary that orphans be transported from fever sheds which were located at Emily and King street in really residential Kingston to other facilities.

Some end up in the General Hospital, some in the House of Industry, and an interesting tale is told that on Christmas Eve, on the 24th of December, 1847, Reverend Angus MacDonell actually brings seventy one children to the Sisters.

The Sisters are completely overwhelmed because they don’t have enough cots. They actually only have thirty cots for them to sleep in, and they really only have around a dozen sets of dishware for the Christmas Eve dinner.

So you can imagine these children coming now to a place of sanctuary, but lining up for supper with one eating, the plates being cleaned, and the next one in line eating after them.

It is really quite a moving picture of the Famine orphan in Kingston in 1847.

Many of these orphans were later picked up by their parents who had left them there to be accommodated by the Sisters while they gained enough income to move on in the country.

Others were placed with Catholic farmers and Catholic citizens in Kingston and in the rural townships.

Today there are at least five markers to the Famine, five memorials to the Famine, in Kingston, Ontario: none of which are actually located at the site of the fever sheds.

But the most prominent is a Celtic Cross that was placed on the Kingston waterfront to at least mark close to the spot where Irish migrants during this period would have entered Kingston.

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