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Extra resources for A Darkened House: Cholera in Nineteenth-Century Canada
The immediate stimulus to action was an appeal from the orphan asylum for funds to hire a house to accommodate the overflow from the 60 to 70 children jamming its building. The seminary and the Grey Nuns who normally supported the poor and housed the younger orphans were strained beyond capacity-at least 150 women had been widowed in the epidemic by the first week of July. The asylum was intended to help residents of Montreal. To meet the needs of immigrants the Montreal Ladies Benevolent Society was set up late in August.
Dr Van Iffland recorded his experiences, which suggest some of the difficulties hospital staff faced, especially early in the epidemic. For the first two weeks he worked without taking off his boots, and 'when he did, the flesh adhered to the sole leather/ Overwhelmed by the numbers of patients, van Iffland found it almost impossible to keep the staff at work. Many left after a day preferring to sacrifice their pay than to work in the hospital another hour. In Montreal conditions were always worse than in Quebec; it was late June before any adequate bedding was provided for the cholera hospitals and they remained under the supervision of part-time, non-resident, physicians.
Certainly Ayres sounded like a regular physician when making up his statistics. He did not claim to have found an infallible cure but he did argue that his 'visit to this City is generally acknowledged to have dissipated panic and restored confidence/ He now asked for compensation for himself and his 'death daring assistant' for their work in Montreal and among the Indians. He got nothing. It would be hard not to credit Ayres with helping to dissipate some of the panic in Montreal. He was a man of mystery who seemed to have a remedy for a disease wrapped in mystery.