by Brian Roulston

Nathaniel Hughson was born in Dutchess County, New York. Eventually he moved to New Brunswick then Hamilton where he opened a hotel with a large verandah overlooking the bay on Hamilton’s North End about where the Marina and Harbour Towers stand today with the prospect of a large railway originally called The London & Gore Railroad Co. being built. He was hoping this would bring scores of guests checking into his hotel. However, the railroad did not materialize due to economic troubles at the time and the Rebellions of 1837 & 1838. The Great Western Railway as it was eventually renamed was finally built in 1854; well after Hughson’s death in 1837.

British troops fighting in the rebellions between Lower and Upper Canada where quartered here during this armed conflict which was part of a bigger scenario motivated by frustrations with political reform between Britain and the French.

Nathaniel’s old hotel would then serve as Hamilton’s Custom House from 1845 to 1852 to handle the influx of Irish immigrants coming to Canada to escape starvation and disease as a result of widespread crop failures as a result of a disease called ‘the Blight’ which destroyed the edible roots of the potato plants. This became known as the Irish Potato Famine aka The Great Famine.

The city of Hamilton then purchased the building and converted to Hamilton’s first hospital called The City Hospital. The hospital was considered a last resort for the sick and the poor who had no family members to care for them. Unlike today, hospitals tended to be grubby, unhygienic charitable institutions. The City Hospital operated with 70 beds, a staff of 6 physicians and one surgeon for nearly 30 years.

Then, it was decided by City Council in 1882 that a new and more modern facility was needed.

The ‘New’ City Hospital opened on October 25th, 1882 in its new and current location at Barton and Victoria. The City Hospital’s name was later changed to The Hamilton General Hospital in 1915. It was designed by then prominent Hamilton architect Lucien Hills with the most modern equipment of the time.

The old hospital became a poorhouse known as the House of Refuge. It was demolished in 1895 when a new building was built just east of the original hotel/hospital that could accommodate 150 residents and staff. This was the first building in Hamilton designed specifically as a home for the elderly. Then Hamilton mayor Alexander David Stewart proclaimed this would be a refuge for old men and women who had lived their lives and were now provided with a home in their old age.

The commitment among city fathers did not run very deep. Both the hospital and the House of Refuge were operated on the principle that the ‘deserving’ poor should receive charity. Strict rules were put in place to discourage the poor from applying. City officials of the day even referred to them as ‘inmates’ and if at all possible expected to pay for their accommodations. Those who couldn’t afford the full costs had to earn their keep by tending to a large vegetable garden or do housekeeping duties. Some residents were even made to pick up rubbish off the city streets in Hamilton. Those who spoke out about the harsh regimen were expelled.

Life in the House of Refuge was so bad that many of the old-timers chose to spend their winters in jail and summers on the streets.

The city tried to revamp the image of the house by renaming it, ‘The Home for the Aged and Infirm’. Still seniors would do anything under the sun to avoid living there.

During the 1940’s the place became infested with bugs and cockroaches, yet…another attempt was made to modernize the place. Even renaming it after the original name of Hamilton Harbour ‘Macassa’ Lodge. Finally…the city in 1954 decided the place was not suitable for seniors and a ‘New Macassa Lodge’ was built and opened on Upper Sherman.

General Hospital – Now

As a result of a merge of Hospitals in 1996 under Hamilton Health Sciences, Henderson General, McMaster University, McMaster Children’s Hospital along with Chedoke Hospital has become one of the largest teaching hospitals in the province with over 8000 employees and more than a 1000 physicians.

The facility is also a regional provider of medicare for all of South-Central Ontario. Hamilton General, boosts a Trauma 1 center with specially trained personnel using the most highly sophisticated equipment available today, operating on a 24/7 basis for the most critically injured. It is also the second busiest Burn Unit in Ontario handling both pediatric and adult burn care.

The General also houses an Integrated Stroke Unit and rehab centre as well as being a provider of heart surgery or cardiac catherization.

In 2009 a 100,000-square foot Regional Rehabilitation Centre opened with 91 inpatient beds providing care for stroke victims, spinal cord injury, amputee, trauma and acquired brain injury patients.

A year later in March 2010 The David Braley Cardiac, Vascular & Stroke research centre then opened it’s doors and is now home of Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) and the Henderson Research Centre which co-ordinates international clinical trials to improve not only the health of Hamiltonians but those around the world as well.

Across the street on Wellington another new facility was built. The Hamilton Health Sciences Children’s Center which features an outdoor wheeling track and is fully handicapped accessible.

This brought programs formally done at Chedoke Hospital, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Child & Youth Mental Health, Developmental Pediatrics & Rehabilitation as well as Prosthetics & Orthotics services.

Hamilton’s health Science’s is currently in the planning stages of a multi year redevelopment project with a long-term goal to develop and enlarge two hospital campuses, one at The General and the other at the Juravinski Hospital & Cancer Centre and relocate all acute care to these two hospitals. Also on Hamilton’s Health Science’s bucket list is a proposal to rebuild the children’s and women’s hospital at Hamilton’s General Hospital.

June 2017 “Charette’s” took place at HGH. These are intensive planning and design workshops in which participants used table top 3D models to gather and define different building and placing options as well gather inputs from designers and the public.

Charette’s were to be conducted for the Mac Master Children’s Hospital & Women’s health, Juravinski Hospital & Cancer Center and St. Peter’s hospital, Hamilton General Hospital as well as the West Lincoln Memorial Hospital.