At the height of the Irish famine in 1847, thousands of
immigrants arrived aboard coffin ships, seeking refuge at the Port of
Montreal. Six thousand of those died of typhus and were buried in mass
graves and nearly forgotten.
Of those that survived, many settled in nearby
Griffintown, a shanty town on the banks of the Lachine Canal, where many found
work on the docks or in the associated industries that grew up around the
canal. When St. Ann’s Church was built in 1854, 1,300 Irish families were
settled in Griffintown and within a half-century, the community numbered
60,000, in addition to the Irish, many Italian and Ukrainian immigrants as well
as working-class Quebecois.
In 1963, the area was re-zoned as “Industrial” and a
project to build an expressway through the middle of the neighborhood hastened
its demise. By 1970 the population of Griffintown was under 1000.
St. Ann’s Church was demolished and the community was
littered with abandoned factories, parking lots and rubble. Today the
neighborhood is populated with upscale condominiums and Griffintown has receded
into distant memory.