Pneumonia and influenza represent a significant public health burden in Canada and abroad. Knowledge of how this burden varies geographically provides clues to understanding the determinants of these illnesses, and insight into the effective management of health-care resources. We conducted a retrospective, population-based, ecological-level study to assess age- and gender-specific spatial patterns of pneumonia and influenza hospitalizations in the province of Ontario, Canada from 1992 to 2001. Results revealed marked variability in hospitalization rates by age, as well as clear and statistically significant patterns of high rates in northern rural counties and low rates in southern urban counties. A moderate yet significant level of positive spatial autocorrelation (Moran's I=0·21, P<0·05) was found in the global data, with significant, age-specific clusters of high values or ‘hot spots’ identified in several northern counties. Findings illustrate the need for geographically focused prevention strategies, and resource and service allocation policies informed by regional and population-specific demands.