Mary Ann Aldis (1794-1889)

Arrival in Quebec and Quarantine at Grosse Ile

Quebec harbour 1840
Quebec harbour 1840

From 1832 until 1937 Grosse Ile was a quarantine station for the Port of Quebec which was the main arrival site for immigrants entering Canada. In little over a century, more than four million people passed through the Port of Quebec, some 696,000 between 1829 and 1851 of whom the largest proportion was Irish. Between 1832 and 1839 arrivals at Quebec totalled 171,288, an annual average of 21,411, of whom 2554 were hospitalised (annual average 319) and 462 were buried (annual average 58). Young Mary Ann might have been one of these unfortunates, but in the absence of detailed records before 1850 we cannot know.

Another contemporary drawing of ships arriving in Quebec Harbour in 1840 depicts a very idealised scene. Everything seems too calm and orderly. The reality, surely, must have been different: full of hustle and bustle, some confusion if not actual chaos, with many weary, anxious, even sick passengers trying to discover what to do and where to go. Fortunately, the “1832 Emigrants Handbook for Arrivals at Quebec” has survived in its entirety. Published by the government “for the Superintendence of Settlers and Emigrants in Upper and Lower Canada”, it was available free of charge. The first sensible admonition is to ignore “advice unsolicited” but to go to the office of the Chief Agent for Emigrants in Sault-au-Matelot Street in Lower Town. Arrivals are advised to arrange their belongings suitably, “the fewer packages the better”, and have them “well secured”. Any provisions remaining from the sea voyage can be sold “at Quebec at a profit” and fresh provisions obtained more cheaply in Montreal.

There follows advice on clothing, on appearance and cleanliness, and on disembarkation rights. Emigrants are further advised “not to loiter their valuable time at the port of landing” but to get on with their new life in Canada which offers a “sure reward for industry and good conduct”. Particular recommendations follow concerning clearing land in readiness for crops, selecting a locality for a log cabin, and patiently developing crops and increasing livestock. Money should be exchanged at a Bank, and the simple regulations regarding the postal service are made clear. There follows much detailed information with respect to all of the available destinations in Upper and Lower Canada.

It seems certain, however, that Mary Ann did not have in mind any of the destinations listed in the 1832 handbook. “The Petworth Project” informs us that by the mid 1830s the economic climate in Upper Canada had worsened. Many emigrants opted to go instead to America. The situation, already bad, was aggravated by the 1836 economic crisis in Britain and the U.S.A., resulting in opposition to the conservative-dominated local government. Perhaps Mary Ann had always been intent on making her way south to America and settled only by chance in Chatham, Kent, Ontario which was in the very early stages of development. Whether by design or accident, in Chatham she settled and bought property, and in Chatham she remained for the rest of her long life, dying there in 1889 at the age of 95. Her sons also remained in Chatham. Robert died the 24th of December 1843, aged 24; but Salem Goldworth and Alfred both married, eventually, and had a total of 19 children between them. Salem died the 6th of April 1886, aged 65, and Alfred the 29th of September 1896, aged 74.

Early Map of Chatham: An early map of Chatham, showing the impressive Aldis timber works on the river on the right of the map.An early map of Chatham, showing the impressive Aldis timber works on the river on the right of the map.