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Malaria? Here? Really?

It is hard to believe that malaria was a problem in Ontario,  but during the early  1800's the disease was rampant.  At the time,  it was not known that malaria (often called ague or fever) was transmitted by mosquitoes.    In fact the common explanation was  "bad air",  hence the name  "Mal-Aria"  due to the many swamps in the area.

 It was not until August of 1897,  that Ronald Ross,  a British officer in the Indian Medical Service, demonstrated that malaria parasites could be transmitted from infected patients to mosquitoes.    Many had suggested that  the  original carriers were soldiers of the Engineer Corp that built the Rideau Canal,   while others have put the blame on the influx of Loyalist coming from the south.  We know now,  of course,  that it was one particular temperate  strain of parasite that could survive the Canadian winter in the bladder of its victim,  and the following spring,  hand over the potion to the next mosquito population.,  making it possible to spread through-out the Province.

In the  first Public health Report of 1882,  much coverage was given to the major outbreak in Madoc,  blaming dams for swamping lands,  dying vegetation,  and the bacteria of sewerage leaking into the surrounding soils. Recommendations to remove dams were not  welcomed by those profiting from the lumber industry requiring higher water levels.  

 Mr. E.D. O'Flynn,  secretary of the Board of health wrote:

"It is said that it is the intention of the Trust and Loan Co. to rebuild the dam  (referring to the Chisholm dam),  which if done and allowed to remain,  will be to invite the return of the Hydra-headed monster,  malaria,  with all its wasting and destroying influences.  As the residents of this village and vicinity have been sorely tried during the past five years by  a disease which like the plaque that passed over ancient Egypt leaving one dead in every house;  and having been severely taxed in doctor's bills,  enfeebled in health and shattered  in constitution,  the Board are of the opinion that it has now assumed such a serious aspect and become so important a matter,  that the Government should deal with it."

The malaria hot spots  in Madoc were spread around Moira Lake and included a pond in the village,  as shown by the black areas in the  1882 map included in the report. (below)

But the report also added "while at Marmora,  up the river in a north and west direction,  with high, dry riverbanks,  malaria appeared some years later than at Madoc,  and again,  at Doloro (sic)  it has this year been as bad as last."   

In 1854 William Minchen ( far right)  suffered fever and ague twice but survived.

Bessie Bramley Pearce (1856-1882) was known as the nicest girl in town.  She was married to the well known warden of the County of Hasting,  Josiah Williams Pearce.    She died of Malarial fever.

And in case you were wondering,  in 2013, a total of 210 confirmed cases of malaria were reported in Ontario in the integrated Public Health Information System.

(Original  text of the 1882 Annual Report of the Department of Health can be reached here.  Just click.)

Ron Gilmore  added:  John Alexander Plunkett perished of malaria fever after laying ill for 10 days. He passed away on September 6, 1881 at the age of 42, leaving a wife and 6 children. His first wife, Alice, also died of a fever in 1875. John is buried in the Marmora Common Cemetery.