School of Medicine, Queen’s University
When I was doing research Bertha and Gilbert Cardwell I cam across this. I had no idea– so I thought it should be documented.
The Kingston Whig Standard, January 8, 1949, by Edwin E. Horsey:
It was the 1847 famine in Ireland that was indirectly responsible for the founding of two of Kingston’s charitable institutions — the Home for the Aged and Sunnyside Children’s Home. Both establishments were organized primarily to take care of the widows and orphans left following the scourge of emigrant or ship-fever which claimed 1,200 lives here 101 years ago.
The deadly effects of the dire visitation were felt for years, for, while the progress of the epidemic had been stayed, there remained the problem of caring adequately for the many destitute persons and orphans. It is difficult for us fully to realize today the magnitude of the misery caused by the ravages of the disease, without doubt the greatest in the city’s history.
The plague of ship-fever was brought to Canada when thousands of Irish emigrants, fleeing from famine and pestilence, died during the ocean voyage or on reaching our shores. The United States, sensing danger, closed its ports to the refugees, but almost 100,000 were brought to Canada. While a quarantine was established at Grosse Isle in the lower St. Lawrence, those considered healthy or seeming well were allowed to continue on to Quebec and Montreal. Outbreaks of the plague quickly followed in both cities. It is estimated 20,000 died at lower St. Lawrence River ports.
At Montreal, those with a presumably clean bill of health, and desiring to do so, were permitted to continue further west. Passage was provided on barges and steamboats to Kingston, and so on by vessel to Toronto. But the trail of pestilence and death followed. At Kingston, the bodies of those who died on the last stretch of the river journey were unloaded on to the wharves for hasty removal and burial, while the sick were segregated in an effort to prevent further infection.
Kingston Hospital 1890-Credit: Henry Henderson – KGH Archives
Old people never ceased telling of the harrowing experiences of those days; how the rumbling death-cart passed through the streets laden with bodies. These were taken to the field south of the present site of the General Hospital, placed side by side in trenches, sprinkled plentifully with quicklime and covered up. A great mound stood there unmarked for many years — the common grave of over 1,200 victims. During the term of the late Archbishop Cleary he had erected, in 1894, the monument now marking this burial place.
However, in face of all precautions taken, the fever spread through the city. Many homes became infected. A council report states: The expenditures of that year (1847) in the city, on account of the indigent emigrants, exceeded £13,000, and had that expenditure been charged upon the city, a special tax exceeding nine shillings in the pound would have been necessary.
School of Rehabilitation Therapy – Queen’s University
With all the moderen facilities for combating contagion at our disposal today, the appearance of a few cases of typhoid or other infectious disease causes a near-panic. But try and picture what conditions must have been in 1847, without any of these aids, when up to 2,500 infected persons and contacts were dumped weekly on the city’s doorstep.
When the epidemic was finally checked in 1848, the destitution following in its wake was of an acute nature. However, having been relieved of the hospital work they had carried on for some 25 years, the members of the Female Benevolent Society turned their attention to making provision for the care of the indigent and friendless.
In a report the secretary of the society, Mrs. Cartwright, outlined the object of the venture, to quote: The crowded state of the hospital and the general prevalence of fever throughout the town prevented the operations of the society from being carried on in the usual manner, but it was at lenghth agreed that efforts should be made for the establishment of a House of Industry, as the most effectual means of affording relief to the many destitute beings left among us by the recent calamitous season of sickness and destitution arising from the awful visitation of famine in Ireland.
As a result of their efforts a stone building then at the head of Princess Street was secured for the reception of widows and orphans. At that time Division Street was generally spoken of as the head of Princess Street, and as far as the present writer could determine the building secured was located at or near the site of the telephone offices.
Having inaugurated this charity, the society took steps to provide for the permanence of the institution as a place of refuge, as they, to further quote the secretary, depreciated the idea of casting out so many helpless beings to cling to a miserable and precarious mode of living about town in worthlessness, begging and vice, or to wander through the country. The members of the society were assisted by a committee of gentlemen, and undertook to devise means of employment for the inmates and promote the sale of articles made.
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In the course of a few years the Female Benevolent Society collected funds, under Mayor Counter’s authority, for a House of Industry. This brought about the acquisition by the city of a stone building on the north side of Earl Street (present Nos. 303-305) with extensive grounds for garden cultivation. A superintendent was engaged to supervise the activities of the inmates, and at the same time a regular board of directors created to carry the responsibilities of management.
The institution remained at the Earl Street location for some 20 years, when it was removed to more suitable premises purchased by the city on Montreal Street. The building has been enlarged and improved as need required; and in 1887 a wing added as a Home for the Aged, the generous gift of the late Dr. Henry Skinner and members of his family.
House of Industry Kingston
The Female Benevolent Society, under a branch of their organization known as the Widows and Orphans Friend Society, also undertook the task of doing something definite for widows and orphans, apart from their interest in the House of Industry. Realizing that children should be segregated if good was to be accomplished, the ladies secured a small house as an orphans’ home, and placed a competent matron in charge.
In this manner the Home came into existence, with 12 children as inmates. A school, to which non-resident children were admitted, was conducted at the Home, the classes coming under the supervision of the Common School Board, in 1857, with a qualified teacher in charge. From board records extant, the school made as good a showing as any of the regular elementary public schools.
The small quarters soon became inadequate, so a block of land was purchased at the intersection of Union Street and University Avenue. Through the liberality of the citizens a more commodious institution was erected in the early 1860’s, where, as Miss Machar records, so many destitute children were succored, taught and cared for.
All the children were not a charge of the society. Many were paid for by mothers and fathers, who through necessity could not give them proper care, and consequently placed them in the Home where the best of supervision was provided.
In more recent years the Union Street property was sold to Queen’s University, to be converted into the Students’ Union. At that time Sunnyside was purchased and made use of.
The activities and accomplishments of the devoted members of the Female Benevolent Society are among the outstanding heroic achievements of Kingston’s history, deserving some form of permanent recognition even at this late date.
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