The creation of a park in memory of the victims of the Irish potato famine is moving forward in Montreal.
Several religious leaders gathered at the Black Rock monument on Wednesday evening to formally bless the site for a proposed park in the city’s Southwest borough.
“It’s very important because Montreal exists in part because of the Irish who helped settle it and create this great city for us,” said Victor Boyle, the director of Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation.
In 1847, more than 70,000 Irish refugees came across the ocean in hopes of creating a new life in Montreal. Of them, 6,000 died from a typhus epidemic upon disembarking on the shores of the St. Lawrence River.
Their unmarked graves were found a couple of decades later near the Victoria Bridge. It is believed their bones remain underneath parking lots, a railway line and at the foot of Black Rock.
The Irish community has been asking for a memorial park for more than a decade to honour those whose lives were cut short. Organizers say they are looking forward to what they describe as a little piece of Ireland in Canada.
It’s also a way of honouring those who rallied around those afflicted by typhus, according to Boyle.
“One of the most important things is to be able to give back and thank the community, the Montreal people who were so helpful to the sick and dying Irish who came in 1847 and had nothing but the clothes on their backs,” said Boyle.
The local Irish community is working on the project alongside the city, Hydro-Québec and the Réseau express métropolitain (REM). The ceremony comes as the REM will be working close to the site over the summer months — which organizers say could unearth remains or artifacts.
WATCH: Commemorative park planned for Black Rock site
— With files from The Canadian Press