Self-isolation. Social distancing. Public gatherings cancelled. Travel restrictions. Borders closed.

Coronavirus 2020, right?

Wrong. The so-called “Spanish” Flu, 1918.

The influenza pandemic of 1918, like the 2009 “swine” flu, was a version of H1N1. The 1918 version was particularly lethal. It infected approximately 500 million people, or a third of the world’s population, and killed an estimated 50 million people, a death rate yet to be matched by any pandemic. Unlike other influenzas, it struck people in the prime of their lives – 15 to 35 years of age – particularly severely, although it also attacked the young and the elderly.

There are striking similarities between the 1918 flu and COVID-19. Both began as rumours of a new strange illness; only slowly did the world become aware of its seriousness and how quickly it could spread. Then, panic ensued. The medical system was quickly overwhelmed. It didn’t help that doctors and nurses contracted the illness and died. Public gatherings were cancelled. The dead were buried without funerals. Businesses shut down because the staff were ill. Towns closed their borders; public transit was avoided. There were no airplanes, but train stations closed, and trains disinfected their cars.

Quarantine, or self-isolation, was only sure way to limit the spread of the disease. Today, we are unfamiliar with the practice, both psychologically and physically. A hundred years ago, even 60 years ago when I was a child, quarantine was common. It was an inconvenience but everyone knew it was the only way to control communicable diseases. And there were many: smallpox, chicken pox, whooping cough, measles, rubella, scarlet fever, mumps, diphtheria and polio. Except for smallpox, there was no vaccine to create “herd immunity;” that was accomplished solely by the illness sweeping through the community (or country) and leaving behind survivors who were now immune to the next wave of that particular illness.

Families may have been quarantined but they were far from isolated. Telephones and mail kept people connected and informed. They hunkered down in their homes while friends and neighbours checked in to see how they were doing, brought them groceries and mail, and did their chores.

My grandparents lived through the 1918 epidemic. These are the entries in Abe’s diary:

Sunday, October 27: Sabbath School and Service cancelled on account of influenza.
Friday, November 1: R. Sibbery arrived in pm, stayed for supper then left to stay at hotel as he had contracted influenza. [Did Abe and Addie wonder if they were now infected?]
Thursday, November 7: Ed Wright [neighbour] sick with flu. Was innoculated with anti-flu serum in evening.
Tuesday, November 12: Called at W. Graham’s in pm. W. Graham and two children sick with flu.
Friday, November 15: Children taken sick with flu overnight. [Imagine the panic Abe and Addie must have felt to see Edith and Bert fall ill.]
Sunday, November 17: Children no better. Called Dr. Donnelly overnight. [Now they were really worried.]
Monday, November 18: Children improving. [Relief, I’m sure]

The Meyronne Independent kept everyone informed as to the progress of the disease; November 6 seemed to be the height of the infection in the district:

“Spanish influenza is still raging in Meyronne and district. Many of the sufferers have recovered while many more have contracted the disease within the past week. . .There are about twenty patients in the Meyronne hotel which has been converted into an emergency hospital.”

“The school is closed this week. . . Station agent Howell is back at this post after his illness. His wife and family and George Jordan have all recovered.”

“Mike Forzley of Milly was brought to town Wednesday suffering with influenza. He was found out of doors, only partly clothed and in a delirious condition.”

“Every member of the Bank of Toronto staff has been ill. Those who first went down with it recovered sufficiently to step in and take hold of the work when the others became ill.”

“A.F. Haddad has recovered from his attack and is back at work. Lowie Saba has also recovered, but the other clerk, Miss Anne Havorka is now down with the disease. None of the Haddad store staff escaped the epidemic.”

“Mrs. Phil Stapleton died at her home north of Meyronne on Saturday, Nov. 2, of influenza and heart disease.”

There was still room for humour (laughter is the best medicine, after all):

“No small number of “safety-firsters” took up their daily allotment of “preventative” when the ban was lifted.” [This was during Prohibition when alcohol was not for sale under any circumstance, but alcohol “for medicinal purposes only” {yeah, sure!} was allowed during the epidemic.]

(Addie relates the 1918 epidemic in Chapter 17 of “Our Bull’s Loose in Town!” Tales from the Homestead)


#Influenza #H1N1Virus #CORVID-19 #SelfIsolation #MeyronneHistory #SpanishFlu #PrairieHistory #HannaFamilyHistory #MargaretGHanna #OurBullsLooseInTown #Quarantine

One thought on “Contagion!


    Very timely, Margaret:

    Toni and I returned from Waterloo late last night, before WestJet stops flying, provincial and /or civic borders close, and the world stops turning. After enjoying four airports and four crowded airplanes over the past week, we are self isolating for the next fortnight.

    We went to Waterloo to spend time with our son and family who are on spring break, and now on an indefinite extended school closure and work-at-home routine. All hell broke out throughout the country around the time we landed in Toronto last week, and we were very pleased to return to Saskatchewan terra firma a day early. If we might get sick, we’d rather be sick at home. While in Ontario, we cancelled all Toronto activity plans and partook in only two very scaled back “public” events: mini golf on Saturday and a restaurant breakfast on Sunday, both in rather underpopulated facilities. And both are now likely to be severely restricted or closed.

    My e-mail has, like the virus, almost doubled overnight. So, with about 145 of them hovering over my screen, I have lots of reading to do, and lots to reply to. Plus I need to deal with a fair amount of research filing, so I will not be bored before I get to leave my Dungeon Office for good behaviour. I just received a note telling me that the Provincial Archives has closed the Reference Office, but is still accepting electronic enquiries. And the Architectural Heritage Society is now looking at hosting its AGM via a teleconference instead of an on-site event in Saskatoon.

    So far we know of no one who has contracted the virus – let’s hope it stays that way.

    All the best, FRANK

    Frank Korvemaker, M.S.M.; SAA (Hon)

    Ret’d Archivist / Construction Historian

    59 Compton Road

    Regina, Saskatchewan S4S 2Y2

    Tel: (306) 586-1405 E-Mail:


    Hon. Corporate Archivist for the Saskatchewan Association of Architects

    For Information on the Association:


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