Revelstoke Queen Victoria Hospital nursing graduates in 1918. Rear: Evelyne Wilson, Marjorie Lee, Frances Smith, Elsie McEwen. Centre: Dr. J.H. Hamilton, Matron Miss Skinner, Dr. W.H. Sutherland. Front: Ida Wilcox, Ida Harbell. (W. Barton, photographer)

Looking back: Salmon Arm’s experience with the Spanish flu

Salmon Arm Museum curator Deborah Chapman looks at impact on community

By Deborah Chapman,

Salmon Arm Museum

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed more than how we interact at the R.J. Haney Heritage Village and Museum.

It has also changed operations in the archives. Protocols have been set in place to keep returning staff safe. The question on everyone’s minds is, “When will we open?” That depends on the virus, the resources to implement our plan, and keeping the public safe.

Researchers still contact the archives by phone and email. They, too, have been influenced by the pandemic. They seem to want different questions answered.

Recently two researchers wanted to know how the 1918 Spanish flu impacted our community. They felt a similarity to the pandemic we are currently facing.

A quick search through the Observer index did not reveal much.

“It is dangerous and highly infectious, and therefore not to be regarded lightly by any of us.”

On October 10, 1918, the Observer reported five cases of the Spanish ‘flu in Vancouver. The illness was described as similar to la grippe, but of a more severe type of infection that subjected patients to pneumonia.

“It is dangerous and highly infectious, and therefore not to be regarded lightly by any of us.”

The Observer went on to report that the incubation period was one to four days, and most often two days. They knew it was spread by discharge from the nose, throat and air passages of patients or carriers. It was transmitted by direct contact, or by the use of handkerchiefs common towels, and other things used by an infected patient.

The report was accompanied by a public notice to the Ratepayers and Citizens of Salmon Arm.

“The Provincial Board of Health has proclaimed regulations empowering all Municipalities to close all Schools, Churches, Theatres, and other public meeting places to prevent the spread of Spanish Influenza.” The notice was signed, “Faithfully yours, John E. Lacey Mayor.”

Elizabeth Annie Fossett, 32, was the first to succumb. She died of the Spanish Influenza on Oct. 26, 1918. She was the wife of the C.P.R. road superintendent.

Mrs. Fossett had been visiting relatives in the northern part of the province. She and Freddie, probably her child, had returned home in good health, but developed colds. Freddie recovered in hospital, Mrs. Fossett did not.

“Death of Mrs. C. Fossett causes Gloom in City” was the headline in the Observer. Church gatherings were banned, so a service was held out-of-doors at the Fossett residence. People attended standing a safe distance, across the tracks from the house.

Then a health professional died. Nurse (Clara) Woods of the Enderby Hospital passed away early in November. She was just 22. Nurse Woodshad been in Salmon Arm nursing George Dobie, who had pneumonia. Mr. Dobie recovered well enough to permit Nurse Wood to look after Mrs. Fossett.

The same week, William Fraser, of Anglemont, and one of the former owners of the Observer, died in hospital at New Westminster. He also contracted pneumonia after an attack of Spanish influenza.

When Percy Holliday died the next week of pneumonia and Spanish flu, Rev. Maurice E. West did the interment at Mt. Ida Cemetery. The pallbearers were Reeve Kew and Messrs. Hal Pardey, R. Andrews, Percy Gorse, F. Bromham and August Laitinen. He was 34 and left a widow and three young children.

Susan Jane Pegg of Canoe died Dec. 12. The Observer reported that, for a time, it looked like she would recover from the flu. Her husband, Private Thomas Pegg, was overseas fighting a war which he survived.

“This wasn’t an old person’s illness.”

Mid-January, three months later, Mrs. Alfred Martinson’s death was announced. Mary was only 24, living in Notch Hill, and she developed pneumonia after contracting the Spanish Influenza. She had married Alfred at the age of 17 and had left three children, two daughters and a son, all under the age of six. This wasn’t an old person’s illness.

51-year-old Miss Agnes Lee Inkster went to Ashcroft mid-November 1918 to help nurse the First Nations of Merritt and Nicola. They had been hard hit by the flu. Nurse Inkster had been nursing in our community since 1911 and operated a cottage-type hospital. What was Salmon Arm to do?

Then the doctor’s son, Oscar Theodore Reinhard, died at the end of November 1918. He was only 35. Who was in town to nurse him? And what about other patients?

The Observer’s record shows that, luckily, three student nurses had completed training at Queen Victoria Hospital earlier in the year: Ida Harbell, Ida Wilcox, and Evelyne Wilson, and Nurse E.A. Whitmore was left in “charge” of the hospital.

Then Elvira Stirling thought about becoming a nurse. Did the pandemic influence her? No one knows, but she entered nurses training in early 1919, at Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital.

May McVicar was hired in March 1919 as the new matron at the hospital, but, for reasons not divulged, she left for the coast a month later. Then a Nurse Green replaced Matron McVicar.

Luckily, Miss Agnes Lee Inkster survived the endemic and came back to our community to continue nursing. The Observer announced her death in 1945 at the age of 78 .

.

“It was too early.”

By Dec. 19, 1918 the city council took steps to remove the community gathering ban.

It was too early. December 25 saw Edward Murphy, 30, die from complications of the virus.

The schools went back in session and the flu bug became active again.

The city had to ban public gatherings at the beginning of March, 1920. The next week, 25-year-old Marjory Hope died of pneumonia following grippe. Oddly, her death must have seemed hopeful – grippe was not the Spanish flu.

By the end of March of the same year, the flu epidemic was said to be waning and news coverage stopped. If our archival index is to be believed, schools did not shut down again until the end of December 1926, when a (possibly different) flu bug started appearing in community members.

So a word of warning from the Observer journals and the archives department: Stay safe! Listen to Dr. Bonnie Henry.

We know we really are all in this together.

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