Kingston's Cholera Epidemic

1831-1854
Unveiling of memorial cross commemorating the Irish immigrants who died of cholera in 1849 in 1909. Source: Library and Archives Canada.Pinterest
Unveiling of memorial cross commemorating the Irish immigrants who died of cholera in 1849 in 1909. Source: Library and Archives Canada.

From 1831 to 1854, five major cholera epidemics were responsible for the deaths of nearly 10 per cent of Kingston’s inhabitants. Cholera is now understood as an infection often spread through unsanitary drinking water containing the bacterium Virbio cholerae, but in the first half of the 1800s, doctors and scientists in a pre-germ-theory world, could not agree on its cause though there was general agreement that unsanitary conditions were somehow to blame.

Cholera was stigmatized as a condition of the lower classes. However, as immigration ships arrived in Kingston carrying upper class passengers with the same illness, perceptions shifted slightly. At first ships were quarantined for three days at Grosse Ile, Quebec, believing the “virus” would simply run its course, and with a quick “purification” (forcing lower class passengers to bathe) the ships were allowed to proceed to Kingston and beyond. Arriving in Kingston, many passengers were once again quarantined, often until their deaths, in fever sheds along the Cataraqui River.

Tags: