Grosse Île, a magnificent site steeped in history and emotion
Attractions to discover, August 28, 2023 2023-08-28
Welcome to the Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site
Welcome to the Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site! Photo credit: Parks Canada/Y. May

Nestled in the heart of the St. Lawrence River, 35 minutes from Québec City, Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site embodies the meeting of nature and culture. The main gateway for immigrants to Canada, this island served as a quarantine station for the Port of Quebec from 1832 to 1937. A visit to Grosse Île allows you to follow in the footsteps of the tens of thousands of immigrants who landed on this island, while appreciating the wild beauty of this deeply moving place.

A cruise and guided tour to relive the experience of immigrants

Start your exploration of this place of remembrance with a cruise from Berthier-sur-Mer, during which the Lachance captains will share seafaring anecdotes with you. Like the immigrants back then, you’ll arrive on the island by boat.

You’ll then be directed to a medical inspection with nurse Sarah Wade in the disinfection building, before taking a train ride through the old village of Saint-Luc-de-la-Grosse-Île, where you’ll meet colourful characters. You’ll also discover buildings and artifacts that bear witness to the island’s past, including the red room of the lazaretto, where you’ll learn about the origins of modern medicine and the treatments administered to the sick. One thing’s for sure, this little-known page of history will not leave you indifferent!

A journey through history you won’t soon forget

In operation for 105 years, Grosse Île station is a place steeped in history, commemorating tragic events from years gone by. In the mid-19th century, thousands of Irish people fled the Great Famine and set sail for Québec City in the hope of a better future, stopping off at Grosse Île for quarantine. Poor hygiene on the ships and a typhus epidemic led to a grim toll: thousands died at sea, on Grosse Île and elsewhere in Canada.

Today, this historic site reveals the captivating and moving life stories of immigrants who resided on this island, which played a crucial role in Canadian immigration, the evolution of medicine and the preservation of Irish heritage in Canada. The island is also home to an imposing Celtic cross, an Irish cemetery and a memorial to those who died there. Who knows? Perhaps some of your ancestors lived on Grosse Île and their names appear on this monument.

Celtic cross
The imposing Celtic cross, erected in 1909. Photo credit: Parks Canada/J. Frenette

Other historical sites to visit in the area

Continue your trip back in time at the Lévis Forts National Historic Site to discover the last British fortification designed to protect Québec City against a possible American invasion. Then head to the Saint-Louis Forts and Châteaux National Historic Site in Québec City, where you’ll discover the remains of the seat of power for French and British governors from 1620 to 1834. Enjoy your visit!

For more information