Museum of Health Care
Peter Gower talks to us about Kingston in 1867.
I think, as most cities at that time, it was probably a divided population.
It was the very rich and the workers who were maybe not totally poor but certainly didn’t have any disposable income at all. If you look at the photograph of Market Square on Confederation date, with the proclamation being read, you see there The King Street group, we could call them that. Well dressed, it’s a hot summer’s day, but the men are wearing their suits, the women are in those full-length dresses, hats, parasols, etc, and they would have come from the large houses, which we still see on King Street: three or four floors, several generations of families living in them, stables and carriage place at the back, which you can access through the the archway, and servants down in the basement who would be responsible for food and for keeping everything clean.
The next street over, and this always fascinates me about Kingston, was Ontario Street. Ontario Street was the exact opposite: It was the manufacturing street, it had the locomotive works, it had the shipbuilding yards, and it was something one said it was bars and brothels and boarding houses of the lowest kind. Those people are not evident in that picture of Market Square, probably because the entertainment that day being a mock battle in Vera Field and then races down on City Park, and I think that’s where those people were: far away from from the formality that was happening in Market Square. It’s also of course a military town, the British Army has been here over 50 years and will stay just for a few more years, another five years.
There was a lot of military involved, and there had been a lot of navel, though this was was rapidly fading out. Kingston had it’s specialties in ships, and in the military, but otherwise it was that incredible split between the rich and those who worked for the rich. What it had been very very good, as I said there would be locomotive works, engineering works, there have been a lot of shipbuilding and ship repair. It was transshipment Center for many years as goods were brought from the West from both the United States, and from Western Canada through Lake Ontario. Those boats could not go up the St. Lawrence, which was rocky, and so the goods would have to be transferred: so they’d come in to Kingston, be put on smaller boats that could run in the river. So there was quite a business of a transshipment here.
Now 1867 is a time when the St. Lawrence’s canals are being added, it’s being deepened, and very slowly that transshipment business disappears, and boats now may stop at Kingston, but certainly the trade isn’t needed here.
But there were a lot of other things going on, remember it’s central town for quite a large area. It’s the only large town between Toronto, and Montreal. Ottawa has not yet truly developed. So it is the place where there are tenors, a lot of printing houses for publications, woodworkers, there were breweries as well, an enormous number of breweries came here over the years. So that was sort of the economy but it was just slowly starting to deteriorate. The shipping was stopping, and it just didn’t keep up with other places in Ontario, and in Quebec.
The newspapers are not written for that lower class of people, they’re written for the highly educated people. A newspaper at the time was solid reading: you didn’t have pictures, you didn’t have photographs. So there’s an awful lot of, I think probably, quite detailed description of what is happening but it doesn’t tell you what people are enjoying really. Confederation came almost as a shock. It wasn’t approved by Queen Victoria until the end of March, so it’s only three months before the day. The newspaper reports said in the week before, the first of July was on Monday and as late as the Wednesday, Kingston had a celebration committee run by the mayor and it was still deciding what it would do on the 1st of July. There was a great discussion: they knew they wanted fireworks but they didn’t know who provide the fireworks, whether they should buy them locally, or whether they should get them from New York City.
So I get the feeling it was quite a liked, put together event. Programs did not appear until that morning, for the first of July. At the same time I’m sure the people must have been excited that suddenly we’re our own country. They’ve seen or they had heard of this happening in the United States, and how it took a revolution there for it to become its own country. They must have been pleased that Canada became a country without any of that going on. And yet I wonder if they realize how reliant they would be to Westminster for another fifty, sixty years.
There were certainly celebrations on Confederation Day, but I wonder how much of that was because they wanted to celebrate and have fun at the races, the regatta, and amongst the fireworks.
Well there were two hospitals, basically. KGH had been built in the 1830s, and it didn’t open until 1845. The religious hospital’s of St. Joseph had also started a hospital at the request of the Catholic bishop up on Brock Street, in a building which still exists there. However, in general, people would stay at home if they were ill. They would be looked after in their own homes by their own family. It was only when the illness was, I think probably contagious that was when they would be moved out into a hospital. Probably with the expectation that they would not return home. There were also a number of benevolent societies, which I think was set up as much as anything because of the two difficult times with with typhus and cholera, when the city was simply overwhelmed, and the reaction to those is simply to build sheds. I’m not sure what shed means but it certainly doesn’t suggest a particularly hospitable place. Sheds on the waterfront where those people who were suffering from an infectious disease would be put to keep them away from the rest of population.
In 1862 the Watkins Wing is the first new wing is built on the hospital, and it’s specifically for those with contagious diseases. It would be one big ward, so you’re not in individual rooms. And of course you have to pay, so that immediately cut out an awful lot of people who possibly needed hospital care.
So the hospitals were starting, but they hadn’t really got very far. The Board of Health was established as early as 1832, but I suspect that it was more administrative for what to do with the immigrants who were coming in already sick. It doesn’t seem to have done too much good except to keep people alert that things did need to be done, and to rely on people’s charitable outlooks to give money to the various groups that were trying to help.
I think the big notice the big thing you would see will be the dirt and probably the smell that went along with the dirt. We were interested here a couple of years ago when a movie was filmed in Market Square set in about 1900.
And first thing they did was cover the whole area with dirt, and dust, and earth. I don’t think people quite believed, but you need to remember that there was no pavement on the roads, it would be muddy roads. Animals ran everywhere, so there will be their droppings, their food, when they died they would just be left until whatever happened to them happened, and also heating was by coal so there were large piles of coal around town. The dust on that coal would blow around, and the smoke that the coal fires produced would be all around as well.
So I think it would be dirty, I think that would be the biggest shock that that you have. Interestingly Kingston’s buildings have not changed that much, and I suspect that you would probably, in a lot of cases, be able to recognize exactly where you were when you got out of your time machine. But as soon as you started trying to walk down that muddy, sloppy, messy street then you’d know that you really were 150 years back.