The Murals of Legal, Alberta (Part 4)

The mural I am showing you today sparked my curiosity. It makes reference to the famine that affected Ireland in the 1850s. I was taught that it was called the Irish Potato Famine because a fungal infestation decimated the potato crop for about seven or eight years. This mural, however, suggests a more sinister history.

Mural depicting Irish immigration, Legal, Alberta

As you will see from the detail, the artist includes a statement that describes the tragedy as “an artificial famine”, which got me wondering about its causes. I found a website from History.com which explains that at the same time that the potato crop failed, corn and bread had become prohibitively expensive, thus causing famine among Irish tenant farmers.

Mural showing Irish Immigration, Legal, Alberta

In addition, because most of the land was owned by the English, Ireland continued to export large quantities of food (peas, beans, rabbits, fish and honey) to England, which escalated the crisis. This is probably what the artist meant by describing it as an artificial famine. Hundreds of thousands of people died from starvation and disease caused by malnutrition.

During this period, those who could emigrated to North America and some sent children without their parents. The journey was long and arduous and the refugees did not all survive. Those who managed to get to Canada arrived at Grosse Isle in Quebec, where priests and nurses would try to heal the sick. The hospital, church, and cemetery are depicted in the mural

Detail from mural depicting Irish immigration, Legal, Alberta

As a consequence, there were many Irish orphans, and Quebecois families adopted them. This mural indicates that the children’s heritage was respected and preserved.

Although the history of the famine is even worse than I previously knew, my faith in human nature is restored by knowing that complete strangers adopted those foreign orphans and helped them to preserve their culture.

The mural shows both the Irish and Quebec flags, people of both nations, and potatoes and their roots around the border. The artist is not named.

2 Comments

  1. I had missed this post. The history and the people are well remembered and honored with these murals. Better for me, than lost in the pages of a history book. Perhaps not for someone like Lee who will spend time learning history and the stories, but for the rest of us, this is wonderful.

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