Statement made on 14 May 2010 by Senator Dennis Dawson
Hon. Dennis Dawson:
Honourable senators, yesterday the Irish community of Quebec City, Quebec and, indeed, all of Canada laid to rest a great contributor to the Irish heritage of our country. I am sure that Madam Suzanne Duplessis would join with me — we were both MPs in the same riding in Quebec City — in agreeing that Marianna O'Gallagher, who died last week, deserves, by far, the title of "the greatest Irish Canadian of Quebec City."
Her writings encouraged many to study the history of the Irish in Canada. Her work in the research and promotion of the Irish culture in Canada was recognized and respected not only in Quebec and Canada but also in Ireland.
In addition to being the author of several books on the subject — Grosse Île: Gateway to Canada, Eyewitness: Grosse Île 1847 and The Shamrock Trail — Ms. O'Gallagher was also the recipient of both the Ordre national du Quebec in 1988 and the Order of Canada in 2002; and on several occasions Irish heads of state and foreign officials have visited in her company.
She left us with a substantial list of contributions beyond the written word. When I was first elected as a member of Parliament in the other place in 1977, 33 years ago last week, I was subject to her immediate lobbying on behalf of the Irish community.
I knew Marianna. I had the pleasure to know her because she was a teacher where I went to school and where I later in life became chairman of the school board. She came to visit my campaign office following the election and, even before I was sworn in as an MP, started to lobby me — yes, it is an honourable thing to do — on behalf of the Irish community to create and later promote the Grosse Île committee that she had formed many years before.
She came to me favouring the concept of giving access to this sad but important doorway to Canada. She succeeded beyond anyone's dreams, humanizing Grosse Île's history with victims' personal anecdotes brought forward through the meticulous historical research for which she was famous.
Thanks to her, not only do we have the access that was denied before, but today Grosse Île, the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada, is recognized as one of Canada's greatest landmarks for its contribution to Irish heritage and to Canada's link with the past.
Time after time, she asked me to visit the site with her and I mistakenly declined. She was and will remain our best guide to that chapter of our history.
As a descendant of a family that arrived on Grosse Île during that period, I always felt strong affection for what she was doing. I also live around the corner from the O'Gallagher family home in Sainte-Foy and held many political events in their old home that was later transformed into a popular restaurant.
Two months ago, Ms. O'Gallagher finished her illustrious career by serving as Grand Marshall at this year's revival of Quebec City's St. Patrick's Day parade. Yes, you heard me right — Quebec City's St. Patrick's Day parade. It shows the extent of the involvement of the Irish community in Quebec, and it was all done in an environment unique to Quebec.
That all happened in cooperation with francophones in the Quebec City region, who exemplify multilingual and multicultural cooperation in Canada.
I was my personal pleasure to know her from my childhood until her death and to work with other members of her family, who are also outstanding examples of integration and collaboration among speakers of different languages in Quebec.
Please join me in thanking Marianna O'Gallagher for her contribution to our history.