American Red Cross volunteers carry a Spanish influenza victim, 1919.
Pamela Chan, BCFamily.ca/Editorial
It is hard to believe that well over 40 million people worldwide died from the Spanish influenza at the end of WW1. Recently it came to my attention that there was a Coquitlam quarantine of influenza patients across the nearest train tracks and down the hill. Some of the victims died just beyond my property line and across the road. Their tragic and painful deaths feel all the more immediate now that I know what happened so close to where I live.
There are few details that are readily available about how the Spanish influenza affected British Columbia. You can read the best description of what happened in the early days of the arrival of this influenza in Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam on this Coquitlam based blog. Many more people were affected in urban and rural locations around British Columbia and Canada.
In total, approximately 50,000 people died from Spanish influenza in Canada. In some First Nations communities, the rate of death from this influenza was 10 times the national statistics.
Spanish influenza came on quickly and – if fatal – resulted in a terrible death. Victims couldn’t breathe, their skin went dark and they experienced a drowning effect as edema fluid (blood) built up in their lungs. Death could occur in one or two days. Some of the afflicted had large volumes of blood rushing forcefully out of their noses.
The knowledge that soldiers and one nurse suffered and died just down the hill and across the way, both in Port Coquitlam and on the Riverview Hospital property, made a deep impression on me. I couldn’t believe that I’ve lived in this area for four years but only just found out about this local history.
In my family a father and young son died from Spanish influenza, leaving behind a wife and three young daughters. The destiny of 1/4 of my family, including their emigration to Canada, would likely have been different if the father hadn’t died. Soldiers who endured unimaginable hardships during WW1 must have been overjoyed to be back in Canada – only to have their lives cuts short, suddenly, by influenza. Spanish Influenza was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic that had a devastating impact on troops overseas and on the population at home here in British Columbia and – closer to my home – a few stones throws down the hill.
The worse pandemic in history, via Slate magazine.
America’s forgotten pandemic: Spanish Influenza of 1918. (video)
Epidemic Encounters: Influenza, Society and Culture in Canada 1918 – 20 (See cover shown above.)
Spanish Influenza in the City of Vancouver (thesis)