“Something Permanent for the Country”: The Sir Oliver Mowat Memorial Tuberculosis Sanatorium

An often overlooked part of Kingston’s rich medical history, the Sir Oliver Mowat Memorial Tuberculosis Sanatorium, or simply the Mowat Sanatorium, enjoyed an important, if short-lived, role in the fight against tuberculosis in Canada.

It is an infectious disease which has for centuries terrified and fascinated people all over the world. It was the leading cause of death in Canada in 1867, and remains the leading cause of death by infectious disease on Earth in 2020 outside of the Coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, 484,000 out of 10,000,000 people infected with the disease have a drug-resistant strain.[1] It is curable and preventable, but deadly. This disease is tuberculosis.

Before Robert Koch discovered the bacteria mycobacterium tuberculosis to be the cause of the disease in 1882, tuberculosis was highly romanticized. It was associated with authors and artists, and helped give rise to a standard of beauty which favoured thin, pale women.[2] Once the bacterium was discovered, the public attitude towards tuberculosis shifted and “The Sanatorium Age” began in Canada with the opening of the country’s first tuberculosis sanatorium in Muskoka, Ontario in 1896.[3] Sanatoria were hospitals designed specifically for treating tuberculosis, and at the height of its use during the First World War, the Sir Oliver Mowat Memorial Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Kingston was hailed as one of the largest in Canada.[4]

Exterior of the Sir Oliver Mowat Memorial Sanatorium, 1917. (“Care of Soldiers Suffering from Tuberculosis,” Construction 10, no. 1, (January 1917): 319.)

An often overlooked part of Kingston’s rich medical history, the Sir Oliver Mowat Memorial Tuberculosis Sanatorium, or simply the Mowat Sanatorium, enjoyed an important, if short-lived, role in the fight against tuberculosis in Canada.

Precursors and Original Plans

Before the creation of the Mowat Sanatorium, tuberculosis patients were treated at Kingston General Hospital in what was called “The Shack.”[5] It was a small, isolated building created in 1903 at the persuasion of Dr. James Third to attempt the outdoor treatment of tuberculosis, as well as providing patients with education on how to lead healthier lives.[6] It was closed in 1905 and opened again in 1906 under the Daughters of the Empire, charging patients two dollars per day and limiting their stay in the Shack to three months.[7] In 1909, the Kingston General Hospital Board of Governors proposed the construction of The Sir Oliver Mowat Memorial Tuberculosis Sanatorium on the grounds of the hospital, and by 1911, $28,300 had been raised for its construction.[8] However, though architectural plans had already been drawn up, protests from Kingston’s city council, medical doctors, and local residents halted construction and the Sanatorium was forced to seek a new location away from the hospital grounds.[9]

Photograph of “The Shack” from the Kingston General Hospital 1906 Annual Report. (Lorna Knight, Archivist for Kingston General Hospital, email to author, January 17th, 2020.)

What are believed to be the original plans for the Mowat Sanatorium are stored today in the Queen’s University Archives, and were created by William Newlands & Son Architects.[10] These plans, while never built, were elaborate, and specifically designed for the treatment of tuberculosis. During the peak of the sanatorium age, the preferred methods of treating tuberculosis were to provide as much rest, fresh air, and sunlight as possible to patients, coupled with a regulated healthy diet.[11] The original plans featured numerous windows and long verandas to allow for fresh air and sunlight inside the building. Each patient had their own room, and nurses lived on the same floor as the patients in order to allow for the provision of proper medical care at any time. Additionally, patients had only to take a short walk within the building to reach the dining room, where healthy food, according to a strict diet, would be served to them. Indoor washrooms were to be shared by the patients on each floor.

The Architectural Plans of the Sir Oliver Mowat Memorial Tuberculosis Sanatorium, Ground Floor. (estimated circa 1911). (Queen’s University Archives, William Newlands Fonds F01418, Series 7, Hospitals, 1887-1925, file 6068, “Sir Oliver Mowat Memorial TB Hospital.”)

One requirement the original sanatorium plans did not meet was isolation from the city, which was believed to affect not only the health of people nearby, but of the patients themselves. Being away from the city meant that patients would have access to the cleanest possible air while simultaneously preventing the spread of tuberculosis to the public. This may have been one of the reasons that different plans were erected the next year in Portsmouth Village, at that time some distance away from the hustle and bustle of Kingston.

Portsmouth Village and World War One

In 1912, the Mowat Sanatorium was finally built, near to Rockwood Asylum. It was not in operation long, however, before it was modified to suit a new purpose. In 1916, it was leased to the Military Hospitals and Convalescent Homes Commission to be used for the treatment soldiers of the First World War who had tuberculosis.[12] The Commission renovated the existing building and created its own plans for additional pavilions in which to house patients on the grounds of the Sanatorium, rendering it “probably the largest hospital combating the white plague in the Dominion,” with approximately two hundred and twenty beds.[13]

Proposed plans for Tuberculosis Sanatorium, 1917. (“Care of Soldiers Suffering from Tuberculosis,” Construction 10, no. 1, (January 1917): 318).
Proposed plans for Tuberculosis Sanatorium, 1917. (“Care of Soldiers Suffering from Tuberculosis,” Construction 10, no. 1, (January 1917): 319).

The pavilions where the patients stayed at the Mowat Sanatorium were not heated, save for the individual dressing rooms, so as to provide the freshest air possible for the patients to breathe. The pavilions had large windows, and each had a small kitchen, lavatories, and a nurse’s room.[14] These amenities were included for the sake of the “sick patients,” being those people who were deemed too ill to get out of bed or perform any strenuous activity, and were therefore fed and cared for inside the pavilion.[15] By contrast, “up patients” walked to the central building each day in order to use the dining facilities there.[16] In the central building there was also a “vocational training room” for up patients, which was used to teach the soldiers new skills so that they could return to the workforce when they recovered and left the Sanatorium.[17] Here, under the eye of Captain Fairfull, Vocational Officer, the patients learned civil service, motor mechanics, embroidery, commercial subjects, and- particularly unique- barbering.[18]

Room for vocational training at the Sir Oliver Mowat Memorial Sanatorium, 1917. (“Care of Soldiers Suffering from Tuberculosis,” Construction 10, no. 1, (January 1917): 320.)

However, despite its curative architecture and programs, out of the way location, and the large number of patients it could accommodate, the Mowat Sanatorium was not in operation for long. Once the First World War had ended and funds for the Sanatorium dwindled, it was turned over to the Kingston Health Association and subsequently sold to the Ontario Government for $150,000 on July 21st, 1926.[19] It was then used by the nearby Rockwood Asylum to house three hundred additional psychiatric patients.[20]

Originally, the tuberculosis patients still at the Sanatorium were to be moved to London, Ontario and Ste. Anne, Quebec a considerable amount of time after the July sale, but the soldiers of the Mowat Sanatorium were not pleased with this decision.[21] They quickly petitioned the Soldiers’ Civil Re-Establishment Department to be moved before the weather changed for the worse.[22] It is unknown whether they succeeded in their petition, but the building was indeed taken over by Rockwood Asylum and the Sanatorium closed for good.

Importance to Tuberculosis Treatment

The work done at the Sir Oliver Mowat Memorial Tuberculosis Sanatorium and others like it was instrumental in the treatment and prevention of tuberculosis not only among soldiers, but to the general population. Because soldiers were all subject to regular medical examinations, tuberculosis was detected more often and earlier in them than it was in the general public. This made the disease easier to treat and revealed just how widespread it was among the Canadian population.[23] The treatment and examinations given at the Mowat Sanatorium were seen to constitute “something permanent for the country” being done in the treatment of tuberculosis, affecting and helping not only those in the sanatorium, but the entire population.[24]

Sanatoria constitute an important step in the history of tuberculosis treatment,  but the work they began is not finished.  Today in Canada, tuberculosis disproportionately affects Indigenous Peoples and people born outside of the country, while all over the world people infected with HIV/AIDS are more likely to die from tuberculosis than any other infection.[25] The fight against tuberculosis is far from over, but it is estimated that 58 million lives have been saved since the year 2000 thanks to ongoing efforts to combat tuberculosis around the world.[26]

About the Authour

Shaelyn Ryan

(Collections Technician/Assistant , 2020-21)

Shaelyn Ryan is an undergraduate student Queen’s University, currently completing her forth (and final) year in the Bachelor of Arts History Program. Either as a Summer Student or Work-Study Student through Queen’s University, Shaelyn has helped catalogue and research many of the museum’s collection of artefacts as a Collections Technician (since 2018). 

Citations

[1] “History of Tuberculosis,” Canadian Public Health Association, accessed August 27, 2020, https://www.cpha.ca/history-tuberculosis; “World Tuberculosis Day 2020,” World Health Organization, accessed August 27, 2020, https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-tb-day/world-tb-day-2020.

[2] Michael Barrett, “How a generation of consumptives defined 19th-century Romanticism,” Aeon,  April 10, 2017, https://aeon.co/ideas/how-a-generation-of-consumptives-defined-19th-century-romanticism; Emily Mullin, “How Tuberculosis Shaped Victorian Fashion,” Smithsonian Magazine, May 10, 2016, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-tuberculosis-shaped-victorian-fashion-180959029/

[3] Annmarie Adams and Stacie Burke, “ ‘Not a Shack in the Woods’: Architecture for Tuberculosis in Muskoka and Toronto,” CBMH/BCHM 23, no.2 (2006): 429-455.

[4] “Care of Soldiers Suffering from Tuberculosis,” Construction 10, no. 1 (January 1917): 318.

[5] MacDougall, Heather. “Toronto’s Health Department in Action: Influenza in 1918 and SARS in 2003” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Vol. 62, no. 1 (2006): 68. doi:10.1093/jhmas/jrl042.

[6] Lorna Knight, Archivist for Kingston General Hospital, email to author, January 17th, 2020.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Queen’s University Archives, William Newlands Fonds F01418, Series 7, Hospitals, 1887-1925, file 6068, “Sir Oliver Mowat Memorial TB Hospital.”

[12] Knut Lönnroth, “Cured and starved: food for thought,” Public Health Action 3, no. 2 (June 21, 2013): 95.

[13] Queen’s University Archives, William Newlands Fonds F01418, Series 7, Hospitals, 1887-1925, file 6068, “Sir Oliver Mowat Memorial TB Hospital.”

[14] “Care of Soldiers Suffering from Tuberculosis,” Construction 10, no. 1 (January 1917): 318.

[15] Ibid., 320.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Canada Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-Establishment, Report of the work of the Invalided Soldiers’ Commission, Canada, (May 1918), 82.  https://archive.org/details/reportofworkofin00canarich/page/82/mode/2up

[20] Lorna Knight, Archivist for Kingston General Hospital, email to author, January 17th, 2020.; “Sale of Mowat Sanatorium Approved by Kingston,” The Globe Toronto, July 22, 1926, 2.

[21] Ibid.; Ibid.

[22] “Sale of Mowat Sanatorium Approved by Kingston,” The Globe Toronto, July 22, 1926, 2.

[23] “Soldier Patients Petition To Be Sent to New Quarters,” The Globe, August 2, 1926, 2.

[24] “Care of Soldiers Suffering from Tuberculosis,” Construction 10, no. 1 (January 1917): 320, 321.

[25] Ibid.

[26] “Tuberculosis: Monitoring,” Government of Canada, accessed August 27, 2020, https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/tuberculosis/surveillance.html.; “Tuberculosis,” UNAIDS, accessed August 27, 2020, https://www.unaids.org/en/topic/tuberculosis.

[27] “World Tuberculosis Day 2020,” World Health Organization, accessed August 27, 2020, https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-tb-day/world-tb-day-2020.


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