Monday, 15 October 2018

Peak Influenza Pandemic in Ottawa

October 1918 was a deadly month. Out of 365 mentions of the word influenza found in the Ottawa Journal and Citizen newspapers that year 167 were in October.

The peak number of the City's influenza pandemic deaths occurred on Tuesday 15 October 1918, 100 years ago today. A total of 62 deaths were recorded in the Ontario civil registers for Carleton County. The Notre Dame cemetery register show the remains of 30 buried, Beechwood Cemetery 16. All but six died of influenza or pneumonia; five of those six were infants.

For Ottawa a short Bytown Pamphlet #63, The plague of the Spanish Flu: the influenza epidemic of 1918 in Ottawa, by Jadranka Bacic, gives an overview of the local situation. At that time the outbreak was attributed to Canadian troops returning from Europe.

Now, according to The Horror at Home: The Canadian Military and the “Great” Influenza Pandemic of 1918 (PDF) it appears the influenza spread to Canada from the United States during the last weeks of September 1918. American military recruits on their way to support the allied offensive in Europe and delegates to a religious convention in the Eastern Townships were factors.

Notable was the number of deaths in the 20-35 age range. Typically in Ottawa there were about half as many deaths in that age range as deaths of infants less than 6 months of age, but in October 1918 there were 5.5 times as many.  A 2013 article posits that the increased mortality resulted from an early life exposure to influenza during the previous Russian flu pandemic of 1889–90.

Ottawa's mayor at the time was Harold Fisher who closed schools, theatres, reduced hours stores could be open; even closed churches. He realized the city's hospitals were inadequate. His statue outside the Ottawa Civic hospital recognizes his contribution to its construction on the then outskirts of the City, known at the time as Fisher's Folly.

Sadly the same foresight was not evident when the site of the new hospital near Dow's Lake was selected.

1 comment:

judylynne said...

John: Thank you for drawing attention to the paper by Mark Osborne Humphries, but please note that this paper was written in 2005, 13 years ago while he was a Ph.D. candidate at Western University. Since that time he has gone on to hold the Dunkley Research Chair at Wilfrid Laurier University where he is an Assistant Professor of History. He has also written a book about Spanish Influenza entitled THE LAST PLAGUE: SPANISH INFLUENZA AND THE POLITICS OF PUBLIC HEALTH IN CANADA published by University of Toronto Press in 2013. This book is a much more up-to-date synthesis of his research into Spanish Influenza and is also a very good read.