Questions to ask yourself:

Why do people migrate? What forces drive human migration?

What you will be able to do:

Explain the causes and consequences of the migration of the Irish.
Map and indicate the patterns of migration.

"You see, when his parents came out from Ireland, in the time of the Potato Famine, they weren't able to bring all the children. They brought, I think, 3 or 4 of the oldest ones.

But then, my grandfather, Watt, and Martin, they were left with the grandparents, over there. And they came 3 or 4 years later. (...)

This Mr. Dolan that I'm tellin' you about, he told me that his grandmother put my grandfather, Watt, and his brother, Martin, on the boat over there in Ireland, to come here to Fitzroy Harbour.

And they were that long in comin' across. They were darn near across when the wind changed.And it blew them as damn near as far back, before the wind changed again. And they were lost.

The parents thought that it was all over, because there was lots of them that started out that never made it, eh.

And Grandma Stanton always told me that.

And they finally landed at Quebec. Well then someway, they got to Ottawa. And they were given direction. I think he was 12 and his brother was a year or two older. (...)"

Source: Irish Family Stories in the Ottawa Valley page 14, by Michael McBane


According to the United Nations in 2019 the global population of migrants reached 271 million people. Migrants are people who move across a border or or within a State away from their normal place of residence. In your study of history in previous courses and in earlier grades, you've seen a number of examples of human migration. For example, important migrations from Secondary III history include the ancestors of today's Indigenous people, the Huron-Wendat, the filles du roy, Acadians and the Loyalists. When you think of these groups, try to remember why they moved, and what were the impacts of their movement?

In the 1840s, a massive wave of migration occurred from the United Kingdom to North America. In particular, many of these migrants came from Ireland. Why did these people leave at this time, and what brought them to North America?

Source: Illustrated London News [London, England], 10 May 1851. Accessible via Archives Canada NAC-C-003904
Also view original in context at 'The Depopulation of Ireland' from Illustrated London News

Introduction: Analyze the image

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Explore Through Videos: The Irishman & The Saga of Murdo MacLeod

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Causes of Irish Immigration

Image source: L'illustration : journal universel, February 27th, 1847 via

Irish migration

Migration from Great Britain to Canada had been ongoing for much of the early 19th Century. The 1820s, and early 1830s, in particular, saw increases in Irish migration. However, a massive change occurred in the 1840s and early 1850s as one of the greatest migrations in history up to that time began.

An Gorta Mór (The Great Famine)

Ireland in the early 1800s was rural, poor, and divided on religious lines. Wealthy Protestants owned much of the land, which was mostly used for growing grain and raising cattle. What was left was rented as small plots to Catholic peasants. The peasants had to resort to growing potatoes in order to sustain them.

In the early 1840s, the blight arrived from Europe and inflected the potato crop. Potatoes began to rot and become inedible. The crisis extended to Scotland as well, but the responses in both countries were very different. In Ireland, grain continued to be exported from the country in 1846-1847. Attempts at relief in the form of public works on roads and workhouses and soup kitchens failed because of the government's desire to keep costs down and promote self-reliance among the Irish poor.

Landlords used the crisis to clear peasants off their land with mass evictions. People suffered from famine, disease and many died. One solution for many was emigration. North America offered a new life for people who were desperate. A few landowners or agents offered passage across the Atlantic, but many used what savings they had to pay their passage. Some individuals relied on family members in North America to send them money to pay their fare. Rates to Canada were the cheapest, as the timber ships were not designed for human cargo.

Explore further: Ranking Causes

Use documents to rank the causes of the Irish Immigration.
Develop questions of your own.

Access the ranking causes activity

Consequences of Irish migration to Canada.

The Crossing

Desperate emigrants, malnourished and some suffering from typhus, embarked on the journey to North America from a variety of ports : Dublin, Belfast, Londonderry, Cork, Sligo in Ireland, and Liverpool in England. The vessels they boarded were in many cases timber ships that carried wood from the vast forests of Canada to Great Britain. They were not constructed for human cargo, but the owners could profit if minor alterations were made to transport people on the return voyage.

The crossing from Ireland to Canada typically took between six and eight weeks, although voyages of ten to twelves weeks or even longer were not uncommon. Despite laws designed to protect passengers, many ships did not provide enough space, food or clean water for the emigrants. Diseases like typhus and cholera spread rapidly and many died at sea. Up to a third of passengers might have died on the Canadian crossing during the famine years. The ships became known as 'coffin ships' because of the terrible conditions and the high mortality rate among the emigrants.


For emigrants on their way to Quebec, the first stop was the quarantine station at Grosse Île. Located 46km downstream from Quebec, the island was used to quarantine migrants for over a century, from 1832 until 1937.

Many migrants from Ireland began to arrive in 1846. It was expected that more Irish would arrive and minor changes were made at Grosse-Île, but the Canadian authorities were unprepared for the mass of people that came in 1847, a year that became known as Black '47. More than 400 ships left Great Britain for Quebec that year and over 90 000 people passed through the quarantine station. The facilities were inadequate, patients were housed in tents and some ships were prevented from disembarking. New buildings were hastily built to house the sick and dying, but the typhus spread to the nurses and doctors, and eventually into Canada. Quebec, Montreal, Kingston and Toronto all experienced typhus outbreaks that year. Over 5,000 Irish migrants are buried at Grosse-Île and another 5,000 were thought to have been buried at sea.


After passing through quarantine, the Canadian authorities provided assisted passage to migrants so they could go upriver. They helped pay for transportation up the St. Lawrence to Montreal and then on to destinations in Upper Canada like Kingston, Toronto and Bytown (Ottawa). Many of the migrants continued their journey into the United States, but many also stayed and established themselves in Canada.

Some migrants received land grants and settled in farming communities near to those with whom they shared kinship links. Examples of this type of settlement can be found in the Ottawa Valley, outside of Bytown (Ottawa) on both sites of the Ottawa River where for example Irish migrants settled in Quyon and Mayo, Lower Canada and Fitzroy Harbour, Upper Canada.

Irish migrants also settled in the growing cities of Canada. Quebec, Montreal and Toronto all developed large Irish communities. Urban Irish became labourers in the burgeoning factories, or itinerant workers on the various canal construction projects. This was during the first phase of industrialization that was quickly changing both Lower and Upper Canada at the time. The growing, English-speaking workforce, was a boon for Anglo-Canadian capitalists as the Irish competed for work with French Canadians. Overall, the arrival of tens of thousands of emigrants in the 1840s and 1850s changed the demographic balance of Canada.


This longer film pays tribute to the role played by the island from 1832 to 1937, as the quarantine station for the port of Quebec, Canada, which was for years, the principal gateway to Canada for Immigrants.

Canada's Quarantine Island for Immigrants Film

The film by Chit Chat History tells how "Canada is still apart of the British Empire at this time and a whole boat load of immigrants are regularly arriving from Europe. Canadian officials decided they needed a buffer station.

This began as part of a Bill passed by Lower Canada in 1832 to form a quarantine station for all incoming newcomers. They were primarily concerned about A cholera pandemic that had swept across India and had reached the British isles."

Quebec francophones ... Irish roots

"By some scholarly examinations, more than 40 per cent of francophone Quebeckers have some Irish roots. Irish names still dot the phonebook in towns that have become almost entirely francophone. There is the Myles clan of Trois-Rivières, the O'Neills of Quebec City, the Leonards of Sherbrooke, and they mostly speak French." (Source)

All texts by Matt Russell | © LEARN under CC license BY-NC-ND

Activity: Consequences of the Migration of the Irish

Activity: Map an Irish Migration experience

Additional Teacher Guides, Resources, and Documents

View activity suggestions below. Click to open this Google Slide document in a separate window to copy or download.

Irish Example Immigration Teacher Guide - SocSci UDL version

Note that teachers of Secondary 3 and 4 Quebec can access these and many other large document collections shared via the "Communauté Histoire du Québec et du Canada database" by visiting ➦.