Spanish Flu Impacted Owen Sound, Ontario causing illness and death throughout the region. But it also illustrated the strength of the community spirit in the area.
Throughout history, there have been influenza epidemics which have caused thousands, even millions, of people to become sick or in some cases die! One such malady occurred eight decades ago and its impact on this area was devastating!
The impact of the "Spanish Flu" was on a world-wide scale. It was believed to have started in the trenches of war-torn Europe. There was some irony in the name "Spanish Flu" because it was believed to have had its origins from the Chinese workers used by the British Army.
The virus quickly spread from the front lines of the war to Britain as soldiers returned from the front for leave or medical reasons. Britain then became a "jumping off' point to North America and elsewhere for this disease as soldiers returned to their homes in Canada.
Unfortunately, the Owen Sound area was not spared from the horrific consequences of this disease!
Although medical authorities knew that the epidemic would probably arrive with the first returning soldiers, there was little that could be done to prepare to battle the disease.
David Gagan wrote in his book A Necessity Among Us that "cases began to appear in the first week of October 1918" and that the October 18, 1918 edition of a local paper reported that "the disease was Claiming More Victims Than the Battle Fronts of Europe". At that time there were already 800 cases of the flu in the area.
Health officials closed all public meeting places such as schools, churches, and theatres. The area medical community was swamped with work and the hospital was over run with patients. Consequently, only those with the severest form of the disease were hospitalized and others were cared for in private homes.
To assist the doctors and nurses, local teachers were recruited to assist in the care of those who had not been hospitalized.
To make matters worse, the war effort had depleted food and fuel supplies in the area and there was a shortage of labour due to enlistments in the armed services. These circumstances as well as the fact that the age group hardest hit by the "Spanish Flu" was those between the ages of 20 and 40 left the community struggling to keep up the battle against the insidious disease
The height of the epidemic lasted about 45 days, and, in that time frame, there were more than 2,000 reported cases. This staggering number represented approximately 15-20 percent of the area population! Twenty-one area residents died. These numbers were similar to other regions all across Canada!
The Grey-Bruce region, and all of Canada, already under the pressures of wartime had been dealt a vicious blow by the "Spanish Flu". However, the grit, determination and community spirit had helped to minimize the long-term impact of the epidemic on the area. The Owen Sound Sun editorialized about the great effort of the medical professionals of the area and those volunteers who had risked contracting the disease in order to help their neighbours. The newspaper also praised the hospital stating, "If many Owen Sounders did not realize what the hospital meant to the town, they have surely had their eyes opened to its value."
The information used in this article came from many sources including David Gagan's "A Necessity Among Us" and articles from various newspapers.
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