January 17, 2019 11:32 pm
Updated: January 18, 2019 12:22 am

Montreal Irish community meets to discuss future plans for Black Rock site

WATCH: After years of talks, Montreal's Irish community will get a commemorative park near the Black Rock site, where thousands of typhus victims are buried. Elysia Bryan-Baynes reports.

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More than 100 members of Montreal’s Irish community met at St. Gabriel’s Parish Thursday, learning about future plans for the Black Rock site.

“We are at the very beginning of planning, but it is exciting that we have reached this point,” said Fergus Keyes, co-director of the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation.

The Irish community has been asking for a memorial park for more than 100 years. There is already a small site in the median of the road on Bridge Street.

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READ MORE: Irish history commemorated in 153rd Walk to the Black Rock

In 1847, more than 6,000 Irish died from a typhus epidemic. A mass grave was found a couple of decades later at the site, which sits at the base of the Victoria Bridge.

Hydro-Quebec has given 1.5 hectares of land they purchased for a post to be used to create a memorial park at the site.

City of Montreal planners have been working with Hydro, those behind the REM light rail project and the Irish community to find ways of re-configuring Bridge Street to accommodate the park.

WATCH: Walk to the Rock commemorates Montreal’s Irish community (May, 2018)

On Thursday, those who attended the meeting at St. Gabriel’s heard different versions of the plans to change Bridge Street, which will be publicly announced at a later date when a recommendation is made to the city.

In the meantime, members of the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation say the story of Black Rock is a truly Canadian one.

Montreal rallied around the sick and dying in what the foundation calls a “major humanitarian effort.”

“In some cases, they sacrificed their own lives, and just because they knew it was the right thing to do,” said Victor Boyle, representing the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation.

READ MORE: Quebec parties promise to remove election signs set up on Black Rock mass grave site

Those from the order of the Grey Nuns also played a key role, Keyes said.  He explained how they were released from their vow of obedience and were told they didn’t have to go to the site and offer care. Still, 24 of the able-bodied nuns went, where they all contracted the disease.

Of those 24, seven died, and those who recovered went back to help.

There was also the local Indigenous population, who helped by bringing much-needed food to the city.

And famously, the mayor of Montreal at the time, American-born John Easton Mills, who went to the fever tents at the site to offer medical care, also died from the disease.

“He is known as the martyr mayor of Montreal,” said Keyes. “So many people from all backgrounds are a part of this story.”

Once the city of Montreal approves the move, then plans can start to be made for the park itself.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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