How Revelstoke Handled Spanish Flu – Salmon Arm Observer


This is not the first time that Revelstoke has experienced a pandemic.

The devastating Spanish flu hit Canada hard 100 years ago. Interestingly, the name of the disease is an improper term since it did not originate from the Iberian Peninsula, but was the result of a general misunderstanding.

Spain was one of the few European countries to remain neutral during the First World War. Unlike Germany and Britain, where wartime censors suppressed news of the flu to avoid impacting morale, Spanish media were free to report in bloody detail.

Given that the countries experiencing a media blackout could only read detailed reports from Spanish news, they assumed that the country was the epicenter of the pandemic and that the name was blocked.

However, we don’t know where the flu comes from. Theories vary, but include war trenches, Kansas farmers, or even Chinese workers. In any event, the disease wiped out up to 100 million people between 1918 and 1920, more than double those killed in action during the First World War.

The disease has traveled the world, widely dispersed by the return of troops.

In the spring of 1918, the flu arrived in Canada through the ports of Quebec, Montreal and Halifax.

Armistice parade in Revelstoke, November 11, 1918. Although there was a pandemic at the time, people still went to certain rallies and stood side by side. (Photo provided by Revelstoke Museum and Archives 3634)

Revelstoke Museum curator Cathy English said there were 6,000 people at the time in the Revelstoke area. There were no roads from Sicamous or Golden, so it is likely that the disease arrived by train.

In October, the city experienced its first death. Mike Bzulynski died at the age of 26. The next day, Harry Turnross, 23, died. Two days later, Antje Versteegh, 74, followed.

The deaths continued, sometimes daily, for several months. The epidemic has killed young and healthy people, turning their strong immune systems against them in an unusual way for the flu.

There are reports that some people died a few hours after falling ill, their skin turned blue and their lungs filled with fluid, which choked them.

“Revelstoke nurses have been particularly affected,” said English.

To stop the spread, churches, theaters and club meetings were dissolved. Schools closed and teachers became nurses to replace those who fell ill.

“It was a difficult time,” said English.

As with COVID-19, experts said that the widespread transmission of the Spanish flu around the world was partly due to a lack of immunity in the population. There was also no vaccine.

Queen Victoria Hospital, circa 1919. (Photo courtesy of the Revelstoke Museum and Archives # 3634)

Either way, the newspapers advertised advice and treatment. A Revelstoke article suggested dipping cotton balls in alcohol and chloroform, placing them between the teeth and inhaling. Within 24 hours, the article said that the patient should be saved.

Ruby Nobbs wrote in Revelstoke – History and heritage that all members of her family fell ill and she was forced to care for them.

Nobbs was 12 years old at the time. Unlike today, there was virtually no government assistance. As a result, the Ministry of Health was created in 1919. Therefore, public health was a responsibility shared by all levels of government.

In mid-November, the Revelstoke Review proclaimed that the worst was over with the slowdown in deaths.

The flu ban was lifted conditionally, opening schools and churches.

After being fumigated and ventilated, the theater also reopened with a screening of a film by Mary Pickford.

However, at Christmas, the flu ban was reinstated as the second wave of illness hit the city.

In mid-January 1919, the prohibitions were lifted definitively. In total, the flu killed 37 people.

While many rallies were canceled locally during the Spanish flu, some continued, such as the November 11, 1918 armistice parade. Photos show people standing side by side to watch entertainment and celebrate peace.

“They weren’t far from society like they are today,” said English.

She said it seems like people don’t care as much about coming together.

“Maybe they were just excited to be at the end of the war. “

The First World War armistice parade parade through Revelstoke. (Photo provided by the Revelstoke Museum and Archives 3627)

Closures to prevent the spread of the disease continued intermittently in the 1920s for measles and polio. However, English said that Revelstoke had never experienced anything comparable to the closings caused by COVID-19.

“There have been temporary bans, but nothing like it,” she said.

At this time, it is not known when normalcy will return, but the province has said it will not happen this month and probably not the next day.

English wonders how we will remember this pandemic.

The museum said it was able to glean what Revelstoke looked like during the Spanish flu through newspaper reports.

Due to the drop in advertising revenues caused by the new coronavirus, Canada’s media are shutting down. For example, on April 2, the Vancouver Courier suspended new print and online news.

“How are we going to preserve the memories of this important event? “Asks for English.

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Queen Victoria Hospital, circa 1919. (Photo courtesy of the Revelstoke Museum and Archives # 3634)

The First World War armistice parade parade through Revelstoke. (Photo provided by the Revelstoke Museum and Archives 3627)

Spanish flu struck Revelstoke in the fall of 1918. Although schools and churches were closed during the Spanish flu pandemic, large rallies took place. Cathy English, curator at the Revelstoke Museum, they weren’t out of the picture like they are today. This is the Armistice Parade in Revelstoke, November 11, 1918. (Photo courtesy of Revelstoke Museum and Archives # 3638)


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