Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
April 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Public Health in Canada


[This article was publihed in 1948; for the full citation, see the end of the text.]

Public Health. Even in a new country like Canada, it became necessary for government to concern itself with public health at an early date. In the centres of population, police regulations with regard to the disposal of garbage and sewage became necessary; and a supply of pure water became one of the earliest concerns of municipal governments. In the cholera epidemics which ravaged Canada during the first half of the nineteenth century, the government was forced to take what measures it could to control the epidemics, though the ignorance of medical science at that time as to the cause of the epidemics rendered them largely helpless. They were able, however, to establish quarantine stations where diseased immigrants were held; and the quarantine station at Grosse Isle below Quebec was established before 1850. It has been only in the twentieth century, however, that the public health activities of the governments of the Dominion and its provinces, and of the larger cities, have reached their present very considerable proportions.


Under the British North America Act, 1867, the oversight of public health in Canada was assigned, in the main, to the provinces; but the Dominion government has in some respects taken the lead in matters of public health, and a Dominion department of health was created in 1919. This department exercises oversight over such matters as quarantine and medical inspection of immigrants, the provision of lazarettos for lepers and hospitals for sick and injured mariners, the control of patent medicines and narcotic drugs, the inspection of food, and the supervision of men employed on public works; and it co-operates with the provinces in the control of venereal disease and in child welfare.


All the provinces of Canada have now departments or bureaux of public health; but most of these have been created since the Dominion department of health was established in 1919. A bureau of public health was created in Saskatchewan in 1909, though it did not become a department of government until 1923; and the department of public health in Alberta dates from 1918. The department of health in Manitoba was organized only in 1928; and those in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia date only from 1931. The first school of hygiene or public health in Canada was organized in connection with the University of Toronto in 1927.


Most of the largest centres of population in Canada have now medical health officers; and these exercise a general supervision over the health of the communities of which they have charge, providing sometimes nurses for poorer or destitute families. In outlying communities, the Canadian Red Cross has done a valuable service in providing district nurses.


Socialized medicine has not yet arrived in Canada [in 1948]; but the public health activities of the Dominion, provincial, and municipal governments have gone a long way in this direction. Preventive medicine has since the beginning of the Great War cut the deaths from tuberculosis almost in half, and the deaths from typhoid fever almost to one-tenth of what they were in 1913. Great advances have been made in controlling such scourges as infantile paralysis, and even in reducing the ravages of such ailments as influenza and the common cold.


The ramifications of the public health movement are too numerous to enumerate; but full information regarding them may be had from the Canadian Public Health Journal (Toronto, 1910) and the Canadian Annual Review.

Source  : W. Stewart Wallace, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. V, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 401p., pp. 175-176.


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College