The first major wave of Irish immigration to Canada happened during the first half of the 19th century, but Irish folk had settled in the country long before that. They immigrated here as early as the 17th century, which means they’ve been shaping our history since before the country was known as “Canada.”
If you’re in a travelling mood this St. Patrick’s Day, go ahead and visit one of these landmarks commemorating almost four centuries of Irish Canadians.
Irish Memorial National Historic Site, Grosse Isle, Quebec
Grosse Isle was a quarantine station in the middle of the St. Lawrence River from 1832 to 1937, and the main point of entry for immigrants coming to Canada—akin to the Ellis Island of Canada. There’s a memorial at the site to honour Irish immigrants who died of disease on the island, as well as walking tours of the buildings.
Celtic Cross, Kingston
Located at the mouth of the Rideau Canal, the Celtic cross in Kingston commemorates the more than 1,000 Irish workers who lost their lives during the building of the canal. Work went on during the summer for 14 hours a day, six days a week, with many workers succumbing to accidents or malaria, which was rampant in the area.
A National Historic Site on the eastern end of Fogo Island off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, Tilting is a traditional fishing village with a remarkably well-preserved Irish culture and dialect. Irish settlers, who began settling the area in the 1730s, created a landscape of clustered family neighbourhoods, gardens, and paths, many features of which are still preserved today. The town still has residents descended from the first 18th-century settlers.
St. Patrick’s Basilica, Montreal
This Montreal church was completed in 1847 to accommodate growing numbers of Irish immigrants in Quebec. Named a minor basilica by Pope John Paul II, the church holds a “Green Mass” every St. Patrick’s Day.
Miramichi, New Brunswick
Miramichi was a significant point of settlement by Irish immigrants even before the potato famine in the mid-nineteenth century. Many families, discouraged by the difficult farming conditions, would later move to New England, but Miramichi remains one of the most Irish communities in North America, commemorated by an annual Irish festival.
Basilica of St. John the Baptist, St. John’s
This National Historic Site was the largest Irish cathedral built outside of Ireland when it was completed in 1855, and was Newfoundland’s largest building project at the time. Limestone and granite imported from Dublin and Galway were used in its construction. The basilica is the second-largest church building in Canada, second only to St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal.
Yellow Belly Corner Municipal Heritage Building, St. John’s
Well-known as a meeting place for Irish county factions in the nineteenth century, Yellow Belly Corner is supposedly named after one of the families in County Wexford who wore yellow sashes. The building is also a significant site in the development of Newfoundland’s commercial trading industry.