Smallpox has been known as a disease of man since the earliest times. However, its severity increased greatly during the eighteenth century, stimulating physicians and others to find methods of protection against it. Variolation (the inoculation of smallpox material into the skin) was tried, and for a while found general approval, although its practice was not without danger. In 1796, Edward Jenner began his investigations into the use of cow-pox material (vaccination) as a prophylactic against smallpox, and later showed that vaccination could confer protection. Although vaccination centres were first set up in Canada early in the nineteenth century, the disease on occasion assumed epidemic proportions, such as occurred in Montreal in 1885. Sporadic outbreaks have occurred since then, including the recent case in Toronto. From the public health point of view, maintenance of a high level of immunity to smallpox throughout the general population is necessary if serious epidemics are to be avoided.