Fergus Keyes walks through a parking lot near the Victoria Bridge, but unlike any other in the city, he considers this piece of land to be sacred ground.
Underneath the concrete lies the 150-year-old remains of thousands of Irish immigrants.
“Since 1907, Irish Montrealers have been asking for this space to be developed into a proper memorial space, but nothing has ever happened,” said Keyes, who is the director of the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation.
He wants the land converted into a park and memorial.
In 1847, during the Irish Famine, 100,000 Irish immigrants came to Canada, but many contracted typhus and died.
“Six-thousand [people] were dying over a period of a couple of months,” Keyes said.
“In the end, they were being trenched, the bodies were being thrown in.”
Crown corporation Canada Lands Company (CLC) owns the land.
Keyes had asked the company to donate it to his group or the city, but told Global News he just found out the corporation sold the land to a developer.
“We have asked on numerous occasions, ‘what kind of development?’ but for some reason, they feel they don’t have to tell us who they sold the land to and what they plan to do with it,” Keyes said.
The CLC said in a statement the property is under contract for sale, but would provide few other details, despite Hydro-Quebec confirming to Global News that it bought the land.
The contract has an obligation to include a future Irish heritage commemoration, but did not say what that is.
“On a personal level, I would find it both disrespectful and insulting, not just to the Irish community, but to all of Montreal,” said Keyes.
There is an existing memorial across the street from the parking lot, known as the Black Rock, erected in 1859.
“We don’t believe it’s a proper memorial. It’s a small space, it sits in the middle of a bloody highway, it’s dangerous to get to,” he said.
Keyes hopes Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre will intervene.
“Clearly what happened in those days is important to commemorate, so we will take a look at it,” Coderre said.
The CLC confirmed its deal will close in July and there will be some sort of park on site, but Keyes argued he won’t be satisfied if any part of the land doesn’t respect what’s buried below.