Hungerford smallpox epidemic of 1884 commemorated with provincial plaque

TWEED, ON, Oct. 22 /CNW/ - Today, the Ontario Heritage Trust and the Tweed & Area Historical Society unveiled a provincial plaque commemorating the Hungerford smallpox epidemic of 1884.

Smallpox was a common affliction in late 19th-century Ontario. With uneven practices in vaccination and rudimentary isolation facilities, outbreaks of epidemic smallpox were inevitable and unpredictable. In the late 1880s, a series of smallpox epidemics - in Windsor, Ayr, Peterborough, Prince Arthur's Landing and Hungerford Township - had a profound effect on the development of public health measures and services in the province. These epidemics challenged Ontario's new Provincial Board of Health, a central advisory group of medical professionals appointed by the government in 1882.

"The development of a provincial approach to healthcare has had a profound impact on the lives of Ontarians," said The Honourable Lincoln M. Alexander, Chairman of the Ontario Heritage Trust. "This provincial plaque commemorates the tragedy in Hungerford and its role in the origins of our healthcare system."

Prior to the Hungerford epidemic of 1884, responsibility for dealing with threats to the health of Ontario's population was divided among various levels of government and community organizations. The Hungerford crisis was the first serious epidemic Ontario faced under its new regime of locally enforced, consolidated health laws. As reports of the outbreak reached surrounding areas, there was acute concern about a general epidemic in the province. Before it was fully under control, the Hungerford epidemic claimed the lives of over 45 residents and more than 200 people were infected in the community.

"The smallpox epidemic of the late 1800s affected many communities across Ontario," said Culture Minister Aileen Carroll. "The management of the Hungerford smallpox epidemic was a critical breakthrough in the provision of public healthcare in this province."

The success of epidemic control in Hungerford minimized the spread of smallpox to other centres of population and emphasized the importance of reliable supplies, quality vaccine, skilful vaccinators and enforced isolation. The following year, techniques employed in Hungerford were used on an even wider scale to protect against the spread of smallpox during a Montreal epidemic. The Public Board of Health's aggressive actions in response to these smallpox epidemics transformed Ontario's public health network and challenged traditional attitudes, becoming the catalyst for the provision of direct health services by the provincial government.

"The tragedy of the 1884 smallpox epidemic in Hungerford Township, with its terror, panic and deaths, devastated the local community. However, from this suffering and grief came an enlightened approach to the treatment of such epidemics, thereby sparing other communities afterwards a similar fate," said Evan Morton, Curator of the Tweed & Area Heritage Centre. "This plaque will serve as a highly visible, permanent reminder of the horrifying event and of its contribution to the formulation of official attitudes and policies, which we take for granted today."

The Ontario Heritage Trust is an agency of the Government of Ontario, dedicated to identifying, preserving, protecting and promoting Ontario's heritage.

    
    Quick Facts:

    -   The Ontario Heritage Trust's Provincial Plaque Program commemorates
        significant people, places and events in Ontario's history.
    -   Since 1953, over 1,200 provincial plaques have been unveiled.

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SOURCE Ontario Heritage Trust

For further information: For further information: Catrina Colme, Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Ontario Heritage Trust, Telephone: (416) 325-5074, E-mail: catrina.colme@heritagetrust.on.ca


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