Hospitals and Remembrance

Bytown lacked a dedicated medical service centre until 1826, when a small hospital was set up on Barrack Hill. Although it initially served only military personnel, the hospital eventually opened some of its beds to civilians. In 1828, increased incidence of disease and a dramatic rise in the death toll meant that the dead could no longer be transported and buried in Hull as they previously had been. A makeshift burial ground was created in Bytown instead. As church organizations assumed a stronger role in the community, they established a new and more permanent cemetery in Sandy Hill – an area just south of Lower Town, where the University of Ottawa is now located. Historians estimate that some 500 labourers died from disease during the construction period, many of whom remain anonymous. In 2004, a Celtic cross was placed adjacent to the Ottawa Locks, acknowledging the human cost of the Rideau Canal project and honouring those nameless workers whose final resting places remain unknown.

Points of Interest

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[Source: ‘Unknown Artist,“Land necessary to be retained for Military purposes”, The National Archives of the UK, MPH1-1155(1)]

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Burial Grounds

As the death toll rose in 1828, a half-acre (less than a quarter of a hectare) of land-located around what are now Elgin and Metcalfe streets in downtown Ottawa-became a burial ground. Once cleared, the land was fenced in by 10-foot-tall (3 metres) cedar posts that were sharpened at the top and secured with iron nails. The graveyard was divided into three sections that separated the deceased according to their respective religions: Presbyterian, Anglican, and Roman Catholic. Though not pictured here, a fourth section for Methodists was eventually added. Eventually a larger cemetery was created in what is now known as the neighbourhood of Sandy Hill. Only those who could afford to do so relocated the bodies of their loved ones. These early cemeteries were unique insofar as Presbyterians, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Methodists were buried beside each other, a practice not common in Europe.


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[Source: “Hospital on Barrack Hill” [Animation]. Dr. Stephen Fai. Carleton Immersive Media Studio. 2012.; Lt C. Sedley, “Bytown C.W. Plans, elevation and sections of the Barracks”, [1852], Library and Archives Canada, NMC-0023053]

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Hospital on Barrack Hill

As early as the fall of 1827, Lt. Col. By approved a contract for the construction of a two-storey stone hospital (108 feet by 70 feet [33 metres by 21 metres]) on Barrack Hill-a necessity with early working and living conditions being as dangerous and unpredictable as they were. The hospital was completed by November at a cost of £700, and was located where the West Block of Parliament currently stands. Since the hospital had only twenty beds, priority was given to those permanently employed by the Board of Ordnance. Even when beds were available, labourers often went without professional medical care due to the high cost of treatment. When malaria outbreaks became a serious problem in 1828, Lt. Col. By allowed the most serious cases into the hospital at his own expense. The Board of Ordnance ultimately reimbursed him for these expenditures, but denied his recommendation that they establish a basic health insurance system for workers. Instead, the board recommended that contractors at each site establish their own system for assisting labourers who became sick or injured on the job.

Photograph of Sister Superior, Mère BruyèreEnlarge

[Source: Sister Superior, Mère Bruyère. William James Topley, Topley Studio, Library and Archives Canada, accession number 1936-270 NPC, C-004023]

Grey Nuns of Montreal

In 1832, the year of the cholera epidemic, a small wooden building was constructed on the west corner of Sussex Drive and St. Patrick Street to serve as a temporary hospital specifically for treating victims who did not belong to the military. After the cholera crisis ended, it was left to decay and was eventually torn down. It wasn’t until 1845 that the weak, sick, and less affluent population of Bytown would finally have access to affordable health care, when a group of Grey Nuns of Montreal, led by Elizabeth Bruyere (shown here), came to Bytown. The Grey Nuns were overwhelmed by the warm welcome they received in Bytown.

Cholera Wharf«