Thematic Guides - Grosse-Île Quarantine Station (Québec)

Thematic Guide to Sources Relating to the Grosse Île Quarantine Station, in Lower Canada, the Province of Canada and Canada, 1832 - 1937

This guide consists of a history, some specific archival sources, as well as selected references relating to Quarantine and the Grosse Île (often spelled ''Grosse Isle" in English) quarantine station. It also includes a section on terminology that was used in pre-Confederation records. The references include administrative and policy records of the colonial and federal governments and some records created at the station itself. Some of these contain genealogical information on persons who passed through or died at Grosse Île.

This guide was created in March 1988 and revised in September 2000, March 2008, and April 2009.


Grosse Île was a quarantine station on the island of Grosse Île (originally Île de Grace), in Montmagny County on the St. Lawrence River about 48 kilometres downstream from Quebec City. It was maintained by the Government of Lower Canada (1832-1841), the Province of Canada (1841-1867) and the Government of Canada (1867 to present). From 1832 to 1857, it fell under the command of the British Army in Canada; in the latter year it was transferred to the Department of Agriculture of the Province of Canada. At Confederation it fell under the departments successively responsible for quarantine matters, remaining with the new federal Department of Agriculture from 1867 to 1918, passing briefly to the Immigration Branch of the Department of the Interior (1918-1919) and finally to the Department of Public Health (1919-1928), which became the Department of Pensions and National Health in 1928. In 1924, the station ceased to be used for a wide range of diseases subject to quarantine, most patients being transferred to the infectious diseases unit of the Quebec Immigration Hospital. In 1923, the actual quarantine inspection base was transferred from Grosse Île to Pointe-au-Père, on the mainland 322 km below Quebec City, near Rimouski. The property was closed as a quarantine ground in 1937 and transferred to the Department of National Defence for use in research on bacteriological warfare. It passed to the federal Department of Agriculture in the 1950s for animal virus disease research, and in 1965 was converted to a station for quarantine of imported livestock.

Grosse Île was first established as quarantine ground by an act of the Parliament of Lower Canada in 1832 to prevent the spread of cholera into the colony. It required incoming passengers who showed signs of illness to wait out the presumed incubation period for the relevant disease in isolation. In 1836, another act was passed to facilitate the acquisition of the entire island by the Crown. Various legislation relating to quarantine and immigration were consolidated by the Province of Canada in 1853, Grosse Île being mentioned as the quarantine station for all vessels arriving in Canada which had certain infectious diseases on board. Successive colonial and federal statutes mention Grosse Île by name (along with several other such stations established at later dates on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts) as a legal quarantine facility.

The station at Grosse Île is notorious as the site of the cholera deaths of many immigrants in 1832 and 1834, and of typhus victims from ships bearing immigrants escaping the Irish famine in 1847. The official records show that in the latter year, about 8,000 immigrants died (and were buried) at sea on the way to Canada and 5,424 succumbed after arrival on the island. This is said to have been the last major mortal outbreak on the island. Still others died on the mainland, having been permitted to proceed. Use of its facilities, which remained extensive up to the late-1920s, rose and fell with the development of medical science. Eventually, other immigration medical facilities, such as the Immigration Hospital in Quebec City, were built nearby.

Archival Sources in Library and Archives Canada

There are a number of different archival collections in Library and Archives Canada (LAC) relating to Grosse Île's operations; however, relatively few nominal records of persons passing through Grosse Île have survived. Dr. J. Page in his article "Grosse-Île Quarantine Station", from The Canadian Public Health Journal (September 1931), pp. 454-458, states that "many of the quarantine records were lost" in a major fire on the island which destroyed three of the largest buildings in 1878. Most of what remains consists of administrative records maintained by the colonial governments and the federal headquarters offices in Ottawa. For research purposes these records are divided between those created before Canadian Confederation and those created post-Confederation. In turn, the records listed in these two sections are further divided between those most pertinent to the study of Grosse Île and those which offer supplementary information about migration and quarantine.

Pre-Confederation Sources


The establishment and operation of the Grosse Île quarantine station and the associated Marine and Emigrant Hospitals in Lower Canada generated a rich and varied range of records. Official records frequently were produced in duplicate or triplicate for delivery to senior officials within the province and for transmission to the imperial authorities in London, increasing the chances of their survival. Records generated by private individuals or corporate bodies have survived in far lesser quantity, often scattered and fragmentary. Whether or not any of these records have survived and where the documents may have been preserved depended to a large extent on who compiled them, and most particularly who received the correspondence, reports, lists and accounts.

The following survey identifies records created prior to Canadian Confederation in 1867. The descriptions below outline the nature of the records produced, the location of records that came into the custody of Library and Archives Canada (LAC), and the relevance of those records for various types of research. This guide does not attempt to provide an exhaustive inventory-primarily because not all LAC holdings have been described to the item level, leaving much yet to be uncovered, and secondarily because the relevance of material depends on the goal of any particular search. Further, additional material may be acquired. For a fuller description of specific fonds and series, or individual volumes, follow the links to the Archives Search entries. For an explanation of relationships between the Grosse Île quarantine station and the Marine and Emigrant Hospitals (such as transferring the sick to the hospitals when the island facilities closed for the winter season) consult published works.

Researchers interested in the general aspects of epidemics, immigration, quarantine, and public-health measures throughout British North America should note that parallel patterns exist in the records generated in other colonies. They too used islands to house quarantine establishments. While LAC has obtained microfilm copies of the relevant Colonial Office series for all the colonies, most of the records generated within Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island should be sought in the respective provincial archives. Records generated in Upper Canada and the "Canada West" portion of the Province of Canada will be found divided between LAC and the provincial Archives of Ontario; likewise, some records generated in Lower Canada and the "Canada East" portion of the Province of Canada will be found in the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

Pre-Confederation Records Relating to Grosse Île at LAC

Records of the Civil Secretary and the Provincial Secretary (RG 4)

From the inception of civil government in Quebec in 1764 through the division of Upper and Lower Canada in 1791 to the union of those colonies in 1841, the Civil Secretary held primary responsibility for managing the local correspondence, acting in the governor's name on matters internal to the colony. His duties included sending directions to officials and circulars to collect information from them; directing letters, petitions, reports and other documents addressed to the governor onward to the Legislature or to appropriate officials for their action or advice, and informing the senders of the action being taken. These responsibilities underwent a major reorganization in 1841 on creation of the united Province of Canada. From that point, the Provincial Secretary took over responsibility for the "internal" correspondence addressed to the government in the broader sense, while the Civil Secretary focused his attention on managing the imperial level of correspondence and matters of viceregal prerogative.

A separate letterbook for correspondence with the quarantine station survives from 1834-1835 (see RG 4, series A 4).

British Military and Naval Records (RG 8)

Selected accounts, memoranda, requisitions, reports and surveys plus correspondence of the Military Secretary to the Commander of the Forces relative to quarantine and Grosse Île, 1847-1856, were gathered into a single volume (see RG 8, series I, volume 607) while a few documents relating to military chaplains stationed at Grosse Île, 1835-1840, have been noted in another (see RG 8, series I, volume 69). Further relevant documents remain to be uncovered through a systematic search of the available finding aids for the British Military and Naval Records. Note that General, District and Regimental Orders may refer to the military detachments on Grosse Île [RG 8, series I, volumes 1168 to 1203½S]. Outgoing letters recorded in the Military Secretary's letterbooks [RG 8, series I, volumes 1204 to 1329; and RG 7, G 19] await investigation. A careful search of the nominal and subject index [MSS Finding Aid 1800] and lists with volumes not covered by the card index may uncover further documents relating to the military role in the establishment and operation of the quarantine station, or the use of the signal telegraph facilities to communicate with Grosse Île, but is unlikely to uncover nominal lists.

Department of Public Works Fonds (RG 11)

Records relating to the pre-Confederation construction and maintenance of the buildings on Grosse Île can be found in the Department of Public Works fonds. The following is a listing of volumes and microfilm reels for indexes by name of correspondent, registers of letters received, subject registers and actual correspondence:

  • Subject Registers, 1859-1879 (RG 11, vol.615, reel C-12803, vol. 629, reel C-12806, vol. 653, reel C-12810, vol. 675, reel C-12812, and vol. 701, reel C-12816)
  • General Indexes, 1860-1878 (RG 11, vols. 762-766, reels T-4240 to T-4241)
  • Registered Correspondence, 1859-1879 (RG 11, vol. 298, reel T-232, vol. 339, reel T-769 and vols. 555-556, reel T-1113)

Department of Agriculture Fonds (RG 17)

The Department of Agriculture was responsible for immigration quarantine from 1867 to 1918, but many of its immigration records predate Confederation and include numerous dockets, letterbooks and letter registers which mention names of individuals at the Grosse Île quarantine station mainly after Confederation. The major sets of records are:

Records of the Minister, Deputy Minister and Secretary (RG 17 A I, series 1-13) which comprise:

  • General Correspondence (dockets), 1852-1920 (RG 17 A I series 1, vols. 1-1489, 2729-2809, 3539-3544, reels T-4365 to T-4406 contain vols. 1367-1486, 1488-1489 and 3539-3944).
  • Since these records are now indexed largely by name of correspondent, researchers are advised to determine the names of corresponding officials in the period of research. An example of a file is "F. Montizambert, Goose (sic) Isle, Weekly Return of Sick in Hospital and Vessels Inspected, 1872" (RG 17 A 1 series 1, vol. 63, file 6131).

Records of the Immigration Branch (RG 17 A III, series 1-5) which comprise:

  • Departmental Correspondence, 1842-1889 (RG 17 A III series 1, vols. 2392-2395).
    Includes correspondence, reports, returns and other documentation relating to quarantine, the Marine and Emigrant Hospital, and related matters, in chronological order. There is a list of volumes, but no index.
  • Immigration Letterbook, 1862-1864 (RG 17 A III series 3, vol. 2398 (reel T-1437).
    Includes numerous references to activities and administration of the Grosse Île quarantine station.

Miscellaneous Records, 1861-1893 (RG 17 A III series 4, vols. 2399-2400).

Marine Branch Fonds (RG 42)

The departments responsible for Fisheries and Marine had some quarantine responsibilities during the existence of Grosse Île, and a number of records relating to that particular station appear in their fonds. This series is particularly rich about the first years of the station. Note especially, the reports of vessel inspections and deaths in quarantine preserved by the Marine Branch (see RG 42, volumes 9-17).

  • Passports Issued by the Visiting Officer of the Quarantine Station to Masters of Vessels "In a Fit State to Proceed to Quebec", 1834 (RG 42, vols. 9-10).
  • Drafts of letters, 1836, and letterbook, 1836-1839, of the Civil Secretary Relating to the Quarantine Station (RG 42, vol. 10).
  • Letters, 1837-1838, from the Inspecting Physician and the Medical Superintendent to the
    • Commandant as well as Instructions for the Staff of the Quarantine Station (RG 42, vols. 10-11).
  • Register of Deaths at the Quarantine Station, 1834-1835 (RG 42, vol. 11).
  • List of River Vessels Receiving Certificates of Discharge from Quarantine, 1834-1835 (RG 42, vols. 12-17).
  • Weekly Returns of the Sick in Hospital, 1834-1839 (RG 42, vol. 11).
  • Position of Vessels Coming up the St. Lawrence, 1833-1834; Boarding Reports, 1833-1838;
    • Completed Questionnaires for Vessels Performing Qarantine, 1833-1835 (RG 42, vols. 12-22).

Department of Railways and Canals (RG 43)

These fonds include records on the construction of buildings at Grosse-Île and various service contracts, including service on steamships and towing vessels.

  • Agreement between Germain St-Pierre and Public Works - Work on Hospital and Other Buildings on Grosse Ile, Quebec. DN- RC-964, vol. B, 1853 (RG 43-D-I-8, vol. 2548, dossier 95).
  • Receipt by Ivanhow [sic]Taché to George Léveque [sic] - Sale of Grosse-Isle-de Kamouraska - St-Louis de Kamouraska, Quebec. DN- RC-2165 vol. 1, 1861 (RG 43-D-I-8, vol. 2556, dossier 15).
  • Agreement between Public Works and Charles Touchette - Maison Grosse Ile, Quebec. DN-2643 RC-670, vol. B, 1848 (RG 43-D-I-8, vol. 2792, dossier 21).
  • Agreement between Public Works and Jean Trudel - Barracks on Grosse Isle. DN-2650 RC-671, vol. B, ND (RG 43-D-I-8, vol. 2792, dossier 23).
  • Agreement between Public Works and Joseph Elie dit Breton - Barracks on Grosse Isle, Quebec. DN-2651 RC-672, vol. B, 1848 (RG 43-D-I-8, vol. 2792, dossier 24).
  • Agreement between Public Works and François Baby - Tug Contract for Kingston, Lachine and Grosse Ile.DN-25569 RC-1364, vol. C, 1854 (RG 43-D-I-8, vol. 2549, dossier 12).
  • Agreement between Public Works and George E. Humphrey - Steamboat Service to Grosse Ile, Quebec. DN- RC-1363, vol. C, 1858 (RG 43-D-I-8, vol. 2549, dossier 13).

Records of the Chief Emigrant Agent and other Emigrant Agents

Staff of the quarantine station at Grosse Île was employed seasonally, generally between May and November each year. Though employed year-round, the various Emigrant Agents faced the same challenge as the Medical Superintendent, the Inspecting Physician and others employed seasonally, to find their own office space and equipment, stationery and secretarial staff. Having no obligation to place their records in the custody of other government offices, they considered the records they accumulated to be their personal property. They delivered estimates, plans and reports up the chain of command and sent queries to or responded to requests from the Civil or Provincial Secretaries and other authorities. They expected these authorities to retain copies of letters, directives, regulations, commissions and other documents sent to them. In theory, researchers should expect to find that "all" records were duplicated at both ends of the communication channel. In practice, the absence of records accumulated by the lowest-level officials should not present a serious obstacle to research-provided that record-keeping facilities existed at higher levels and that the records accumulated there have passed into archives.

The records accumulated by Anthony B. Hawke, the Emigrant Agent at Toronto, Upper Canada /Canada West, now preserved and accessible online at the Archives of Ontario demonstrate the range of documents that his fellow agents might have created and kept. It bears repeating that Library and Archives Canada holdings consist primarily and predominantly of the letters, estimates, reports, statements of expenditures and other documents sent by the Chief Emigrant Agent at Quebec City and his colleagues at other posts to the Civil and Provincial Secretaries, and the letterbook entries of communications sent to them-usually scattered throughout record series of general purpose, rarely brought together into series dedicated to the subject of quarantine or the Grosse Île facilities.

Records Created by Individuals, Institutions and Corporate Bodies

The quantity and nature of material relating to quarantine in general, and Grosse Île in particular, that may be found among personal papers will reflect the nature and intensity of the fonds-creator's interest in the subject. Logic says that medical practitioners should lead this field. Political activists such as John Neilson (see MG 24, B 1) or Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine (see MG 24, B 14) might have exchanged correspondence with like-minded individuals or government officials regarding epidemics (see MG 24, B 1-MSS Finding Aid 0119 description for volumes 8 and 42) on the subject of the cholera epidemic on Grosse Île, 1832-1834), public-health measures, quarantine and Grosse Île-though such terms may not be immediately apparent where the level of descriptive detail in the relevant Finding Aid does not extend to individual documents. They might have collected copies of pamphlets, regulations and other publications, or retained copies of documents created during their service in Parliament or on commissions of inquiry.

John Neilson retained not only the records he helped to create while participating in the investigation of the conduct of James Allison, Emigrant Agent at Montréal, but also records submitted as evidence, most notably records accumulated by Allison in the course of his work (see MG 24, B 1 - MSS Finding Aid 0119 description for volumes 21-22). These records include correspondence relating to the transportation of orphans from Grosse Île onward, under escort of immigrant women, with nominal lists noting family relationships. Neilson's own business records may contain information on the printing of forms for the Emigrant Agents and Inspecting Physicians, of regulations and public notices, as well as pamphlets on public-health issues.

Catalogue descriptions identify remarkably few travel diaries or memoirs as immigration voyages with relevance to the quarantine experience are relatively rare. Diary contents have not generally been indexed; general descriptions may not identify the existence of commentary on the quarantine process or Grosse Île. Diarists frequently mention fellow passengers, but may not give full names, places of origin or other substantial biographical detail. Diaries published by travelers seeking to promote settlement may give greater attention to Grosse Île.

Evidence of the roles played by religious congregations/orders and benevolent organizations or institutions to aid immigrants during or after the quarantine process consists primarily of letters, petitions, reports and other documents sent to the Civil and Provincial Secretaries. The nature of religious orders and certain benevolent organizations has contributed to the survival of their records, while the voluntary nature of the Emigrant Societies and like associations has led to dispersal and loss. One exception merits attention to illustrate possibilities. The work of Catholic nuns had a parallel amongst Protestant women in the towns of Lower Canada/Canada West, notably those who established the Female Benevolent Society of Montreal. Later renamed the Montreal Ladies' Benevolent Society (MLBS), this association sponsored a house of refuge and recovery for indigent women with children, the sick and the aged, and the Protestant Orphan Asylum. Registers of entries into the orphan asylum [preserved with records of Summerhill Homes, a successor to the MLBS, (see MG 28, I 388 / R 4930) record biographical details about orphans arriving via Grosse Île. The records demonstrate how the organization provided shelter, training and work placement for the young orphans and enable us to assess the effects of the quarantine process (leaving some immigrants too weak to work and too poor to travel onward), contemporary attitudes towards children, and their potential as future labourers.

Business enterprises and other corporate bodies may have accumulated relevant records. In addition to his breweries, distilleries and banking ventures, John Molson operated a steamboat company serving the St. Lawrence River. Its records (see MG 28, III 57 / R 3088, volume 25, reel M-8276) include passenger manifests for vessels plying between Quebec City and Montréal, carrying immigrants onward from the quarantine station to their intended new homes. Businessmen, like government officials, limited their record keeping to what they considered essential. Such passenger manifests are unlikely to name anyone other than the head of household or to provide descriptive detail on the family beyond distinguishing the relevant adult or child's fare rate and the baggage allowance. Emigrant Agents saw value in recording the immigrants' place of origin, occupation or potential for employment, and financial capacity to establish themselves.​

Contextual Pre-Confederation Records

Colonial Office Records (MG 11)

The formal titles of the Secretary of State responsible for the management of Britain's colonies in North America, and of his ministry (not yet a department in the modern sense), changed over time. For convenience, archivists and historians refer to him as the Colonial Secretary and to his ministry as the Colonial Office.

As the official channel of communication between the imperial government and the colony, the Colonial Secretary used formal dispatches to communicate instructions, interpretations and information to the Governor, defining what was expected of the latter as viceregal representative of the Crown within the jurisdiction to which he had been appointed. Governors used dispatches to report on their activities, how they implemented those directives and how they responded to local circumstances, as well as to seek advice on specific matters not covered by their formal instructions or authorization for colonial initiatives. Their reports provided summaries, hence they rarely included nominal lists or other records containing detailed personal information.

Other British government agencies and departments played a role in colonial affairs, notably the Audit Office which reviewed the "public accounts" and the Treasury which monitored expenditures; and the Home Office through which legislation and judicial appeals were sent for review by the Law Officers of the Crown. The Admiralty and the War Office participated in colonial defence and transportation of personnel and materiel, while the Board of Trade and the Customs participated in the management of colonial trade and navigation. Correspondence with these agencies passed through the Colonial Office, hence can be found in or traced through its records. Note particularly the Land and Emigration Board created in 1840 to oversee colonial land grants, emigration of settlers and operation of the Passenger Acts (see MG 11, CO 384 and 386) (and see associated letterbooks in MG 11, CO 385). Its records include correspondence of A.C. Buchanan, the Chief Emigrant Agent at Québec, as well as a collection of circulars, advertisements, shipboard regulations and published reports.

Governor's Office Records (RG 7)

Each governor operated by virtue of a commission defining his powers and authority, and in accordance with the Royal Instructions issued on his appointment, plus supplementary directives and interpretations provided by the Colonial Secretary through their exchange of dispatches. As noted in the section concerning MG 11, governors used dispatches to report to the Colonial Secretary on their plans for and administration of the colony, emphasizing the development and implementation of policies, the establishment and operation of institutions, and the regulation of public life through legislation.

Responsibility for managing the governor's correspondence lay with the Civil Secretary, who divided the records in two broad categories of dispatches exchanged with the imperial authorities, which we may term imperial and local or internal to the colony.

The vast majority of reports, petitions and other documents directed to or collected by the Civil and Provincial Secretaries on behalf of the governor remained in the filing systems established by those officials. Certain exceptions merit mention: Asiatic cholera returns for 1832 and quarantine regulations for 1833-1836 (see RG 7, G 18, volumes 16-17); a volume of records from the Montreal Emigrant Society, 1832 (see RG 7, G 18, volume 46) and the 1842 report of the Emigrant Agent at Montréal (see RG 7, G 18, volume 47). The records accumulated in the governor's office relate primarily to policy and to decision-making relative to the establishment and operation of institutions such as the Grosse Île quarantine station and the various Marine and Emigrant Hospitals. These records hold very limited potential for genealogical research, but immense value for the historical background of migration and quarantine.

Records of Parliament (RG 14)

Parliament discussed various matters concerning quarantine in general and Grosse Île in particular: legislation to authorize the establishment of Boards of Health and hospitals, to regulate passenger vessels and require inspection of ships; the allocation of funds for establishing and operating the quarantine stations and hospitals; and the provision of financial assistance for immigrants through benevolent societies and the Emigrant Agents. Exceedingly few records of the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council for both Lower Canada and the Province of Canada have survived a series of disastrous fires.

The published Journals for both houses contain a summary record of proceedings. Various reports and documents submitted to Parliament-known as Sessional Papers-were printed as appendices to the Journals, or separately, and can readily be found in libraries or the Early Canada Online project of Canadiana (subscription required). The annual Public Accounts appearing in the Sessional Papers may appear more comprehensive than the surviving records of the Finance Department, as well as easier to locate and to read than the reports of the Board of Audit in the State Minute Books. The probability that these may include nominal lists is known to be remote.

Few petitions addressed to Parliament have survived with relevant records, but a number of duplicates have been found among the Provincial Secretary's Numbered Correspondence.

Post-Confederation Sources

Post-Confederation Records Relating to Grosse Île at LAC

Department of Militia and Defence Fonds (RG 9)

The Department of Militia and Defence maintained an artillery garrison on the island. Records list members of the detachment of the Garrison Artillery at Grosse Île, with their names, ranks, pay and signature. A sample of a file is:

Department of Public Works Fonds (RG 11)

Records relating to the post-Confederation construction and maintenance of the buildings on Grosse Île can be found in the Department of Public Works fonds. The following is a listing of subject registers:

Department of Transport Canada Fonds (RG 12)

Transport Canada is responsible for navigation on the St. Lawrence River and due to its location Grosse Île played a role in securing the waterway. Examples of this are located in:

Department of Agriculture Fonds (RG 17)

The Department of Agriculture was responsible for immigration quarantine from 1867 to 1918, when the function was transferred via the Immigration Branch of Interior (1918-1919) to the Department of Public Health (1919-1928). As such, these are some of the most important post-Confederation records at LAC on the subject and they include numerous dockets and letterbooks which mention names of individuals at the Grosse Île quarantine station mainly after Confederation. The major sets of records are:

Returns of Vessels Inspected at Grosse Isle Quarantine Station, 1892-1893.

Records of the Quarantine and Public Health Branch (RG 17 A V, series 1-4) which comprise:

  • Director General of Public Health Letterbooks, 1899-1912 (see RG 17 A V series 3, vols. 2434-2467, reels T-1437 to T-1452). Correspondence mostly with quarantine stations (including Grosse Île) and with customs officers who acted as quarantine officers in small ports. Arranged chronologically and each volume is indexed. A list of volumes is available.
  • Registers of Letters Sent, 1902-1908 (see RG 17 A V series 4, vols. 2468-2472). Alphabetical listing of outgoing correspondence from the Quarantine and Public Health Branch (serves as a finding aid to previous item).

Department of National Health and Welfare Fonds (RG 29)

The Department of Health and Welfare was responsible for running the Grosse Île quarantine station from 1919 to 1928. Responsibility for public health and quarantine was transferred from the Immigration Branch of the Department of the Interior to the newly created Department of Public Health in 1919. Samples of files are:

  • Lists year, name, denomination and "picket" number of each person who died at the station. Father Point Quarantine Station, 1922-1937 (see RG 29, vol. 767, file 412-13-4).
  • There may also be incidental references to the operations of Grosse Île throughout the files in the following volumes (RG 29, vols. 289-300 and 764-768).

Department of Justice Fonds (RG 13)

The Department of Justice created many records pertaining to the legal aspects of running the Grosse Île quarantine station. The following is a listing of a sample of files:

  • Dr. M. Fiset (Quebec) Asking to be Paid Fees and Expenses of Analysis in the Poisoning Case of Osgoode of Grosse Isle, 1890-1891 (see RG 13 A2, vol. 80, file 1891-428).
  • Department of Public Works; Claim of J.A. Lemay for Extra Work on Contract for Wharf at Grosse Isle, 1916 (RG 13 A2, vol. 204, file 1916-1273).
  • Department of Public Health; Liability under Workmen's Compensation Act for Death of Alfred Laliberte at Goose (sic) Isle Quarantine Station from Electric Shock (RG 13 A2, vol. 292, file 1924-1736).
  • Department of Pensions and National Health; Agreement with Levis Ferry Co.; Service to Quarantine Station Grosse Isle, Quebec; Liability, 1932-1934 (RG 13 A2, vol. 401, file 1934-590).
  • Department of Agriculture; Penalty for Delay in Delivering Steamer for Grosse Isle Quarantine Service, 1906 (RG 13 A2, vol. 1911, file 1906-720).
  • Department of Public Works; Detroit River Canadian Bridge Co. for Approval of Bridge at Grosse Isle, 1930 (RG 13 A2, vol. 2003, file 1930-1093).
  • Power of Attorney from Picton and Company, Contractors, for the Erection of Certain Buildings at Grosse Isle Quarantine Station, to Mr. St. Benoit; Department of Railways and Canals, 1879 (RG 13 A2, vol. 2238, file 1879-1794, old file 1879-60).
  • Quarantine; Claim of J. Hillis of Winnipeg for Damages on Account of Alleged Ineffective Quarantine of Griffin Family at Grosse Isle; Agriculture Department, 1898 (RG 13 A2, vol. 2290, file 1898-488, old file 1898-75).

Department of National Defence Fonds (RG 24)

The Department of National Defence ran the island from 1937 when it was no longer used as a quarantine station, until the 1950s when it was re-transferred to the Department of Agriculture. Some of the files found in its central registry were created by predecessor agencies responsible for the quarantine station. Sample of a file is:

  • Loan of Derrick Used on Champlain Rockslide to Ancient Order of Hibernians to Place Monument on Grosse-Île, 1909-1919 (see RG 24, vol. 6559, file HQ 899-15).

Department of Immigration Fonds (RG 76)

The Department of Immigration was responsible for processing all immigrants coming through Grosse Île. It also ran the island itself briefly in 1918 and 1919. Samples of files are:

There may be further incidental references to Grosse Île throughout subject files found in RG 76 series B-1 a (finding aid 76-5).

Sources in Other Archives

Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BANQ)

For more specific information on BANQ holdings, contact: BANQ, 1210, avenue du Séminaire, Ste. Foy, Quebec, G1V 4N1, tel. 1-418-643-8904. The following collections are of particular interest:

  • Grosse-Île Anglican Church, Parish Registers (Marriages, Baptisms and Burials), 1843-1862 (ANQ, CE 302-11).
  • Paroisse de Saint-Luc de Grosse Isle, Parish Registers (Marriages, Baptisms and Burials), 1834-1875 (BANQ, CE 302-12).

Private Archives

NOTE: This is not a complete list. The Parks Canada office in Quebec City has begun a major multi-year research project on the history of Grosse Île. Researchers interested in in-depth information on this project and other archival sources on Grosse Île should contact:
Parks Canada, 3 rue Buade, C.P. 6060, Haute-Ville, Quebec, G1R 4V7.

  • Ancient Order of Hibernians. Correspondence regarding memorial to the dead on Grosse Île, 1909 (in possession of M. O'Gallagher, cited in her Eyewitness: Grosse Ile 1847).
  • Archdiocese of Quebec (Roman Catholic Church). For information, contact the Archevêché de Québec.

Selected References

The following references provide an insight into the history of the station, and the quarantine policies and methods for which it was responsible. As a start, the first reference is made to the Parks Canada website on Grosse Île.


Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site

BBC Radio: A Short History of Ireland

The Force of Hope: The Legacy of Father McGauran
From a 52-part television series entitled A Scattering of Seeds: the Creation of Canada.

Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada: History - The evolution of the historic role of Grosse Île

Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada: History - Statistics and more statistics

The Grosse Île Tragedy by J. Jordan (1909)

Immigrants to Canada: Newspaper Reports of 1847

Robert Whyte's The Journey of an Irish Coffin Ship, 1847

Journeys to Canada: Grosse-Île in Quebec - The Last Resting Place for Over 6000 Irish Souls

Toolkit - Defining Primary and Secondary Sources

Mapleleafweb: Public Inquiries in Canada

The SARS Crisis and Irish Potato Famine: Understanding How International Events Affect Canadian Legislation

Special Editions of Canadian Newspapers, Quebec Daily Telegraph

Summer of Sorrow: Grosse-Île, 1847: Part 2 - News of the Famine in Ireland as the Crisis Intensifies

Books, articles and theses

Belley, Marie-Claude. Un exemple de prise en charge de l'enfance dépendante au milieu du XIXe siècle: les orphelins irlandais à Québec en 1847 et 1848. (M.A. thesis, history). Faculté des lettres, Université Laval, 2003, 122 p.

Bilson, Geoffrey. "Science, Technology and 100 Years of Canadian Quarantine," in Richard A. Jarrell and A.E. Roos, eds., Critical Issues in the History of Canadian Science, Technology and Medicine. Thornhill, Ont.: HSTC Publications, 1983, pp. 89-100.

Charbonneau, André and André Sévigny. 1847, Grosse Île: A Record of Daily Events. Ottawa: Parks Canada, 1997. Also published in French under the title 1847, Grosse-Île au fil des jours, 283 p.

Chartré, Christine. La Désinfection dans la système quarantenaire maritime de Grosse-Île: 1832-1937. Québec: Parcs Canada, 1995, 345 p.

Errington, Elizabeth Jane. Emigrant Worlds and Trans-Atlantic Communities: Migration to Upper Canada in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century. Montréal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2007, 244 p.

Heagerty, J.J. Four Centuries of Medical History in Canada and a Sketch of the Medical History of Newfoundland. 2 vols. Toronto: Macmillan, 1928.

Hodge, Deborah. The Kids Book of Canadian Immigration. Illustrated by John Mantha. Toronto: Kids Can Press, 2006.

Hughes, Susan. Coming to Canada: Building a Life in a New Land. Toronto: Maple Tree Press, 2005.

Jordan, J.A. The Grosse-Isle Tragedy and the Monument to the Irish Fever Victims, 1847. Québec: Telegraph Print. Co., 1909.

King, Jason. Famine Diaries: Narratives about Emigration from Ireland to Lower Canada and Quebec, 1832-1853. Proquest Dissertations and Theses, 1996. Section 0791, Part 0593, 146 p.; (M.A. thesis). Burnaby, B.C.: Canada: Simon Fraser University, 1996.

Lemoine, Rejean. "Grosse-Île: cimetière des immigrants au XIXe siècle," in Cap aux Diamants. Vol. 1, no. 2 (Summer 1985), pp. 9-12.

Montizambert, F. "The Story of Fifty-four Years Quarantine Service from 1866 to 1920," in The Canadian Medical Association Journal. Vol. XVI (1926), pp. 314-319.

Occhietti, Serge. "Grosse Île," in The Canadian Encyclopedia. 2nd edition, Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1988, p. 941.

O'Gallagher, Marianna and Rose Masson Dompierre. Eyewitness: Grosse Ile 1847. Ste-Foy, Quebec: Livres Carraig, 1995. Also published in French under the title Les Témoins parlent: Grosse Île 1847.

O'Laighin, Padraic. "Grosse-Ile: The Holocaust Revisited," in Robert O'Driscoll and Lorna Reynolds, eds., The Untold Story: The Irish in Canada. Vol. 1, Toronto: Celtic Arts of Canada, 1988, pp. 75-101.

Page, Dr. J. ''Grosse Isle Quarantine Station," in The Canadian Public Health Journal. (September 1931), pp. 454-458.

Quigley, Michael. "Grosse Ile: Canada's Irish Famine Memorial," in Labour /Le Travail, 39 (Spring 1997), pp. 195-214.

Sévigny, André. Synthèse sur l'histoire de l'immigration au Canada via Québec entre 1815 et 1945. Québec: Parks Canada, 1995.

Vallée, Marie-Helene. Peu nombreuses mais essentielles; les travailleuses salariées de la station de quarantaine de la Grosse-Ile, 1891-1924. (Ph.D. thesis, history), Université Laval, 2006, 354 p.

Vekeman Masson, Jeannette. A Grandmother Remembers Grosse Île. Translated by Johanne L. Massé. Ste-Foy, Quebec: Carraig Books, 1989.

Warren, Gerard. "Island of Lost Dreams," in Imperial Oil Review, Vol. 77, no. 408 (Spring 1993), pp. 2-7.

Published primary sources including eyewitness accounts about the epidemics

Grosse-Isle Emigrant Station: A Letter Addressed to the Inspectors of Hospitals, Prisons and Asylums. Quebec: J.T. Brousseau, 1861.

Whyte, Robert. Robert Whyte's 1847 Famine Ship Diary: The Journey of an Irish Coffin Ship. James J. Mangan, ed. Dublin: Mercier Press, 1994.

Whyte, Robert (attrib.). The Ocean Plague, or, A Voyage to Quebec in an Irish Emigrant Vessel: Embracing a Quarantine at Grosse Isle in 1847 with Notes Illustrative of the Ship Pestilence of that Fatal Year, by a Cabin Passenger. Boston: Coolidge & Wiley, 1848; on microfiche by Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions, 1985.

The annual reports of the departments responsible (e.g., Canada. Sessional Papers, Annual Reports of the Department of Agriculture, 1868-1918, available in most reference libraries) make frequent references to the operation of Grosse Île.

Terminology (pre-confederation)

Researchers using records of the pre-Confederation era must familiarize themselves with contemporary terminology, as these terms are essential to successful searches of the Registers and Indexes providing access to the Numbered Correspondence Series, the State Minute Books, letterbooks and other records. Correct interpretation of documents relies on understanding the terminology and usage of the era.

Canada East/Canada West

  • These terms were used to distinguish between the regions where seigneurial tenure and the French civil code remained valid after 1841 (the former province of Lower Canada) and where these systems had no standing (the former province of Upper Canada). Contemporary legislation used the designations Lower Canada and Upper Canada, even though those former colonies had ceased to exist with the Act of Union which came into effect Tuesday, February 10, 1841.


  • used synonymously with Immigrant.

Governor-in-Chief/Governor General

  • The governor of Lower Canada held the title of Governor-in-Chief and Captain General for that province, and commissions authorizing him under that title to take over the administration of the other colonies of British North America. He could exercise authority only when resident within the jurisdiction and after swearing the oaths of office. He also held a commission according him the honorific title of Governor General of British North America. The administration of other colonies fell to Lieutenant Governors. Commissions, warrants and orders were signed in his capacity as Governor-in-Chief while the honorific title of Governor General was used in petitions and other documents addressed to him.
  • The title Captain General referred to his responsibility for defence of the colony. Authority over British Army regiments, however, rested with the Commander of the Forces. In the governor's absence, responsibility for civil government was assumed by the senior member of the Executive Council or the senior military officer commanding, under the title of Administrator.

Indigent Emigrants

  • persons whose financial resources failed to meet all the costs of migration (often through extra expenses during quarantine).

Pauper Emigrants

  • persons whose migration was sponsored by philanthropic or other agencies.


  • A list, notably a list compiled in response to a directive or request:
  • Nominal returns identify individuals;
  • Statistical returns focus on numerical data;
  • A return of vessels inspected will name the ships and their masters, but not the passengers. A "Remarks" column may identify individuals in exceptional cases.


  • a list, generally in tabular format.
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