Just offshore at the foot of Water Street in Saint John, New Brunswick lays Partridge Island, considered one of the best-kept historical secrets in the country.
Opened as a quarantine station in 1785, 100 years before Ellis Island, an estimated three million people passed through the Partridge Island checkpoint on their way to a new life in the New World. The first quarantine hospital on the island opened in 1830.
When the quarantine station closed in 1941, thirteen hospitals and six graveyards had been established.
Today, the only way to visit the 24 acre parcel of land is by boat. A breakwater connecting the island to the mainland controls the power of the Bay of Fundy currents and tides but is not accessible to pedestrians. In fact, access to the federally owned island–via the breakwater or by sea–is forbidden, with trespassers subject to penalty.
Equally as sad, the only way to get a glimpse of the isle is through a pair of binoculars from the mainland – ironically, from a new Irish Memorial erected at the foot of Water Street.
It would make sense to visit the Memorial where the Irish landed, where they were quarantined, where they died. The Quarantine Station at Grosse Ile in the St. Lawrence northeast of Quebec City has dedicated the entire island to remembering the dead. Why not Partridge Island, too?