The Making of IRELAND PARK TORONTO Memorial

The making of Ireland Park dates back 19 years when Robert G. Kearns first viewed Rowan Gillespie’s “Departure” series of famine figures in Dublin. These sculptures were donated by Norma Smurfit of the Smurfit Foundation to the people of Ireland and the citizens of Dublin in 1997 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the famine. These seven sculptures stand on the Liffey quayside and depict Irish famine immigrants looking out towards the sea, awaiting their departure on famine ships to take them to a new land. It was always the wish of Rowan Gillespie and Norma Smurfit to have a reciprocal memorial in North America that would reflect the journey the immigrants took to those new lands, hence the “Arrival.”

 

The vision of Kearns, coupled with the collective interests of Smurfit and Gillespie, created an instant partnership. What better place to create a reciprocal memorial than Toronto, Ontario where more than 38,000 immigrants arrived in pitiful conditions over the course of six months during “Black ’47.”

Gillespie agreed to create the new sculptures as long as an appropriate waterfront location was secured. Kearns met with Terry Smith, Ontario’s Deputy Minister of Culture at the time and a kindred spirit who had also seen the sculptures in Dublin. Smith suggested a visit to the City’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation Department to seek approval for a spot of land. In July 2000, with the help of then-Councillor Olivia Chow, Toronto City Council ratified a proposal to make the southeast corner of Bathurst Quay available for a memorial park to honour the Irish famine immigrants of 1847. This was an ideal site due to its historical significance to the famine—just west of Reese’s Wharf, where the immigrants landed, and just south of the intersection of Bathurst and Front Streets, where the fever sheds were located.

Since that time, Kearns has assembled a board of directors from across the city of both Canadian and Irish backgrounds. The park, designed by Jonathan M. Kearns, has been planned and built, and funds of $3.5 million raised to cover the costs and endow the park. This park has been built with Irish and Canadian minds and hands, and a determination to complete the vision and mandate created by the directors of Ireland Park Foundation.

Today, we are thrilled to present to you Ireland Park and the “Arrival” sculptures.

May the park be a tranquil place to remember the past to save the future.

The Board of Directors, Ireland Park Foundation

 

 

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