This year’s COVID-19 pandemic brings to mind the 1918 influenza pandemic. The latter, caused by a highly contagious type-A strain of the H1N1 virus, peaked here in October 1918.
And there were no effective drugs or vaccines to stop it. It hit the City and District hard, with 100 cases diagnosed by mid-October.
At this point, our schools, churches, swimming pools, theatres, indoor-game rooms, etc. were shut-down and people ordered to wear masks. Two weeks later, there were 200 to 500 cases and eight deaths here. Most deaths were due to bronchial pneumonia brought-on by the flu.
Two hospitals served City and District flu-victims in 1918: North Vancouver General Hospital and Harbour View Sanitarium. And there were three doctors here: City Medical Officer William Newcombe; his private medical-practice partner Ernest Martin (Newcombe & Martin); and Thomas Verner.
The trio worked long, hard, absolutely exhausting hours every day, visiting flu-sufferers in homes, rooming houses, hotels, and hospitals. Dr. Martin, for instance, recorded 80 visits in one day during the flu’s peak. When Dr. Newcombe contracted the flu in mid-October, there were just two active doctors for a while.
For local First Nations cases, the St. Paul’s Indian Residential School was converted into a hospital. Their doctor was Thomas Wilson, the Indian Department’s medical officer.
He visited North Vancouver’s aboriginal patients once a day, sending worst cases across the Inlet to Vancouver General Hospital or St. Paul’s Hospital.
Then there were the military field-engineers and trainees at the Drill Hall by Mahon Park (now J.P. Fell Armoury). They created a hospital out of the Park’s open-air dancing pavilion, with a cookhouse next door. Here and abroad, some 40 of these engineers died of flu or pneumonia in 1918.
As with today’s COVID situation, many “fake” remedies were promoted. The major ones contained quinine. Yes, that quinine! They included Cinnamon & Quinine Capsules, Kennedy’s Tonic Port, and Reid’s Grip-Fix. Among the non-quinine ones were Woodward’s Cinnamon Pyretic Compound and Dr. Chase’s Menthol Bag.
Sources: The Vancouver Sun; Vancouver Daily World; The Province; J.P. Fell Armoury records; Mary-Ellen Kelm, “British Columbia First Nations and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19,” BC Studies, No. 122, Summer 1999.
Written by staff and volunteers with the North Vancouver Museum and Archives, “The Past is Prologue” is a series of articles exploring the history and heritage of North Shore.
For more information about the history of the North Shore and to learn about the new Museum of North Vancouver opening in late-2020, visit https://nvma.ca and sign up for the museum’s e-newsletter at https://secure.campaigner.com/CSB/Public/Form.aspx?fid=1807739&ac=gb1d.