Okanagan History: Spanish Flu Devastates Kelowna Chinatown | Life


The November 14, 1918 issue of The Kelowna Record on page 1 informed readers of the deaths of 10 men – eight Chinese, one Japanese and one Indo-Canadian – all victims of the Spanish flu.

The names of these men were not included in the article, and they did not appear in later articles on the Spanish flu.

These are questionable photographs of these

there are flu victims. The names of these 10 men were conscientiously added to the funeral records of the Kelowna cemetery,

allowing historians to identify these

unfortunate victims of the Spanish flu.

A week later, the same newspaper reduced the Chinese death toll to nine. He also reported on alleged Chinese beliefs about the origins of the Spanish flu:

“The Chinamen (a racially used term, then frequently used by the print media) in Kelowna have discovered the cause of the Spanish” flu “epidemic among them and the resulting deaths. It was caused by an evil spirit, who assumed the guise of a young white boy about six years of age, or slightly older. The mind seems to have been somewhat shy and prowled around the outbuildings and courtyards, preferably entering the lighted stores and dwellings. In addition, it only appeared after dark, but it exists and was visible, there is no doubt – for the Chinese.

The Spirit takes on the appearance of a white boy, he wears no shoes or stockings, and everyone who saw him had the new disease and would have died … “

Most residents of central Okanagan in 1918 were much luckier than residents of Chinatown. They lived in rural areas, their closest neighbors living at a distance, which greatly reduced the risk of transmission of the disease between humans.

Glenmore, Ellison, Rutland, South and East Kelowna and Westbank had small populations, their citizens living on isolated farms and orchards.

People who lived within the city boundaries of Kelowna generally had some distance from themselves and their neighbors, which reduced the risk of the spread of the flu among the general population.

My mother’s relationships – the Clement and Whelan families – typical of other pioneer families in the Central Okanagan, have escaped the ravages of the Spanish flu.

My Clément ancestors lived in Kelowna, but not in close quarters where they could be exposed to the flu.

The Whelan family were even more fortunate, living in the Ellison countryside, isolated from a large part of the population likely to carry and transmit the flu.

The November 21, 1918 edition of the Kelowna Record reported only four new cases of influenza in the previous week.

In total, around 200 cases of influenza have been reported locally, with 50 of these people still receiving medical care.

The Spanish flu was definitely on the wane, after wreaking havoc in Chinatown.

British Columbia vital records and burial records, from Oyama in the north to Peachland in the south, indicate that local Caucasians were much luckier than their Chinese counterparts during the Spanish influenza pandemic from 1918.

A review of these documents and the two Kelowna weeklies

suggest that a Caucasian resident of central Okanagan, Aileen Clements, has died from the flu.

According to her British Columbia death record, Aileen Clements, daughter of James H. and Mary Frances (née Bartlett) Clements, died in Peachland on December 27, 1918, after being ill for a week.

His death was attributed to influenza with cerebral meningitis as an intermediate cause of death.
According to his niece, Aileen and her family had contracted the Spanish flu. Although ill, Aileen, 15, took charge of her family’s activities and responsibilities, inevitably paying the ultimate price for her efforts.

I have researched other alleged deaths from influenza in central Okanagan, but have ensured that these deaths were not due to the deadly Spanish flu.

I do not find any trace of local indigenous peoples who died from the flu.

In late 1918, residents of central Okanagan took refuge in their homes.

Unable to attend schools, religious services or meetings, they had to wonder what was going on elsewhere. Many of these people had British roots, so their thoughts naturally turned to what was going on in their former homeland.

As the world continued to fight the Spanish flu, Kelowna newspapers provided vital information on what was going on in England.

The December 5, 1918 edition of The Kelowna Record informed its readers that the deaths from influenza the previous week in England (including London) and Wales were 5,100, the preceding six weeks having recorded no less than 32,000 deaths.

Another article, Influenza Ravages London Districts, on page two of Thursday, December 26, 1918, the edition of The Kelowna Record must have aroused a lot of local interest:

“Many dead in London are still without a prospect of burial. The situation is more serious in the districts of Hackney, Bethnal Green, Homerton and Poplar. In many Hackney homes, bodies have been waiting ten days for burial.

“Entrepreneurs have so many orders in hand that they cannot guarantee a date for the funeral. In Homerton, the funeral directors posted the notice, “No further orders can be placed until further notice.”

“The cemetery authorities are doing their best to overcome the difficulty by allowing the funeral on Sunday. Meanwhile, the “flu” continues, albeit less severely. “

Residents of other British Columbia cities suffered the effects of the 1918 pandemic. Powell River was so severely affected by the flu and the resulting shortage of workers that production at local paper mills was reduced , resulting in a severe shortage of newsprint and a reduction in the thickness of Vancouver dailies.

Fernie, in the East Kootenays, had as many as 300 cases of Spanish flu, with 63 deaths recorded in this community.

The Kelowna newspaper of November 28, 1918 reported that 1,550 people in Alberta had died from the Spanish flu.

By mid-December 1918, life in Kelowna was back to normal.

Schools have reopened, religious services have resumed, meetings have been scheduled, entertainment venues – including the “Dreamland” moving picture theater – have opened and the community has celebrated the first Yuletide in peacetime to the world in five years.

As the Spanish flu took leave of the community, the people of Kelowna breathed a collective sigh of relief and appreciation.

Much of the community escaped relatively unharmed as the Spanish flu retreated.

Local Chinese residents, however, were not so fortunate. Losing nine members of this close-knit community was a devastating blow, a poignant reminder that life in the “good old days” could be difficult and cruel.

Postscript: Due to the current COVID-19 outbreak, the 2020 annual general meeting of the Kelowna branch, Okanagan Historical Society, has been postponed.

The new date and location for this rescheduled meeting will be made public later in 2020.

This article is part of a series, submitted by the Kelowna branch, Okanagan Historical Society. Additional information is always welcome at P.O Box 22105 Capri P.O., Kelowna, B.C., V1Y 9N9.


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