McMaster University

History of
Health Care in Hamilton

Scope of Search

Influenza Hospital

Influenza Hospital

Located at 316 James Street South, just a block or two from St. Joseph's Hospital, this house became a temporary isolation hospital for influenza patients during the pandemic of 1918-1919.

"Ballinahinch", as it was called, was built in the 1850's for Aeneas Sage Kennedy, a Hamilton dry goods merchant. In 1870 the house was sold to Edward Martin, a prominent local lawyer and housed the Martin family for 46 years.

Influenza is a contagious disease caused by a virus. It attacks the respiratory tract and usually comes on suddenly. The symptoms are fever, headache, fatigue, dry cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and body aches. Influenza viruses are spread person-to-person through droplets put into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

This strain was called Spanish Influenza, not because it originated in Spain but because Spain, being neutral during the first World War which was raging at that time, published uncensored reports of the pandemic. No one will ever know with absolute certainty where the illness originated. Epidemiological evidence suggests that it began in Haskell County, Kansas early in 1918. From there it travelled east to a huge army base and from there with the soldiers to Europe, North America, South America, Asia, Africa and the South Pacific.

Initially it had the same symptoms as other influenzas: headache, body aches, high fever and a cough. What made it unusual was that it attacked healthy adults as opposed to the very young and the elderly, its violent progress through the body, and its mortality rate. It infected one fifth of the world's population and killed two to three percent of those infected. When it was over between twenty and forty million people worldwide had died; two to four times more people than were killed in the four years of war.

After World War I and its employ as a hospital, the house was sold to William Southam, the publisher of the Spectator. He rented it to Frederick I. Ker, another newspaperman, who succeeded him as publisher of the Spectator. After World War II, taxes rose and the house became too expensive for a single family. It was divided into apartments. In 1980 it was purchased by a firm of architects who preserved the interesting features of the house while creating several condominium apartments.