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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Canadian response to the Irish famine emigration of 1847 Harvey, Leslie Anne


In 1847, 215,000 Irish fled their famine-stricken and diseased homeland, and of this number, some 90,000 headed for the shores of Canada. It was both the largest and most diseased and destitute emigration that Canada had ever received, and it caught the colony almost totally by surprise. Many Canadians had been able to follow the course of the potato blight and famine in Ireland, but very few appeared to have considered their impact on the emigration to Canada. They had the assurances of those best informed about the condition of Ireland, the Imperial Government, that, no extraordinary measures would be needed; why should their word be doubted? In the first weeks of the Immigration season, Canadians discovered that the Imperial authorities were wrong; the colony found itself forced to deal with an abnormal immigration with only the meagrest preparations, Canadian emigration officials spent the rest of the season attempting to recover from the shock of those first weeks; all they could do was attempt to. relieve the sufferings of the immigrants to the best of their ability. Stop-gap relief measures were authorized by the Canadian Government for as long as distress and disease were prevalent; private charitable institutions stepped in to provide shelter and care for the helpless among the immigrants. In the end, the colony succeeded, despite its financial difficulties, both in enabling the Irish to regain their health and in making them producing members of the community, something which few Canadians, at the height of the crisis, felt would be possible. This successful 'absorption' of the immigrants, however, had been accomplished only with difficulty and at great cost. This thesis examines the Canadian response, and particularly that of the various levels of government, to the immigration crisis which it faced in 1847 and the strains which this crisis placed upon the relations of the Imperial and Colonial governments.

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