Downtown dig tied to city’s Irish Famine tragedy

Date: 6 October, 2006 Source: History Television


An archeological dig at the corner of King and John Streets that began yesterday could provide important clues to one of the greatest untold stories in the history of Toronto.

With permission from the landowner, filmmaker Ivan Reitman, as well as The Daniels Corporation, which is building the new Toronto International Film Festival Centre at the site, Toronto’s Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI) began a five-day excavation project looking for evidence of the massive wave of Irish Famine immigrants who came to Toronto in 1847.

The work being carried out is of particular interest to Ballinran Productions, which is producing a documentary on the impact of the Irish Famine on Toronto for History Television. The documentary will tell the story of how 38,000 Irish Famine immigrants landed in the city between May and October of 1847. The influx of these Irish immigrants, many of them sick and starving, almost doubled the city’s population of 20,000 and the impact was overwhelming. Fever sheds, hastily constructed, were located at King and John on the grounds of Toronto’s first hospital.

“I’ve been fascinated with Irish history for years, so to be able to document a compelling story like this is a remarkable opportunity,” says Craig Thompson, executive producer of Ballinran Productions, which is co-producing the documentary in association with Dublin-based Tile Films Ltd.

Thompson’s inspiration for the film came initially from the Ireland Park Foundation, a charitable organization which is creating a Toronto waterfront park to commemorate the arrival of the Irish Famine immigrants and honour their contributions to the city.

The film will take viewers inside one of the greatest humanitarian crises of the 19th century – a story that reveals the heroes and the villains, the opportunistic and the saintly, the tragedies and the triumphs.

“This is an exciting project for us,” says Cindy Witten, Vice President of Content for History Television. “It’s a terrific opportunity to participate in original research and investigate our untold history.”

ASI is the largest archaeological consulting company in the province and is licensed by the Ontario Ministry of Culture to conduct archaeological research on sites of all time periods throughout the entire province.

“The archaeological investigations at King and John are intended to locate any remains of Toronto’s first hospital, built in 1819-1820, as well as remains of any of the 1847 ‘fever sheds’ that may have been located adjacent to the hospital building,” says Ron Williamson, Senior Archaeologist and Managing Partner, ASI. “There is no evidence to suggest that anyone who died at the hospital during the typhus epidemic of 1847 was buried on the site.”

Ballinran Productions Limited has been specializing in factual and lifestyle programming since 1993.

History Television is an Alliance Atlantis Network. For historical background and on-going coverage of the dig, please visit


Nancy McDonald
Publicist, Ballinran Productions Limited
(519) 271-6737

Diane Sewell
Publicist, Ballinran Productions Limited
(519) 272-0735

Ken Tracey
Media Contact
Ireland Park Foundation
(416) 725-9670

Rupinder Gill
Communications Coordinator
History Television
(416) 934-7853

Tina Novotny
Communications Manager
History Television
(416) 934-4697