Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
May 20, 2024
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Community Focus
February 22, 2023

History reveals Prince Edward County is no stranger to pandemics

<p>Sandra Latchford. (Submitted Photo)</p>
Sandra Latchford. (Submitted Photo)

SARAH WILLIAMS

STAFF WRITER

While the COVID-19 pandemic recently upended the lives of many in the County, Picton’s sleepy Glenwood Cemetery bears witness to a cholera pandemic that claimed the lives of locals in the 1830s.  On Saturday, February 18, Sandra Latchford, Chair of the Glenwood Cemetery Board and Krista Ricardson, Archives Manager at the County of Prince Edward Public Library and Archives, presented their findings on the previous pandemic, its provenance, and how cholera pandemics were eventually mitigated.

Latchford described walking in the cemetery past a number of headstones that had been transferred from a local church in 1963. Among these, she noticed several that described death due to cholera.

These stones were laid in the ground in Section N of the cemetery. Eventually, noted Latchford, they began to sink into the earth while suffering various other degradations.

“Around 2014, we recognized these stones were really getting broken, we didn’t think it was very healthy from a preservation point of view to keep them there. Ultimately, the stones were dug up, repaired and put in a line along marsh creek,” stated Latchford.

In particular, she described the headstone of someone named Ann Carnahan, whose passing due to cholera was written in florid text highlighting the timeless response to loss and mourning in a pandemic.

“I was struck about the intensity and emotion of the writing and the detail, even telling it took 22 hours for her to die,” reflected Latchford. “I thought it depicted many feelings and situations of us in the pandemic.”

In fact, noted Latchford, Glenwood Cemetery had been created in 1878 when cemetery leaders decided to prepare for the next pandemic.

“Burial grounds in town were filling up by 1870,” said Latchford. “So, in 1878 Glenwood opened as a community cemetery as leaders worried there otherwise wouldn’t be a cemetery in town.”

Explaining the “touching connection” present on some of the headstones, Latchford explained those created before 1845 were far more personalized than those today. She also pointed to the craftsman, Gardiner Moore, as being well known for his use of art deco style long before the art deco movement began.

“It’s believed to have been crafted by Gardiner Moore known for his use of art deco about 100 years before the art deco movement,” said Latchford. This monument is unique because it’s from Gardiner Moore and because it survived. Monuments prior to 1850 often are just not preserved and are hard to find in Ontario.

Richardson discussed the difficulty of finding records, such as death notices and obituaries, that mentioned cholera-despite knowing many died of this insidious disease.

“Records did not really exist. Vital statistics weren’t a thing until 1869, officially. If they weren’t parish records, it’s hard to find,” explained Richardson. “I noticed there was no notice of cholera, even amongst individuals that Sandy (Latchford) mentioned.”

Richardson hypothesized that, like the most recent pandemic, this is due to the stigma attached to cholera.

“They didn’t want to air their dirty, laundry so to speak,” she quipped.

As per Ricardson, the bulk of recorded cholera cases in the County were in Picton. She noted the spread of the disease was associated with industrial waste and urban life. Richardson also noted that because of the vast amount of immigration beginning in the 1820s, migrants were often seen as being responsible for bringing cholera to what was then Upper Canada.

“The Irish were particularly shunned upon arriving in Canada and were not always welcomed, therefore necessitating the creation of their own shanty towns, which furthered the spread of cholera,” said Richardson.

At the time, unfortunately, it was thought cholera spread on the wind. In fact, it was due to poor sanitation and transmits via water.

“Cholera can live in feces for 10 days,” said Richardson.

Though records keeping at the time was sparse, Richardson noted there are six confirmed cases of cholera in the County as of July 1, 1832. Of these six, she is careful to note, three died.

Apart from being stigmatized much the same way as Covid-19, the cholera pandemics also necessitated government-imposed quarantines, hand washing campaigns and rioting in response to the quarantines.

“Cholera hospitals were burnt down because people didn’t want to have the government interfere. We also had a lot of people advertising a cure or elixir,” noted Latchford.

Luckily, there are some differences between the cholera pandemics of yore and that of today.

“One difference is we got vaccines quickly as opposed to cholera wherein there was about 25 or 30 years when they started to realize drinking water needed to be protected,” explained Latchford. “It wasn’t until 1854 when a doctor in London discovered cholera was water borne.

 

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