Considering that the bed is a little short for both of us I slept reasonably well. It was hot when we crashed out but I was cold during the night and hot again this morning, We woke up early, about 6:30, and headed for the showers then spent an hour or so unpacking our stuff. I had thought that we would pretty much fill up all the space available but there is still loads of room left. Over the last couple of months every time we have checked into a hotel we have played the Beccie game. This morning I Beccie'd Stef, the last time we will play until we are back into hotels again.
The Beccie game is a new one, named in honour of my sister Beccie because of whom it was invented. Last year, I went away for a weekend with both of my sisters Caz and Beccie. As we were only away for two nights Caz and I both lived out of the small bags we had brought with us but fell about laughing at Beccie. Everything in her bag was unpacked and put away even though it was just for two nights. Early on in our trip, when we checked into a hotel Stef put his toilet bag in the bathroom and proudly declared that he had "done a Beccie" because he got there first. Since then, we've played the Beccie game each time we have moved on - you win if you get your toilet bag in the bathroom first. Silly I know but those of you who know the yellow car game, or the guess the nationality of the truck when you are driving through France game, will know that its right up our street.
Still with no food we headed back to the cafe in Beaumont for breakfast. My poached egg and muffin was dwarfed by a mound of fresh fruit. There was melon, water melon, orange, apple, banana, kiwi and grapes - a real vitamin C boost. Fruit seems to accompany al breakfasts in Canada even if it is an English style fry up. Refreshed we headed out aiming for somewhere up the coast but in fact ending up only about twenty kilometres away.
The road took us past Berthier sur Mer from where you can get a boat across to La Grosse Ile, the quarantine station for Quebec used from the 1830's to 1937. The next boat doe not leave for a couple of hours and does not get back until after 6:00pm so we whizzed up to Montmagny. Stef dropped me at the supermarket to do the food shopping while he went amnd booked the campsite. He had tried by phone but he did not understand their French and they did not understand his!
In less than half an hour I tazzed round the supermarket finding pretty much everything we needed, not bad going when none of the labels and packaging were familiar. They seemed to have different sections selling the same stuff, some from a cooperative, other bits organic. I despaired when I got to the milk - so much choice but it all looked the same and looked different at the same time. I picked one and hoped for the best. My next panic was at the cash till. Although most supermarkets take plastic cards I did not have any cash and thought it would be just my luck that they were a cash only shop - they were not.
Stef was waiting, in the car park, campsite booked and I quickly stored stuff away. Time was tight to get back for our boat trip but we mad it OK. The boat was a small river cruiser owned by the Lachance family. Our destination was Grosse Île, one of twenty one in the Isle-aux-Grues archipelago. Most of the islands are privately owned, one by the Lachance family, it is now worth so much that Grandpa Lachance is not selling it. They are strung out through the St Lawrence river and are mainly used for hunting. This area is a migratory stop off point for snow geese. The crossing from the south shore to the island took about half an hour. From the islands to the north shore of the St Lawrence is twice about twice as wide again and takes you through the main shipping channel.
At the island we were met by guides from Parks Canada. We had checked before coming that the tours were in English as well as French. For once my basic French paid dividends. We were the only people on the island wanting English speaking tours so we had a guide to ourselves all day. The information for the trip says that you spend about three and a half hours on the island. Neither of us had though we would need that much time but in fact I left wishing we had had an extra hour. I think that being in a group of two we had asked more questions than is usual.
The island was first used in the 1830's when immigrants started to come to Canada to escape the disease (cholera and typhoid) that was rampant in Europe and later to escape the potato famine in Ireland. Its purpose was to check the health of immigrants before allowing them onto Quebec with the aim of keeping Quebec free from disease. Due to the lack of medical knowledge at the time, they thought these diseases were airborne so did not have the in place the right preventative measures. As such, cholera still hit Quebec wiping out about 10% of its population.
Initially they had made preparations to house two hundred and fifty sick people and two hundred healthy people. The first four boats brought four times that many and there were another three hundred and ninety six boats en route. In the early days only the west sector of the island was used (the island had been bought from a farmer who had agreed to relocate) and at its peak this area housed twelve thousand people. As a forested hill takes up most of this area there was not much space for accommodation and it was not long before the healthy people were also sick. The then Superintendent of the island extended the site further along the south shore of the island and over time full faciliites developed. Only the south of the island was used. The north shore was too rocky for safe landings but the south shore also gave views up the St Lawrence so they could ensure all boats stopped As Canada was still a British colony the base was initially set up by the British military and they had three canons trained across the river to catch out captains who failed to stop.
When boats landed, the people on board were subjected to a medical exam. If everyone on board was healthy the boat was allowed to continue to Quebec. Just one ill person on board was enough to quarantine the boat. After 3 months at sea, it must have been rare to be on a totally healthy boat. The sick were landed at the eastern wharf in the centre section of the island. The healthy were taken to the Disinfection building in the west sector. Their belongings were taken from them and steamed clean, they were showered and had another medical exam, repeated twice daily for between five and fifteen days before they were declared disease free and allowed on to Quebec. This routine was only implemented in the late 1800's after Pasteur discovered the true form of typhoid and cholera and how they were spread. People not vaccinated before they left to come to Canada were vaccinated on the island.
|Say "aaah", Canadian style|
We were put through the medical exam. First our tongues were checked to ensure they were not black or covered in postules. Then we had to "say aahh" so they could check our throats. Next a temperature check with the back of the hand on the forehead to see if it was unusually hot or cold, then finally a check of glands under the armpits, at the throat and behind the ears. Not at all scientific by today's standards but of the four million people who passed through here during its one hundred and five years of use only seven thousand died, five thousand of whom died in 1847 at the height of the cholera pandemic and potato famine. A pretty impressive record.
The usage of different parts of the island changed over the years but generally the healthy stayed in the west sector, the ill went to the east sector and the staff lived in the central sector, also known as the Village. A guard post ensure that people from the west could not get to the centre and a similar lookout ensure the ill could not wander from the east sector to the Village. The family of those declared ill could choose to go to the East sector with them or go to the healthy west sector.
Many of the island's buildings still exits toady and a little trolley bus takes you along he shore to see them. Most of the immigrants were Catholic but there were also some Anglicans and Protestants. This mix is clearly seen in the Irish Cemetery in the west sector, used for the dead in 1847, where the Catholic part is at least thirty times bigger than the Protestant part. The Catholic chapel in the village is also bigger than the Anglican one and has a separate presbytery which was itself expanded from a one storey to a two storey building.
One of the buildings has black and white photos of the island at different times of its use and showing the buildings that no longer exist, either due to fire or because they were replaced by others for different purposes. It also houses an horse drawn ambulance, which doubled up as a hearse, and a thick hulled ice canoe used to get across to the mainland for provisions during winter, itself a treacherous journey.
The Village sector for the islands staff had all the facilities you would see in a normal village. The Superintendents house (no longer there) was a luxurious mansion with twenty four bedrooms, a tennis court, green house and his own private wharf. The size reflected his importance and the need t house his many children. There is a Marconi wireless telegraphy station, houses for the physicians, nurses, public works officer (needed as the facility was continually being expanded and upgraded), a bakery, school for the village children as well as buildings to house the military.
Dr Frederick Montizambert became the Superintendent in 1869 and with his medical knowledge was responsible for modernising the facility in light of Pasteur's discoveries. At the time it was the most modern quarantine station in the world. New brick hospitals were built and it was at this time that the inspection and sterilization process in the disinfection station was introduced.
For me one of the most interesting buildings was the Lazaretto. Initially built in 1847 to house immigrants under observation it was converted in 1848 to be a small pox hospital as this was then the most common disease on the island. The buildings were needed quickly and were prefabricated in Quebec. Of the twelve built, only one remains to tell the tale. They were made of wood, in essence big garden sheds. Each housed 300 people in four "rooms" of seventy five people each. Fifteen single beds were lined up against each wall and double rows of bunk beds running down the centre of the room housed the rest. Initially there were no windows just a door at either end. Over time, shutters for ventilation were added and finally windows. To maximise heat retention, dummy ceilings were added to reduce the internal height of the building.
In the late 1800's it was discovered that viruses like small pox flourish in UV light. Whilst removing the UV light does not cure the illness it helps to reduce the severity of the condition. The windows in the lazaretto were changed to red glass to limit the UV. It creates an eerie atmosphere in the room and strange "martian" views when you look through the windows onto a red world.
The site has only recently (twenty years ago) been owned by Parks Canada and has only been open for visits since 1996. They are gradually restoring the buildings back to show what life would have been like. The setting is beautiful but conditions, particularly during the 1847 potato famine high influx, were tough. It was not necessarily any better than being in Ireland.
In the west sector only the disinfection building has been restored but we ran out of time to see it. By 1914 there were three different hotels reflecting the class of passage people had had on their boats. The third class hotel built in 1914 also now houses a cafe. I think the toilets are still the originals from when the hotel was built, the round wooden loo seat was very well polished and smooth! The second class hotel (1893) and first class hotel (1912) have yet to be renovated.
The quarantine station closed in 1937. The site was then used by the military during World War two to develop biological weapons and then as as animal quarantine station (which is when some of the original buildings were destroyed).
There are three memorials on site. One, above the Irish cemetery, commemorates four doctors who succumbed to typhoid in 1847, the busiest and worst year for the station. At the height of the epidemic forty to fifty people died here each day. Trenches were dug in the cemetery and the dead were buried side by side in mass graves. Priests only came to bless the graves when a trench was full. There are no individual gravestones.
A second memorial, built I thin in 1998, looks out over the cemetery. It comprises a series of tall glass panes onto which are engraved the names of the seven thousand people who died here. It also records the unnamed dead who made it up to Rimouski further up the coast but did not make it alive to the island. Before Rimouski, any dead were buried at sea. After Rimouski, their remains had to be brought to the quarantine station for burial due to concerns that the coast would otherwise become infected.
The final memorial is a large celtic cross built high on the western corner of the west sector. On one side is engraved the names of the Catholic priests who had looked after the parish on the island (no mention is made of the Anglican priests). The three other sides all carry similar messages but are not identical. The message is to commemorate the number of Irish people who died here. The cross was built and paid for by an American Irish Catholic organisation (the Order of Hibernians) and their inscription in English makes reference to the priests. The side in French refers to the priests of Canada, their way of reflecting both religions.
On the final side the message is in Gaelic and has a very different tone. Here it makes inferences about the lack of aid and assistance Ireland, not yet an independent country, was given during the potato famine. The final line reads not "god save the King" as on the other two sides, but "God save Ireland".
After the tour we headed back to our campsite for our next big adventure - our first "home" cooked meal in two months. Getting back into the harbour we had a chuckle at one of the boats moored off a buoy. This morning it was in deep water, at low tide it was in deep doodoo's. What was meant to be a quick and easy spaghetti Bolognese seemed difficult and time consuming to do. It probably was not really, it is just a mater of getting used to all our new bits and pieces. By the time we were ready to eat, the wood in our wood pit was all burned out and the mossies and midges were out in abundance so we ate indoors.
The campsites so far have come with more bits and pieces than we had expected. Water, electric and waste water/sewage hookups we had expected. What we had not also expected to get was our own picnic table and metal brasier to burns logs in. All in all it makes for a very cosy atmosphere. We celebrated our new nomadic lifestyle by naming our van Mortimer the Motor-home and toasting its health with the cider we had bought at St Benoit du Lac -which was a bit ropey!