The making of Ireland Park dates back to 1995, when Robert G. Kearns first viewed Rowan Gillespie’s ‘Departure’ series of famine sculptures 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 Customs House Quay on the north side of the River Liffey and depict Irish Famine migrants making their way to embark upon their journey to a new land. Deeply moved by the sculptures in Dublin, Robert Kearns invited Rowan Gillespie to create a new group of sculptures for the Toronto waterfront, depicting their arrival in Canada. An historic and artistic link was thereby created between the waterfront of Toronto and the waterfront of Dublin.
The seven sculptures that stand on the dockside in Dublin are reduced to five on the Toronto waterfront. This speaks to the tragic loss of life on the north Atlantic, as well as upon arrival in Grosse Isle, Montreal and Toronto.
In July 2000, with the help of then-Councilor 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 migrants of 1847. This was an ideal site due to its historical significance to the famine—just west of Dr. Reese’s Wharf, where the migrants had landed, and just south of the intersection of Bathurst and Front Streets, where the convalescent hospital was located.
Since that time, Kearns 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 the Canada Ireland Foundation.
Today, we are thrilled to present to you Ireland Park and the “Arrival” sculptures.
While it is centrally located on the Toronto Waterfront, Eireann Quay (formally Bathurst Quay) is also a place somewhat removed. The busy summer traffic of ferries, sailboats and other pleasure craft are visible a short distance to the east, yet it is a place where a visitor can embrace the solemnity of the Irish Famine Memorial without interruption and distraction. The newly developed Dock Wall adjacent to the Park, allows for an unparalleled vista of both the ever developing skyline and the tranquil lakeshore beyond. The new Waterfront Trail winds past the site and continues along the soon to be built North Facing Dock Wall.
Lake Ontario forms the southern and eastern boundary while the adjacent Canada Malting Company grain elevators tower over the site to the north. These old repositories of abundant grain harvests stand in stark contrast to the plight of the emigrants and the land they left behind in Ireland.
The southeast corner of Bathurst Quay pre-construction of Ireland Park.