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Union Almonte and Ramsay Contagious Hospital — “The Pest House”

Union Almonte and Ramsay Contagious Hospital — “The Pest House”

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In March of 2019 I got this note:

Good Morning,

I am wondering if you have any information on the Almonte Pest House? My dad referred to it as a place where incurable folks went to. Usually drawn there by sleighs. I gather it was somewhere near where Ann Street is today. I wish I had asked dad more about this while he was living. I think the pest house was also called the Union Almonte & Ramsay Contagious Hospital. My dad, Keith Camelon was born in Almonte in 1924 and he knew so much about Almonte but I was just too busy to take the time to listen.

Thank you. Marion McDonald

Marion, I understand and I feel the same way you do. That is why I document as much as possible. I would like to add to this. If anyone has pictures or comments please add them.


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May 22,2020

The Union Almonte and Ramsay Contagious Hospital — Almonte ( Mississippi Mills)

So for a long long time I have been looking for information about this hospital and all Jeff Mills could tell me was: “Pest” was for Petulance and was a place where people who had the Spanish Flu went to die. Supposedly the house was out on Country Street between Country and the highway and it was also called the fever hospital that looked after those suffering from contagious diseases. According to some reports, it was a frame building located between King Street and Highway 29.

Last week while doing some research on the Rosamond Hospital I came upon a lot of information on the Mississippi Mills site. First of all the correct name was the Union Almonte and Ramsay Contagious Hospital and in 2017 Council approved that the Union Almonte and Ramsay Contagious Hospital be included on the heritage registry. In going through some reference pages a lot of links I clicked on had ‘Error 404” so I decided this should be documented sooner than later.

In 1901, smallpox was spreading in large numbers across Ontario. In the 19th century, smallpox was widely considered a disease of filth, which meant that it was largely understood to be a disease of the poor. Almonte’s Mayor Simpson reported that the Almonte town council had an isolated building in view which later turned out to be unsuitable. Mayor Simpson then met with the reeve of Ramsay. Sometime before 1910, the Sanitary Inspector for the Town of Almonte looked after the hospital under instructions from the chairman of the Board of Health.

According to the Mississippi Mills site the hospital was located on the SW1/2 of Lot 13, Concession 9, Ramsay Twp and the history was compiled by Sarah More for the Mississippi Mills Heritage Committee, in June 2017. 

The Union Almonte and Ramsay Contagious Hospital was also known as the Pest House, or sometimes the Isolation Hospital. The two acres of land was bought in 1902 from a Roman Catholic farmer, Thomas McDonell for $100. The one storey frame building was built in the same year by the Town of Almonte and Township of Ramsay for $700. If you have heard past conversations about the “Poor House” and “Plague House” — please note that they were one and the same building on the hill behind the Catholic cemetery according to Murray Guthrie.

There were many outbreaks in the form of typhoid fever, diphtheria, scarlet fever,  and smallpox in the area. Murray Guthrie remembers some Brits being bitten by mosquitos and thinking they had small pox. They stayed at the “Pest House” on Roy Rogers’ farm on Country Street in 1930. According to the Almonte Centennial book, Faces and Places: 1880-1980, “It was here that men returning from the lumber camps were sent when they had contracted contagious diseases.”

Did you know that Carleton Place had a very small isolation hospital located at the extreme end of Bridge Street in that town? There were 4,548 cases and 36 deaths attributed to smallpox across Canada between 1929 and 1933; 291 cases and 14 deaths over the next five-year period; and 247 cases and 1 death between 1939 and 1943. So the Union Almonte and Ramsay Contagious Hospital took people in from all around the area as the need was great.

In 1905, according to the Almonte Gazette, “a young man from the Old Country who went fishing on the river here was so badly bitten by black flies that when he went to a doctor the physician feared he had some contagious disease such as chicken pox or small pox. So he sent the poor fellow home to the Commercial House where he was staying and all the people there were quarantined over the weekend “. By that time the doctor decided the elder gentleman was just a victim of black flies and not having built up resistance to them, reacted to their bites worse than other people.

According to an Almonte Gazette article dated 7 February 1902, “The structure will be 72 feet long and 16 feet wide with a ten foot ceiling. It will be one story with the exception of the kitchen portion which will be two stories, with a bedroom located above the kitchen.”

The building had a long passage with 6 foot rooms for cots on either side—seven apartments, five for patients and one each for the doctor and nurse. Berths would be built in the apartments for the patients.

The Pest House in Almonte was used as such from the year 1902 to sometime between 1930 and 1959, likely run  by Drs. Archibald Albert Metcalfe (1870-1962) and John King Kelly, (1874-1954) prior to the openings of the Victorian (Cottage) Hospital and Rosamond Memorial Hospital.  ( Fran Cooper local historian)

 By 1910, the building had fallen into disrepair. The Finance Committee for the Town of Almonte proposed to the Township of Ramsay, 1. The property to be put in repair at once and kept in repair at the joint expense of the two municipalities. 2. A caretaker to be put in charge of the property. 3. Any necessary additions required hereafter to the building, furnishings or equipment to be provided from time to time at the joint expense of the two municipalities. 4. The board, medicine, medical attendance, care and nursing of each patient to be borne by the municipality to which such patient belongs.

By 1911, the matter was left in the hands of the property Committee of the Township of Ramsay, with the suggestion that the timely advice of Chief Lowry (former Sanitary Inspector) to have a phone installed in the hospital be carried out. Unfortunately, nothing more is known concerning this decision. 

Perhaps due to financial constraints, it was decided to demolish the building sometime between 1930-1959, and perhaps amalgamate the patients with those at the Rosamond Memorial Hospital. Presently, the property is still owned by the Municipality of Mississippi Mills. 

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What’s left of what some called Pest House? There is a concrete staircase, consisting of three steps, beside a former well which likely served the former kitchen. The remnants of a part wood, part barbed-wire fence can also be found near the property entrance as seen from the end of St. Mary’s Cemetery.  Smallpox and the Spanish Flu was once the worst disease in history. It killed more people than all the wars in history– until Covid 19 knocked at our door.

With files from Mississippi Mills –compiled by Sarah More for the Mississippi Mills Heritage Committee, in June 2017. 

and Historian Fran Cooper and the Almonte Gazette


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The Ottawa Journal
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
10 Oct 1910, Mon  •  Page 2

In October of 1910 the Public Health Conference listened to an exhaustive address from Dr. Charles A. Hodgetts, medical adviser to the Public Health Committee of the House of Commons on the serious pollution of waterways in Canada and the United States. And five minutes’ walk from the Centre Block, the Ottawa City Council met in the city hall to consider a proposal to bring in the city’s water supply from McGregor’s Lake because of repeated outbreaks of typhoid fever caused by drinking water in the city’s mains which had been pumped in from the Ottawa River. Well, this was Ottawa’s problem, and it was serious for the 86,106 people and 1856 dogs in 1910 census.

It is not surprising to note that the Almonte Town Council was wrestling with ” a report from the committee appointed to examine Union Almonte and Ramsay Contagious Hospital.” The Pest House! Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose! Virulent outbreaks of contagion in the form of typhoid fever, diphtheria, scarlet fever, smallpox, as well as injuries due to explosions, train accidents, runaways, kicks from horses – these were the common complaints. Strangely enough, newer forms of injuries were coming to the notice of medical practise due to crashing automobiles, and falls from flying machines.

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March 1, 1901- Almonte Gazette

Fran Cooper research

The Almonte Gazette: Almonte Gazette, 1 March 1901 (Courtesy of Marjorie Weir of Almonte and her cousin, Frances “Fran” Cooper, of Stittsville) The Smallpox Scare. The spreading of smallpox in Ontario is becoming a serious matter, as cases are being reported from a large number of towns and villages all over the northern part of the province… Mayor Simpson informs us that the Almonte town council has an isolated building in view in case of emergency—one that could be occupied on short notice should any stray smallpox victim happen to reach our town… 

Almonte Gazette, 22 March 1901 ALMONTE COUNCIL On motion of Messrs. Wylie and Lees, the mayor was instructed to communicate with the reeve of Ramsay with a view to having a joint meeting to consider the question of establishing a hospital for contagious diseases. 179

Almonte Gazette, 7 June 1901 ALMONTE COUNCIL The mayor reported that at a joint meeting of the Almonte and Ramsay boards of health, held last week, it was agreed to secure a suitable house for a contagious disease hospital, to be held in readiness for cases of emergency. He further reported that the building spoken of at the meeting was since found not suitable, not being the proper distance away from the nearest houses.

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Almonte Gazette January 1902

Almonte Gazette, 29 April 1910, (page 4) Special Council Meeting On motion of Messrs. O’Reilly and Williams the Town Property Committee was instructed to advertise for a sanitary inspector and report at next regular meeting. Drynan—“How about the contagious diseases hospital? Who is supposed to look after it? Ramsay and Almonte combined to build it. Who is supposed to pay for its upkeep? If there is no one appointed I think we should appoint a deputation to wait on Ramsay council and arrange to have some one take care of the building as I understand it has fallen into disrepair.” McCallum—“ The Chief looked after it when he was sanitary inspector. Evidently no one had been near it since.” On motion the Chief was heard. Chief— “During the time I was sanitary inspector I always looked after the hospital under instructions from the chairman of the Board of Health. So far as I know Ramsay bore no share of the expense.” Drynan—“Did you consider it part of your duty as sanitary inspector?” Chief—“Yes.” McDowall—“We cannot send our inspector out into Ramsay. While the Chief may have done so, we cannot expect an inspector to do so unless it is in his contract.” On motion of Messrs. Drynan and Williams, Councillor McDowall was instructed to wait on the Ramsay council at their next regular meeting to explain the condition of the Isolation Hospital and ask them to cooperate in securing some person to look after the same. Council then adjourned. Almonte Gazette, 11 November 1910, (page 2) Town Council Reeve Drynan then presented the report of the special committee appointed to confer with the Ramsay township council in reference to the Contagious Hospital. The following report from the Finance Committee was presented and adopted: To the Mayor, etc: Your special committee appointed to confer with representatives of the Ramsay Council as to the contagious diseases hospital, beg to report that we have discussed the matter with the Ramsay Committee, and recommend that arrangement be made. (Fran Cooper)

Married on Porch of Pest House

Union Almonte & Ramsay Contagious Hospital (Pest House) — Looking for Information

The Lanark Era
Lanark, Ontario, Canada
11 Aug 1909, Wed  •  Page 1