Sunday, 12 June 2011

TUBERCULOSIS: History: Mountain San., Hamilton, Ontario

Mark McNeil : Jun 11 2011
Photos show: Mountain Sanatorium nurses Hilda Ferrier, left, and Retta McGee with an Inuit mother and child in the late 1950s. The sanatorium took patients from the Far North when beds opened up here.

A hundred years ago, Hamilton was suffering through a horrendous tuberculosis pandemic with no end in sight.
Medical authorities were desperate. People who had the highly contagious disease needed to be separated from those who didn’t. Doctors looked for a place with lots of fresh air in a tranquil setting to try to help the victims breathe because there was no cure.
The Hamilton Health Association lucked into a magnificent parcel of green space on the western brow of the escarpment and decided to set up some tents to serve as a kind of quarantine. Those tents would eventually be replaced by buildings in a full-fledged sanatorium.
“The only treatment for TB then was rest, fresh air and sunshine,” said Beth Manganelli, director of economic development for Hamilton Health Sciences and Mountain Sanatorium history buff. “The buildings were designed to make use of the prevailing wind. People were actually wheeled out, beds and all, in their pyjamas onto the terraces. And that was their treatment.”
Despite not-in-my-back yard protests from some lower city residents who were under the delusion that “the germs will blow right down on the city,” the humble start grew to be the one of the biggest sanatoriums in the British Empire.
Now, flash forward to 2011, and breezes and tranquil green space on the Mountain are driving public discussion again. Former sanatorium lands have become the centre of a furious debate about whether a developer should be allowed to build a retirement village of townhouses and condominiums. Should healing lands be paved over by condo towers?
“It has been a restorative and curative place for quite a long time,” says Agnes Hansebout, 59, who has lived in the area for three decades.
In the same way that tuberculosis patients embraced west Mountain nature in the early decades of the last century, she said, the brow lands today are like a nature sanctuary in the city where “the air is fresh because of where we sit and where the air flows are.”
“I’ve had health issues for the last 9 1/2 years ... Just being able to walk out and be close to the Bruce Trail has been very helpful,” Hansebout says.
That fracas about how many condominiums should be allowed on the Chedoke brow lands property is headed for a multiday hearing before the Ontario Municipal Board on Monday. The city has rejected the original proposal by developer Deanlee Management to build more than 700 units in several buildings, preferring a maximum of 400.
The hearing had been scheduled to start June 6 but Deanlee’s lawyer asked for an adjournment so the company could finish revising its plans. The Mississauga company’s lawyer, Paul DeMelo, could not be reached for comment about the status of the plans.
The original 98 acres of the property was donated in 1906 by Hamilton wool merchants W.D. Long and G.H. Bisby, for whom one of the buildings — a former nursing residence — on the property is named. That building remains on land currently owned by Deanlee and is being preserved as a heritage landmark.
The Long and Bisby donation was made because amid a world TB pandemic, “Hamilton had a particularly high incident rate ... because of close living quarters and sanitation problems in the city,” says Ralph Wilson, principal author of the book Chedoke: More Than a Sanatorium.
“If you had TB, you might as well have had leprosy. People shunned you.”
Patients stayed at the sanatorium for years, producing a lot of their own food on farmland on the grounds. They even had their own radio station.
Dr. Howard Holbrook, who was superintendent at the Mountain Sanatorium from 1917 to 1945, expanded the patient catchment area and was constantly raising money for new buildings that would take on the names of donors, such as Wilcox, Southam and Evel, according to his daughter Patricia Radley-Walters, 89.
“I would go with my father on his rounds when I was a little girl. I wouldn’t make a peep. I just took it all in,” she said in a telephone interview from Kingston, where she now lives. “They said to me make sure you always wash your hands and don’t ever put your hands in your mouth.”
During Holbrook’s time at the ‘San’ — as it was known — soldiers coming home from the First World War with TB were housed in facilities by the escarpment. At its height, through the 1920s and 1930s, the sanatorium had more than 700 patients staying in numerous buildings spread over a 250-acre parcel of land. There were more than 450 staff members.
With antibiotics that came into use in the 1940s, TB cases in Hamilton fell dramatically. In the 1950s, more than 1,200 Inuit suffering from tuberculosis were brought in for treatment from the Far North. Wilson contends without the involvement by the Hamilton San, the Inuit community would have been annihilated by the disease.
Many soapstone carvings and art works created by the Inuit while staying at the sanatorium are still on display at Hamilton Health Sciences buildings at Chedoke.
In 1960, the sanatorium officially became Chedoke General and Children’s Hospital. The name Chedoke comes from native mispronouncing of Seven Oaks.
When Hamilton Health Sciences took over control of Chedoke Hospital in 1979, the property assets were handed over to a nonprofit corporation that has sold numerous parcels of land over the years.
According to Don May, a consultant for the foundation, money earned from land sales is used for health-related infrastructure in the city; the biggest example is $10 million that went to the General Hospital’s rehabilitation clinic.
Neighbours say they accept that lands sales and development are inevitable, but the Deanlee plan is too big and should not be done on such a pristine section of property. The Chedoke Health Foundation sold 24 acres of the brow lands to the developer for $5 million.
As for the future of Chedoke, Kathy Watts, vice-president of finance with HHS, says “no final decision has been made about the remaining lands.”
Currently, there are various clinics for children housed in several buildings at Chedoke, she says. Hamilton Health Sciences hopes to someday bring those operations under the same roof in a newly constructed facility at the site.

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