Grasett Park - Historical Background
In the summer of 1847, at a time when the City of Toronto had a population of no more than 20,000 inhabitants, some 38,560 Irish migrants fleeing the Great Famine landed on the city’s waterfront, many of them ill with typhus or other ailments. The administrative powers of Toronto mounted what would have been a gargantuan project to assess the new arrivals, and provide care where needed. At the center of this effort was the City’s medical profession, which had to attend to those afflicted with typhus, an incurable and often fatal illness that was rampant amongst the migrants, spread by lice aboard the over-crowded ships as they crossed the Atlantic.
The essential medical and humanitarian service provided to the newly arrived and desperate Irish migrants laid the foundation for the Canada we know today. These caregivers not only aided Irish migrants who became the ancestors of many modern-day Canadians, but also established a heritage of kindness to those less fortunate than themselves that carries on to this day. Grasett Park serve to remind local residents and visitors that the sacrifice of these individuals is not just a chapter of our past, but a legacy that enriches the present and inspires our future.
Dr. George Robert Grasett was a medical professional with a drive to help those less fortunate than himself. In addition to his own practice, he was active with the city’s House of Industry, and a founding member of the Toronto General Dispensary, which provided “medical and surgical advice and medicines to the indigent sick.” In June 1847, he secured the appointment of Chief Attending Surgeon at the newly opened Emigrant Hospital. The Emigrant Hospital had been established to serve the thousands of typhus-ridden Irish who had fled famine in Ireland and arrived in Toronto in desperate need of medical attention. On July 16th, less than a month after his appointment, Dr. Grasett succumbed to the very illness he had dedicated himself to treating. Dr. Grasett’s obituary praised him for his unceasing devotion to the “amelioration of the sufferings of his fellow men, irrespective of hire or reward.”
Dr. Grasett was not the only medical officer to die in the discharge of his or her duty.
Anne Slocumb, a nurse born in England who died on July 29th, 1847 at the age of 26.
Susan Bailey, a nurse who died of the ‘fever’ in August 1847, age 32.
William Harrison, an orderly from England who died on August 14th, 1847, at the age of 21.
Sarah Jane Sherwood, a nurse born in Ireland, who died on August 22nd, 1847, at the age of 23.
Richard Jones, a young orderly who died of the fever on August 24, 1847, and was buried the same day.
John McNabb, another young orderly at the hospital. John died of the fever on August 25, 1847, and was buried the following day.
Sarah Duggan, a nurse from Ireland who died on September 8th, 1847, at the age of 18.
Catherine Doherty, also a nurse from Ireland who died on September 22nd, 1847, at the age of 55.
Bishop Michael Power, who was appointed as the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Toronto in 1842, and witnessed the Famine in Ireland during a visit in early 1847, contracted fever while tending to the sick in Toronto, and died October 1st, 1847, at the age of 42.
Edward McElderry, an Emigrant Agent who was responsible for coordinating the initial reception of the destitute and often gravely ill Irish migrants who arrived by the hundreds each day on Dr. Rees’ Wharf in Toronto. McElderry succumbed to ‘fever’ on the 29th of October 1847.
Dr. Joseph Hamilton, another doctor in attendance at the Fever Sheds. He died of typhus fever on November 15 and was buried at St. James’ cemetery on November 17, 1847. In ‘The Medical Profession in Upper Canada 1783 -1850’, Dr. F.C. Mewburn is quoted as saying: The Doctor was a man of high attainments, most gentlemanly in manner and appearance; he had practiced in London, England as a physician; but came to Canada in 1835 and commenced farming at Queenston. His only connection to the profession was in consultation, and his opinion was highly valued. He moved to Toronto; died in the discharge of his duty there, having contracted typhus at the Emigrant Hospital.”