Grosse Isle, an island of the Isle-aux-Grues archipelago in the Chaudière-Appalaches region of Quebec, is in the St. Lawrence River opposite the south shore communities of Berthier-sur-Mer and Montmagny.
The 21-island Isle-aux-Grues archipelago is uninhabited, with the exception of one tiny community (Saint-Antoine-de-l'Isle-aux-Grues) on Île-aux-Grues itself. The region (Montmagny Regional County Municipality) is known for bird-watching, goose-hunting and cheeses.
Grosse Isle (Grosse-Île, "big island") was notorious for its role as disembarkation point for "coffin ships" — the overcrowded, disease-ridden immigrant vessels in which the starving Irish fled the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s. The island had been established as an 1832 quarantine station for inbound sea traffic to Quebec City during an earlier cholera epidemic, but was clearly unprepared for and overwhelmed by the mass influx of potato famine refugees in 1847. Medical care was primitive and housing and sanitation clearly inadequate for the tens of thousands of arriving travellers.
Thousands died from typhoid fever at the quarantine station or at sea. An estimated five thousand Great Famine victims are buried on the island, the largest potato famine graveyard outside Ireland. Thousands more were buried at sea before their ships even reached the New World. Of 90,000 who fled Ireland for Canada, an estimated 16,000 succumbed to the typhus epidemic of 1847 at sea, at Grosse-Île or at a subsequent destination; among those who left Grosse-Île seemingly healthy, 6,000 are buried at Windmill Point (Montréal) and thousands more succumbed in distant communities like Kingston, Bytown and Toronto. Partridge Island, as quarantine station for Saint John, New Brunswick, was in a similar position with nearly 1,200 fatalities.
Grosse-Île is now uninhabited; the quarantine station, expanded with more adequate facilities for arriving ocean liners after Canada's confederation in 1867, closed in 1937 and is now a national historic site. Île-aux-Grues is inhabited as a tiny village (year-round population: 130); the closest school is in Montmagny and, once the seasonal ferry stops running, students must be transported by aircraft.
The Trans-Canada Highway from Montréal and Lévis passes through Berthier-sur-Mer and Montmagny on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River en route to Rivière-du-Loup. Access to the islands is by boat (seasonally) or by aircraft.
- By boat
- Croisières Lachance runs seasonally from Berthier-sur-Mer to Grosse-Île and Île-aux-Grues; total cost per-person for boat and national historic site admission is about $60/person.
- L'Isle-aux-Grues – Montmagny Ferry, seasonal, free, provincially-operated car ferry. Runs 2-4 times daily, depending on tides.
- By air
- Air Montmagny (+1 418-248-3545) operates on-demand charter flights year-round from Montmagny to the small landing strips on Île-aux-Grues and Grosse-Île.
- There is a 2.5-km Mirador Trail for hiking on Grosse-Île.
- Île-aux-Grues has several kilometres of roads suitable for cycling or motoring.
- Grosse-Île National Historic Site. Irish Memorial National Historic Site, explore the village on foot or by trolley. Irish Cemetery, Celtic cross and memorial, various buildings including a 1847 Lazaretto, hospital to the Irish tragedy, disinfection building, homes, churches and hotels which served various classes of turn-of-the-century steamship passengers.
- Saint-Jean-Port-Joli Sculpture Biennale (40 km NE of Montmagny on Autoroute 20). in July of even-numbered years. This town hosts an international symposium of direct-cut wood carving, which for eleven days welcomes professional sculptors from Quebec, Canada and abroad, who perform an original work in front of the public. There is a permanent collection in an open-air gallery, which now has more than 90 sculptures, which can be visited at any time on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. The festival is accompanied by introductory workshops on sculpture, artist conferences, exhibitions of works and demonstrations of regional wood carving and sand sculpture.
- Fromagerie Ile-aux-Grues, 210, chemin du Roi, Ile-aux-Grues, ☏ , fax: . Farmers co-op and artisanal cheese house.
- Café aux Quatre Vents, 126, chemin du Quai, Isle-aux-Grues, ☏ . Riverside café/restaurant near ferry, bar, ice cream, bicycle rental, ice, takeaway.
- Manoir des Érables, 220 boul Taché Est, Montmagny, ☏ . French-Canadian.
- Café-Bistro Au Coin du Monde, 130, rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste Est, Montmagny, ☏ .
- Auberge des Dunes, 118 chemin de la Basse-Ville, Isle-aux-Grues, ☏ .
- Maison du Grand Heron, 199 chemin du Rivage, L'Isle-aux-Grues. Bed and breakfast, inn, weekly cottage rentals (chalets, yurts and tee-pees).
- Auberge Chez Octave, 100, rue St-Jean-Baptiste Est, Montmagny.
- Days Inn, 218 chemin des Poirier, Montmagny.
- EconoLodge, 205, chemin des Poirier, Montmagny, ☏ , toll-free: , fax: . Hotel with 48 rooms, pool, hot tub, restaurant, bar. $100+.
- Hôtel Centre-Ville, 3 boulevard Taché Est, Montmagny, toll-free: .
Wi-fi is available at McDonald's (85 Boul Taché E, Montmagny).