The Lost Submission for the Public Consultation in Montreal (Bridge-Bonaventure Sector)

* Please note that the OCPM refused to accept this submission because it was a few days late. As such, I have decided to blog the ideas in hopes of influencing stakeholders at the City of Montreal to consider these important proposals. Please SHARE with anyone who might be interested!

TO: OCPM

RE: Submission regarding Bridge-Bonaventure sector from Montreal-Irish community

FROM: Donovan King, Griffin Tours

Dear OCPM and South-West Borough,

As a Director and historian with the Irish Monument Park Foundation, my goal is to work with stakeholders and the Irish Montreal community to preserve and enhance as much Irish Montreal heritage as possible, especially as related to the Irish Famine of 1847.

Our community feels like our Irish heritage is quickly vanishing from Montreal’s city-scape and we want to stop this trend and do everything in our power to preserve as much as we can.

There is a lot of Irish heritage in the Bridge-Bonaventure sector that is sacred to our community, including two Famine cemeteries, one of which was disturbed during the digging of the Wellington basin in 1876. It is not presently marked in any way. 

According to the OCPM website under Theme 2 (Heritage):

“Since the 19th century, successive waves of transformation have shaped a sector that today comprises a number of Montréal landmarks, such as Silo No. 5, the Five Roses Flower sign, Habitat 67, Victoria Bridge, Lachine Canal, breathtaking views of downtown, etc. The heritage that characterizes the Bridge-Bonaventure area takes a number of forms: industrial; architectural; archaeological; landscape; and historic.”

The site asks some thoughtful questions, which I would like to answer on behalf of Montreal’s Irish community:

What is the heritage element (building, landscape, archeological site, historical site, commemorative element, infrastructure, etc.) that is most special to you in the Bridge-Bonaventure area? Why and how would you like to see it highlighted?

The site of the Fever Sheds during the Irish Famine of 1847 and the first Famine Cemetery are not marked in any way and there is a risk of a baseball stadium being built on our sacred graveyard.


Site of Montreal’s original Fever Sheds & cemetery in 1847 at Wellington Bridge

The cemetery has already been disturbed during the digging of the Wellington basin in 1876. Politician Bernard Devlin intervened and demanded all skeletons found within the Basin’s footprint be re-buried on Mount Royal. The Wellington Basin cut into the Famine Cemetery but it is highly likely it did not encompass the entire cemetery, meaning there are probably still the mortal remains of our Irish ancestors buried there.

Not only is the Irish heritage forgotten on the site, but so is the remarkable story about how the Mohawk First Nation delivered $150 in Famine Relief to the Irish Refugees in 1847, a substantial amount for a First Nation that was exploited and impoverished by European colonization.

In Ireland, a memorial sculpture called “Kindred Spirits” commemorates the generosity and solidarity of the Choctaw First Nation, who supplied $170 in Irish Famine Relief:


Artist Alex Pentak, explained: “The year 1847 was an extremely difficult one for the Irish people. Known as “Black 47,” this was the worst year of the famine in Ireland, where close to one million people were starving to death. Humanitarian aid came from around the world, but the unexpected generosity of the Choctaw Nation stands out, and began a bond between the two people that continues to this day… I wanted to show the courage, fragility and humanity that they displayed in my work.”

Furthermore, Call to Action 79 ii of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission asks us, as members of the creative arts community, to help revise policies to better integrate Indigenous history and perspectives in the heritage and history milieu:

“We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal organizations, and the arts community, to develop a reconciliation framework for Canadian heritage and commemoration. This would include, but not be limited to:

Revising the policies, criteria, and practices of the National Program of Historical Commemoration to integrate Indigenous history, heritage values, and memory practices into Canada’s national heritage and history.”

As such, in Canada’s Age of Truth and Reconciliation, I propose that the Montreal-Irish community, Mohawk First Nation, City of Montreal and Parks Canada work together to realize this important project of commemoration.

In your opinion, what is the area’s most emblematic heritage element (building, landscape, archeological site, historical site, commemorative element, infrastructure, etc.)? Why and how would you like to see it highlighted?

I believe the area’s most emblematic heritage element is its connection to often tragic Irish history, but also stories of resilience, solidarity and sacrifice. It was in this part of Montreal where the city had its saddest and proudest moments, notably in regards to the Irish Famine of 1847 and its terrible impact on the city.

See: http://www.montrealirishmonument.com/sites/default/files/MontrealsIrishFamineCemetery.pdf

In your opinion, what urban functions or uses within the district would be compatible with the area’s heritage aspects?

I believe Montreal should copy Ireland and Boston’s idea of creating an Irish Heritage Walk and/or Famine Trail, like in Ireland.

For example, we could learn from the Boston Irish Tourism Association:

“Formed in 2000, the Boston Irish Tourism Association promotes the Irish-American community year round to the travel and tourism industry. We work closely with the state’s grass roots organizations and mainstream cultural institutions to showcase the state’s culture, history and heritage. Our goal is to make it easy for visitors and local residents to easily get immersed in the state’s wonderful range of cultural activities, and to take advantage of the hospitality amenities available to travelers.”

In Montreal, Irish Montreal Excursions has already created an Irish Famine Walking Tour, which could easily be converted into a Heritage Trail with signage, plaques and monuments.

MAP 1 – Irish Famine in Montreal Walking Tour

MAP 2 – Irish Famine in Montreal Walking Tour



We hope we can count on your support and hope you can help our Irish community accomplish our goals of heritage preservation and innovative tourism infrastructure.

Please help us in the creation of an Irish Heritage Walk in Bridge-Bonaventure sector, Griffintown and Old Montreal! We’d also like a statue of Martyr Mayor John Easton Mills, a proper commemoration of the first Irish Famine Cemetery at Wellington Bridge and Basin and, most importantly, a piece of public art designed by an Indigenous artist to mark the incredible gift of $150 from the Mohawk First Nation to the Irish Famine victims in their direst moment. This gesture of solidarity formed a strong link between Irish and Mohawk communities, a bond that continues to this very day!

It would be the right thing to do for Truth and Reconciliation initiatives and for the sake of future generations of all Montrealers and visitors!

I look forward to hearing from you!

Sincerely,

Donovan King, MFA, BEd, BFA, DEC, ACS

Irish Montreal Excursions 

Haunted Montreal

p.s. Here is some recent media related to our work trying to preserve Irish heritage in Montreal.

CBC Montreal. On the 140th anniversary of Mary Gallagher’s murder, historian appeals to city to mark Griffintown sites.  Elysha Enos. June 27, 2019.

CBC Radio One – Daybreak with Ainslie MacLellan. Interview with Donovan King of Haunted Montreal. June 27, 2019.

YouTube. JD Hobbes. The return of Mary Gallagher: a 2019 invitation. June 26, 2019.

Montreal Gazette. Will Montreal’s most infamous ghost appear Thursday night? Bill Brownstein. June 26, 2019.

Montreal Times. Will Mary Gallagher’s headless ghost return on June 27? John Symons. June 20, 2019.

Haunted Montreal Blog #46. The Ghost of Mary Gallagher Returns on June 27! June 13, 2019.

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