McMaster University

History of
Health Care in Hamilton

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Burlington Heights

Burlington Heights and the Emigrant Hospitals

Beginning in the 1830's large numbers of immigrants came by ship to Canada from Great Britain fleeing poverty and famine. Hamilton was one of the port towns where they landed. Many arrived sick with contagious diseases such as typhus, smallpox and cholera. At this time Hamilton did not have a municipal hospital to provide medical treatment for these poor people. During the War of 1812, Burlington Heights had been a military encampment for the British army. The former barracks were opened up to house the sick and the dying.Cholera in particular killed a large number of new immigrants and resident Hamiltonians. They were all buried on the Heights where there was already a military cemetery.

Realizing that the quarters on the Heights were inadequate, the Board of Police, the governing body before the City of Hamilton was incorporated in 1846, set up temporary buildings on the bayshore to hospitalize the sick immigrants. These buildings were down by the docks where the ships came in, at the northeast corner of Brock and Catharine Streets. This area is now part of Eastwood Park. This spared the town the expense of transporting the sick and presumably contained the illnesses. The buildings operated for 17 years and finally closed in November 1849. The patients were transferred to Hamilton's first municipal hospital, which had opened a year earlier.

Extracted from Gore District Board of Health Report, August 6, 1832

"Resolved: that the present cholera hospital at the Burlington Heights, from its distance from Hamilton and its landing places (where the disease most frequently occurs) and the scarcity of medical gentlemen, is not suitable for the reception of such patients, and that it is absolutely necessary that a hospital for cholera patients be established in the immediate neighbourhood of the town."...

"Resolved: that as soon as the new cholera hospital is fit for reception of patients, the one now set apart as such be discontinued as a hospital (the barracks on Burlington Heights), and after being well lime-washed and otherwise purified, it be set apart as a place of shelter for newly arrived until they can provide themselves with other residence."