January 23rd, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 4
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
H1N1- The First Time Around
Looking Back
courtesy Ima BC Graver Pat Goulden
Fernie grave marker for Aagot (Anges) Anderson- age 35
I have spent many years researching on and off the story of the great pandemic of 1918 and other influenza outbreaks in later years. It is a complex piece of history and continues to evolve as researchers, both historic and medical, dig deeper and deeper, especially into the Spanish flu epidemic evidence.

1997 was my first sojourn into this 1918 story, specifically in the Fernie area. There, like everywhere else across Canada, this nasty type “A” virus swept into town and seemed to pick and chose who would survive and who would not. On checking ages of fatalities back then I noticed that the newspaper stats in Fernie showed the majority of the 59 lost were healthy young men. This has been duly noted and graphed in multiple studies years later and was not typical of the ordinary flu graph. That graph generally shows in a curve who is most likely to die (very young, compromised and aged) in these type of virulent outbreaks.

In my Fernie research I turned up an interesting story that was paralleled somewhat by a recent CBC article by columnist Sarah Reiger. In her piece this last December, a century after the Spanish flu hit Calgary, Sarah profiled a nurse in training by the name of Edna Traunweiser. Edna was 29 when she volunteered that terrible November to help flu stricken soldiers at the Sarcee Camp Hospital on Signal Hill. Her 27 year old brother Flight Lieutenant George Nobel Traunweiser had been killed in action with the RAF six months earlier. The Flanders grippe, as the British called it, took Edna two weeks later and she passed the day after the war ended. She lies in Calgary’s Union Cemetery and is one of 384 Calgarians that died from the flu as it ran its deadly course through that city.
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The Fernie parallel I had researched was the story of one of the first and most dedicated volunteers who had worked tirelessly nursing flu victims. Her name was Aagot (Agnes) Anderson of West Fernie. She was a Norwegian who had emigrated to Fernie via Spring Valley, Wisconsin eleven years earlier. Agnes Anderson endeared herself to every man, woman and child she treated and when the flu induced double pneumonia finally took her that town lost a very special person. At age 35 she left behind a husband and three grown sons, one of which was serving in the war effort in France at the time. Imagine surviving the trench warfare of World War 1 only to return home and find your mother had died as heroically as Agnes had; for she surely knew all along the risk she was taking! I find it painfully ironic that at almost the end of this sickening war, which had taken so many young men and women, the H1N1 was doing the same at home.

I thought it would be profoundly interesting to explore the Blairmore Enterprise newspaper editions for 1918/19 so as to share some of the stories that came out of what the Germans referred to back then as the “Blitz Katarrah” (lightning cold). The flu reports, updates and losses I found in the Enterprise show a surge in early November, 1918 and later in January, 1919 just like it seems to do these days.

By late October of 1918 the realization had set in that a dangerous virus was starting to take its toll here and by November 1st a headline announced that the town of Blairmore had been quarantined. It was resolved by citizen request that starting November 3rd: “that the Municipal Health and Relief Committee order the closing of all places of business, except public eating places by 1 p.m., indefinitely.” There were strict quarantines put on CPR and a demand for special constables to enforce it and health regulations. It seems that no passengers were to leave or board trains in Blairmore and that there was great concern about “parties” entering the town from other highly infected districts.
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Another article entitled “Pass in the Throes of the “Flu” Epidemic” talked about the grim realities of this outbreak and that the first to succumb were two children of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Sciarreppa of Hillcrest and another child of Mrs. John Dragon also of Hillcrest. Then the first of many young men were lost, that being Fred Patton, yardmaster at Frank, who was covering for others workers that were off because of the virus. He left behind a wife and three kids. It was also announced in the November 1st issue that the Alberta Hotel “has been quarantined for Spanish influenza.” Perhaps to try and lighten the mood, as editors back then were prone to do, they further stated that: “Part of the building should be in an ideal state of disinfection.”

By next issue, November 8th, it was reported that an appeal had gone out to the Red Cross in Calgary for emergency supplies. A shipment arrived including all manner of essentials like towels, sheets, nurse’s aprons and also four dozen large and two dozen small “pneumonia jackets.” Pneumonia jackets were variously constructed of oiled silk, muslin, and sometimes even included a system of rubber tubing that circulated hot water around the chest as a means of keeping the patient warm. Pre-antibiotic options!

In the November 15th issue a small piece said that young Harry Ferby, proprietor of the Union Meat Market in Coleman had died of the flu. There came a surge then of sad losses then including Frank Jalek aged 20, Frank Nicholson aged 30 and Isabella “Bella” Buchanan Prentice age 40. Bella and husband had left Frank when the mine had closed there earlier in 1918 as he had found work in Drumheller. She was called to Blairmore to the bedside of her very ill daughter Mary Devlin who was then married to Daniel Rees. Shortly after arriving she herself caught the flu which developed into pneumonia and despite all efforts including a pulmoter she died on the 14th. Bella left behind her husband John and five children.
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Another loss in that issue was listed as Mrs. Watts Goodwin. Her name was in fact Lily and she was only 38. Once again a husband and five children were bereaved. Watts Goodwin was serving overseas in the war at the time and was not discharged until April 1919. I can’t imagine how he must have felt getting that news. Once again the soldier made it home but the wife was lost.

By November 22nd the paper indicated that perhaps the worst was over. Quarantines and raised awareness seemed to have blunted its attack. There were still losses like little two year old Nicola Bombardier and the newspaper mentions a young man thusly: “John Raffal said to be the ablest miner in the CNP fell victim to the flu this week after but one days illness.” Testimony to just how quick that virus could move. And under the papers Local and General column came this note: “Mrs. Ricardo and Mrs. Savaria died of influenza in Coleman this week. Their husbands had just purchased a ranch in partnership near Leduc and intended to move there in the spring.” So many lives turned upside down by an invisible hand of death.

By the November 29th issue it was announced that the “flu ban” had been lifted by which I assume they meant quarantines and extraordinary measures. But as we all know there is usually a resurgence in January and such was the case in 1918.
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The January 23rd, 1919 issue has an item that indicates that Mrs. Michael Giacomuzzi who was “but a young woman” went from the flu quickly into pneumonia and then passed, exactly one hundred years ago. This was further exacerbated for her husband days later by the passing of their fifteen month old son. Good Grief! This was indeed a terrible time here in the Pass.

Perhaps to lighten this column’s tone a glance at the editor’s tongue-in-cheek comments throughout this ordeal is in order. I found the following comment in a November issue: “An exchange says: “We notice that few women over the age of thirty-five have died from the flu. One bright spot in the lives of old maids.” Really? Or this little ditty: “As a precaution against the Spanish “flu” a friend of ours suggests frequent doses of prohibition rum, whisky, brandy, lager, gin or champagne taken in the order named, but not too far between. In this way $10 a day will keep the “flu” away.”

Well we all know what keeps the flu away, or at the very least can be really important in mitigating its effects. We have a lot more medicine and know-how these days to handle the latest H1N1 variant including specially tailored vaccines. If you are interested in reading about a scary present day version of the above join me next week when I will share with you a story about our local Orpheum Theater operators Shaun and Alison Wagner and their eight year old son James’ life threatening pre-Christmas H1N1 nightmare.
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January 23rd, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 4
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