Montreal’s Night-Mayor on his Ghostly Rounds (Dedicated to the Board of Health)
Ink on paper - Photolithography
© McCord Museum
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Epidemics were a reoccurring feature of life in colonial Canada and hit certain populations—such as First Nations and working-class people—especially hard. Limited and often ineffective government responses, a lack of understanding of how diseases were spread, poverty, and poor sanitation in cities and workplaces were all factors that contributed to high death rates when epidemics struck. Prior to the late nineteenth century, many believed that epidemic diseases were caused by “miasma” or vapours in the air. Understanding of how a disease could be spread or how immunity to it could be derived, as was the case for smallpox, did not necessarily entail a dramatic drop in mortality or morbidity rates.