Disasters and Calamities, 1840-1867
The government inspector's office
Anonyme - Anonymous
1850, 19th century
Ink on newsprint - Wood engraving
10.6 x 14.8 cm
© McCord Museum
Keywords: Figure (1339) , Figure (1339) , Print (10661)
Keys to History
In the 19th century, large epidemics incurred terrible losses in Canada. Cholera decimated 3 500 people in Quebec City in 1832. Typhus claimed more than 5 000 victims in the single year of 1847 at the quarantine station on Grosse Île, near Quebec City. The overcrowded and unsanitary boats that brought the British immigrants to Canada were breeding grounds for epidemics. To prevent the spread of disease on the continent, cities through which immigrants passed in large numbers, such as Quebec City, made arrangements to have passengers undergo a medical exam. In Lower Canada, a Central Health Board was set up in 1854, but it did not have enough authority to effectively fight problems of public hygiene. Only at the end of the century did Ontario (1882) and Quebec (1885) set up a permanent agency for this purpose.
The authorities had to set up an inspection and quarantine system so as to prevent the spread of epidemics and to reassure the anxious population who, in some cities, attacked the hospitals where contaminated people were being treated.
The cities of Quebec, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto and St. John were affected by the great typhus epidemic of 1847, which made more than 20 000 victims.
From the 17th century, typhus claimed thousands of victims in Canada, but in 1847, the disease was more virulent. Cholera was introduced into the country in 1832 and claimed more victims in 1834, 1849, 1851, 1852, 1854 and 1881.
The victims of the great epidemics of the 19th century were mostly Irish immigrants who had come here following the great famine caused by disastrous harvests.