Previously published in Examiner
Conclusion to Cholera Series
The medical authorities did not have a clear understanding of the disease of cholera, how to contain it, and how to treat it. Dr. Douglas thought that washing and airing out the ships would stop the spread of infection.
The usual quarantine period was six days while some immigrants were quarantined up to 20 days. The doctor would walk by and examine the tongues of anyone who looked feverish. He had no idea that symptoms may not have surfaced yet and therefore he allowed the immigrants to continue on their journey only to break out with cholera or typhus later on and infect the community around them.
Much of the efforts that took place were just trial and error.
The island was not equipped to handle such large numbers of sick and dying people. Many immigrants were pitched in tents and some laid on the ground. Robert Whyte wrote, “hundreds… literally flung on the beach, left amid the mud and stones to crawl on the dry land as they could.”
The small medical staff were under equipped and overworked.
Prisoners were released from jail to help with the demand, only they stole from the immigrants.
The Bishop of Montreal, Bishop Mountain, reported, “Seeing people lying opposite the church screaming for water, while others lay inside the tents without bedding.” One child he saw was covered in vermin; another who had ‘been walking with some others, sat down for a moment, and died’.
Thousands of Irish immigrants died at Grosse-ile in 1847.
In Montreal, Irish immigrants were sent to Pointe Saint Charles, (neighbouring district from where this examiner lives) and 6,000 of them died.
Many children were orphaned.
Seamen, doctors, nurses, nuns, priests, employees of various functions, and the Mayor of Montreal died during this typhus epidemic; the infectious disease was running rampant.
Thousands more were released from Grosse-ile traveling to other Canadian cities and died; but not before infecting the Canadian population and causing a serious epidemic that could infiltrate all of North America through travel.
There was more Irish in 1847 in Ireland than there is even today. Today there is an Irish Memorial Site on Grosse-ile. Grosse-ile is the largest Potato Famine memorial site outside of Ireland.