Doukhobors Quarantined at Grosse Isle, 1899

by Koozma J. Tarasoff

From 1832 to 1937, the quarantine station at Grosse Isle, Quebec treated sick immigrants and prevented the spread of infectious diseases along the Laurentian gateway to Canada. The following article describes the quarantine of Doukhobor immigrants at Grosse Isle in June 1899. Adapteded from Koozma J. Tarasoff’s articles, New Information on S.S. Lake Huron Which Brought the Last Group of Russian Doukhobors to Canada in June 1899 in ISKRA No.1865 (Grand Forks: U.S.C.C., January 13, 1999) and Parks Canada Unveils Interpretive Panel on Grosse Ile Commemorating the Doukhobors Arrival in Quarantine in 1899 in ISKRA No.1878 (Grand Forks: U.S.C.C., September 15, 1999).

On January 20th, 1899, the S.S. Lake Huron brought the first of four shiploads of Doukhobor passengers to the Canadian shores. After stopping at Lawlor’s Island near Halifax for official Quarantine inspection, the immigrants proceeded to St. John, New Brunswick on January 24th for departure west on seven trains. The S.S. Lake Huron returned to Russia and brought the fourth and largest group of migrants (totalling 7,500 with the earlier three shiploads) to Canada in 1899. The ship was detained at Grosse Isle Quarantine Station in the St. Lawrence because of several cases of small pox.

Parks Canada historian Andre Charbonneau and his colleagues have kindly provided us with some very useful information about this last shipload. For example, they discovered that some of the Doukhobors built a “sweat-house similiar to those of the Indians”. According to a medical history report, the naked body was exposed to steam formed by throwing heated stones on a tub of water – similiar to a Russian banya, and then the participant threw himself into cold water. The effect was often beneficial.

In his letter, Dr. Charbonneau describes the critical happenings connected with the last shipload of Russian Doukhobor migrants:

According to our sources, the Lake Huron left Batum on Friday May 12, 1899 and arrived at Grosse Isle on Tuesday June 6, 1899, at 4 p.m. with 2,275 passengers and 68 crew members.

Quarantine Hospital at Grosse Isle, Quebec

When the vessel arrived, the inspecting physician went on board; the vessel medical doctor and the captain reported a case of smallpox. This diagnoses was confirmed and the sick person was transported to the hospital. Then the whole vessel, including all passengers and crew members, were quarantined.

Next morning, a meticulous medical inspection found 11 new cases of smallpox and the following day 5 others. In all, 11 Doukhobors and 6 crew members were found sick. At least 47 persons from the Lake Huron were detained in the hospital. The remaining passengers (around 2,230) and the crew members (62) were detained in quarantine and went through the process of quarantine disinfection, which took 5 days.

It is difficult to determine the exact quarantine period. Usually it follows the incubation period depending on the sickness. With smallpox, it is fixed at 14 days. The last case of smallpox observed from the Lake Huron occurred on June 12. The passengers and crew members started to be released on June 28th according to the importance of the cases.

Here are a few dates related to the detention of the Lake Huron at Grosse Ile:

  • On June 16, the Lake Huron left Grosse Isle and was brought to Quebec City with local crew members. The ship manifest presented to the Officers of the Port indicated that there were 6 deaths and 2 births at sea;
  • On June 21, 31 pieces of luggage from the Lake Huron were transported to Quebec;
  • On June 28, the 62 crew members detained in observation were released;
  • On July 2, the S.S. Steamer Queen started to transport to Quebec City all the passengers in the Health Division. The first passengers arrived on the following day and the remaining group on July 4. All the passengers disembarked at the Quebec reception center, located on the Bassin Louise embankment near the C.P.R. station;
  • On Wednesday July 26, the hospitalized crew members were released from the quarantine hospital;
  • On Saturday July 29, the remaining passengers (about 37 persons) were also released from the hospital after recovery.

According to the Hospital register, 4 Doukhobors stayed at Grosse Isle after July 30. They completed their convalescence at the Health Division. Sources: Canada, Sessional Documents (French version), 1900. Annual Report of Dr. G.E. Martineau, superintendant of the Quarantine Station of Grosse Isle and different Emigration Agents’ Reports. RG 29, Volume 768, File 412-13-19. RG 17, AV, Vol. 2434. Lake Huron’s ship manifest.

Dr. Charbonneau recorded the following list of Doukhobors who died at sea on the S.S. Lake Huron: Agrafena Strelyaev (65), Varvara Vereshchagin (54), Praskovia Parakhin (5), Grigorii Chevildeev (8), Anastasia Novokshonov (62) and Marfa Markov (40). Those born at sea were listed as Anna Huron Kuznetsov and Ivan Tarasov.

2nd Class Quarantine Hotel at Grosse Isle, Quebec

The following Doukhobors were hospitalized at Grosse Isle: Ivan Bondarev (14), Nikolai Bondarev (56), Feodor Bondarev (12), Ivan Bondarev (39), Vasily Dyakov (2), Matrona Fofanov (25), Feodor Fofanov (85), Anna Malov (24), Anna Malov (50), Feodor Malov (1.5), Vasilisa Nagornov (22), Alexander Nagornov (4), Daria Nagornov (12), Elizaveta Nagornov (14), Nikolai Nagornov (7), Semeon Nagornov (2), Tatiana Nagornov (45), Ivan Nagornov (45), Feodor Nagornov (10), Marfa Usachev (65), Agafia Usachev (5), Katerina Usachev (16), Maria Usachev (40), Maria Usachev (4), Praskovia Usachev (28), Pelagea Ozerov (65), Maria Ozerov (40), Tatiana Ozerov (6), Maria Fedosov (3), Praskovia Fedosov (32), Alexei Popov (9), Evsey Popov (25), Maria Popov (27), Pelagea Strelyaev (10), Matrona Tarasov (33), Nikolai Tarasov (45), Feodor Tarasov (34), Nikifor Fedosov (7), Ivan Fedosov (40), Maria Fofanov (48), Mikhailo Fofanov (48), Anastasia Voikin (?) and Evdokia Voikin (5).

Seven Doukhobors died in the Hospital and in the Health Division of Grosse Isle as follows: Maria Chorokow (Zharikov?) (75) died June 29th of old age, Feodor Fofanov (85) died June 27th of dysentery, Feodor Malov (1.5) died June 26th of inflammation of the lungs, Maria Pohozhev (90) died June 18th of old age, Feodor Tarasov (34) died June 26th of enteric fever, Vasilisa Teorow (Taranov?) (50) died June 15th of general weakness, Vasily Chutskov (85) died July 2nd of old age, Grigorii Chevildeev (8) died on board the Lake Huron and was buried in the Hospital cemetary on June 7th.

The S.S. Lake Huron, as the last ship, completed the largest mass migration of one group of immigrants to Canada at one time. It was a historic first.

Doukhobor Interpretive Panel Unveiled at Grosse Isle National Park, 1999

One hundred years later, long after the island had been closed for quarantine, Parks Canada on August 8th, 1999 unveiled an interpretive plaque commemorating the Doukhobors quarantine on Grosse Isle. The plaque, unveiled by Parks Coordinator Odette Allaire, reads as follows:

“On June 6, 1899, 2,275 Doukhobor immigrants were forced to disembark at Grosse Isle. The presence of several cases of smallpox on board the Lake Huron, which left a Russian port 23 days before, necessitated completely disinfecting the ship, vaccinating all passengers and keeping them under observation.

More than 7,500 Doukhobors arrived in Canada that year, followed by a series of smaller groups until 1912. Fleeing the religious and political repression then occurring in Transcaucasia, these immigrants took advantage of the opening of the Canadian West to settlement. They located in Saskatchewan for the most part.

Today, Canada numbers close to 40,000 descendants of the Doukhobors.”

For more information about Grosse Isle and its role as a quarantine station from 1832 to 1937 for the Port of Québec, the main entrance for immigrants to Canada until the First World War., visit the Parks Canada Grosse Isle National Park website.