The Irish Laborers and the New Basin Canal
In 1830, American businessmen in New Orleans decided to build a shipping channel from
Lake Pontchartrain to the American sector of the city to compete with the established
Carondelet Canal in the French section.  Construction of the New Basin Canal began in
1832 with a work force consisting almost entirely of Irish immigrants.  (Newly arrived and
desperate for jobs, these were the men who would work for the least amount of pay.)
The work was back-breaking, the hours long and, because of the canal's path through
the swamp, yellow fever, cholera, malaria and other diseases were rampant among
the laborers.  The pay was one dollar a day.  By the time the canal was finished six years
later, betwen 8,000 - 20,000 Irish immigrants had died in the effort.  (The exact figure will
never be known because no records were kept, but some have estimated the toll may
have been as high as 30,000.)
The men worked when they were sick, fearing the loss of the job if they missed a day.  For
this reason, many of the deaths occurred at the work site.  They fell where they worked and,
usually, the bodies were left there - just pushed to the side and buried in the canal's levee
or in the roadway fill next to it.  No family member to whisper goodbyes, no priests to offer
prayers and no marker to indicate that a life had ever been lived.
The canal was a success for the business interests who invested in it.  It was used until the
1940's, when shipping methods had changed and it was no longer needed.  It was filled in
and now serves as the neutral ground between Pontchartrain and West End Boulevards.
In 1990, a memorial in the form of a Celtic cross was dedicated to the memory of the workers.
The Irish Ambassador to the U.S. attended the ceremony.  The cross stands at the end of
West End Boulevard, a memorial to the thousands of men who perished in the 1830's.
It reads:  "In memory of the Irish immigrants who dug the New Basin Canal, 1832-1838, this
Celtic cross carved in Ireland has been erected by the Irish Cultural Society of New Orleans."
This page is dedicated to the memory of the Irish laborers who dug the New Basin Canal.
Their names are unknown, but their sacrifices are remembered.  -- Nancy
Memorial, West End Boulevard
New Basin Canal at Lake Pontchartrain, ca. 1909.  The buildings in the background in the
center and right are part of the old West End resort.  The New Canal lighthouse can be seen
to the left; destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, construction has begun to rebuild it.
New Basin Canal, early 1940's