McMaster University

History of
Health Care in Hamilton

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Opening of Mountain Sanitorium

Chedoke Hospital

In 1906 the Mountain Sanatorium was founded to provide care for people from Hamilton and the surrounding communities who were ill with tuberculosis.

Pulmonary tuberculosis is a contagious bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The lungs are primarily involved but the infection can spread to other organs. The bacteria are spread by inhaling droplets sprayed into the air from a cough or sneeze by an infected person. The disease develops in people whose immune systems do not successfully contain the initial infection. The disease may develop within weeks of the initial infection or it may lie dormant for years before causing illness. At this time tuberculosis was an epidemic disease with no known cure except bed rest, good food and fresh air.

The first sanatoriums were established in places like Switzerland during the 1850's to cater to wealthy patients. The first sanatorium in North America opened at Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks of Upper New York State in 1876. In Canada, the first two sanatoriums were built within a mile of each other at Muskoka for patients from the Toronto area. The Muskoka Hospital at Gravenhurst and the Muskoka Free Hospital were opened in 1896 and 1902 respectively. The Weston Hospital was the third in 1904 and the Mountain Sanatorium was the fourth in 1906.

The Mountain Sanatorium began on a donated farm far out of town on the escarpment overlooking west Hamilton with 2 tents and 8 patients. Gradually small frame cottages completely open to the weather were built. In time these were replaced with more comfortable and fire proof brick buildings.

With the discovery of effective drug therapy in 1943, the need for years of bed rest came to an end. Now the beds, for which there used to be a long waiting list, were sitting empty. It was clear to the Board of Directors that the Mountain Sanatorium would have to change its mandate or close which was the fate of many sanatoriums. They managed to give themselves more time to plan by accepting Inuit patients who were suffering from tuberculosis. There weren't enough hospitals in the north to treat the Inuit so the Federal government asked several sanatoriums in the south for help. Between 1958 and 1962, 1272 Inuit were treated at the Mountain Sanatorium for tuberculosis. Erected in 1953, the Cross of Lorraine, the symbol of the fight against tuberculosis and other lung diseases, is still visible at the edge of the escarpment.

In 1961 the sanatorium changed its mandate, expanded its services and became a general hospital called the Chedoke General and Children's Hospital. In 1971 this name was changed to Chedoke Hospitals. In 1979 it amalgamated with the McMaster University Medical Centre to become half of Chedoke-McMaster Hospitals. In 1997 Chedoke-McMaster Hospitals amalgamated with Hamilton Civic Hospitals to form Hamilton Health Sciences. It is now known as Chedoke Hospital of Hamilton Health Sciences.