Dark Moments in Ottawa History- Porter Island

Dark Moments in Ottawa History- Porter Island

images (8).jpegPublic Archives- MIKAN 3318778 —Smallpox tents on Porter Island, circa 1895-1911. William James Topley Small Pox Shack served as the hospital

There was a time was when the Ottawa’s facilities for cases of smallpox were poorly inadequate, and when the only ‘pest house” was a decrepit, rat-ridden shack unfit for human habitation. The outbreak of smallpox was a very real menace and those inflicted slept three to a bed inside, and outside, 10 patients shared one tent on Porter Island.

April 25, 1894

In February of 1911 a Water Street mother spoke to the Ottawa media and said she was not going to send any child of hers “to that Isolation Hospital” which was situated on Porter’s Island on the Rideau River just south of Edinburgh Park. The distraught woman said she had read in the newspapers about the inhabitable conditions, and even if some city councillors defended it, no child of hers was going there.

March 27, 1911.

Dr. R. H. Parent, chairman of the Board of Health, in his capacity as family physician, had talked to the woman at her home that morning. He had informed her that the child, who was inflicted with small pox, should be placed immediately in the Isolation Hospital despite her concerns. City officials when questioned by the local newspapers insisted that conditions were good, and none that would warrant calling any special meetings. The child was later taken by force out of her mother’s arms to Porter Island by the police.

Nov. 9 1911

Charles Hopewell changed all that when he became Mayor of Ottawa, and smallpox was said to be no longer a danger because of the new Isolation Hospital. The city was now prepared for a smallpox outbreak he said. Hopewell Hospital officially opened its doors in February, 1913 to help stop epidemic disease, and public health policies were now changing in Canada.


 2 nurses standing with the Isolation Hospital ambulance, with driver in front seat.
[ca. 1926] Ottawa City Archives

In 1927 Mayor John Paul Balharrie (1925–1927) for whatever reasons attached an addition to the Isolation Hospital for diphtheria, scarlet fever, and measles. It was reported by media that “cheapness” was the chief reason. Time was when the Isolation Hospital was run in a rather scandalous manner; but even with the changes local parents still hid their contagious children in their homes rather than be forced to send their children to the dreaded Porter Island.

 - CUTHBKHT At lha Isolation Hospital. Ottawa. On...

April 27, 1914

Today, Porter’s Island is home to the Rockcliffe Retirement Residence and the Garry J. Armstrong Home. The island is accessible today only by a bridge from St. Patrick Street, that replaced the metal truss bridge constructed in 1894 by the Dominion Bridge Company. The original bridge is now blocked off at either end and unused, even by pedestrian traffic, and is the only remains of what once was Ottawa’s darker moments.

Image result for porter island

Photo-Historic Bridges

MIKAN 3318768 Smallpox tents on Porter's Island. n.d. [72 KB, 760 X 619]

Public Archives MIKAN 331876

 - Little Boys Break Through Thin Ice Third...

November 21, 1936


Thanks to Tammy Marion for colouring this.. 

The Ottawa Journal
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
18 Dec 1901, Wed  •  Page 4
The Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
11 Aug 1910, Thu  •  Page 6


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1910 Buffam Postcard Collection

About lindaseccaspina

Linda Knight Seccaspina was born in Cowansville, Quebec about the same time as the wheel was invented and the first time she realized she could tell a tale was when she got caught passing her smutty stories around in Grade 7 at CHS by Mrs. Blinn. When Derek "Wheels" Wheeler from Degrassi Jr. High died in 2010, Linda wrote her own obituary. Some people said she should think about a career in writing obituaries. Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa from 1976-1996. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off she finally found her calling. Is it sex drugs and rock n' roll you might ask? No, it is history. Seeing that her very first boyfriend in Grade 5 (who she won a Twist contest with in the 60s) is the head of the Brome Misissiquoi Historical Society and also specializes in local history back in Quebec, she finds that quite funny. She writes every single day and is also a columnist for Hometown News and Screamin's Mamas. She is a volunteer for the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, an admin for the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page, and a local guest speaker. She has been now labelled an historian by the locals which in her mind is wrong. You see she will never be like the iconic local Lanark County historian Howard Morton Brown, nor like famed local writer Mary Cook. She proudly calls herself The National Enquirer Historical writer of Lanark County, and that she can live with. Linda has been called the most stubborn woman in Lanark County, and has requested her ashes to be distributed in any Casino parking lot as close to any Wheel of Fortune machine as you can get. But since she wrote her obituary, most people assume she's already dead. Linda has published six books, "Menopausal Woman From the Corn," "Cowansville High Misremembered," "Naked Yoga, Twinkies and Celebrities," "Cancer Calls Collect," "The Tilted Kilt-Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place," and "Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac." All are available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Linda's books are for sale on Amazon or at Wisteria · 62 Bridge Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada, and at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum · 267 Edmund Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada--Appleton Museum-Mississippi Textile Mill and Mill Street Books and Heritage House Museum and The Artists Loft in Smith Falls.

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