- Hello Jeff - Most of those who survived the Spanish Flu
have passed on. The only ones left now are those who were young children
at the time.
- I found the following stories of some survivors interesting...a
great insight into what life is like during a pandemic. If we read between
the lines, we also learn what to expect and what we need to do to prepare.
- Schools, churches and businesses closed which means people
must have their own supplies. Masks, gloves and medical supplies will quickly
be in short supply. Many staples are now imported from China and other
countries which means they won't be available.
- How can one keep their immune system functioning if they
cannot get nourishing food and clean water, and in some cases electricity
could also be a luxury.
- Spanish Flu Survivors Recount Fear, Nosebleeds, Makeshift
- By Helen Branswell
- The Canadian Press
- VANCOUVER Louise Brooks has only fleeting, fever-clouded
memories of her encounter with the Spanish Lady.
- She recalls the pattern on the wallpaper on her bedroom
walls wafting gently, a trick the fever played on her young mind. She recalls
the loving care of her mother, Gertrude the only person, besides
the family doctor, who was allowed to enter the room where she lay.
- "And I also remember having copious nosebleeds,"
says Brooks, a chic and active 99-year-old currently living in West Vancouver.
- Though not a symptom of seasonal influenza, nosebleeds
were a common feature among people struck by the Spanish flu.
- "My impression is that at that time the doctor told
my mother that it was one of the things that helped me get through it,"
recounts Brooks, who grew up in Vancouver's Kitsilano Point neighbourhood.
- Brooks then Louise Elliott was nine when
she fell ill in the fall of 1918. She was the only member of her family
to contract the disease that was sweeping the globe, spreading fear as
fast as contagion.
- "Oh, they (people) were really frightened of it
because there'd been news of it coming towards them all the time,"
she says, noting some wore garlic in muslin sacks around their necks in
the hopes it would ward off the disease.
- "The undertaking parlours couldn't handle the bodies
as people died. And I have this vague memory that they were having to use
school auditoriums and places like that to store bodies temporarily."
- Her father, Lloyd, and older brothers Phil and Ben were
barred from the sick room, though Brooks says they would poke their heads
around the sheet hanging in the doorway to check on her as she started
- There was great relief in the household when it was clear
the baby of the family would pull through. But Brooks' family did not escape
- Her mother's sister, who lived in Massachusetts, lost
her husband and an infant child to the virus within 24 hours of each other.
Left with only a young son, her aunt became a public health nurse
and an inspiration to Brooks, who followed the same career path.
- "She lost everything she'd had her home and
everything," says Brooks. "She kept on and developed a life for
herself and her little boy."
- Such tragedies were common at the time, she says. "Looking
back at it now, you know it was a very difficult time to live through."
- Rev. Francis Stevens remembers feeling cheated and adrift
when the Spanish flu swept through his household and East Vancouver neighbourhood.
- The sense of being cheated came from the fact that Stevens
was sick at Christmas.
- "It was a very dead Christmas," recalls Stevens,
who will mark his 102nd birthday in early October.
- "The folks tried to make things good for the children.
But with everybody more or less sick and Mother worried about her family,
it wasn't a very happy time at all."
- Stevens, the eldest of five children and the first in
his family to get sick, recovered relatively quickly. But schools didn't
reopen in January and he and his playmates were admonished not to gather
elsewhere to ease their boredom.
- "We were sort of at a loss. I mean the children,"
explains Stevens, who as an adult became a United Church minister.
- "Your school and your home were your two places
of security. And both were collapsing."
- "My friends were either sick or their families were
keeping them in the house so they wouldn't get the flu. And I was getting
over it so I wanted to get going again. But we didn't get going for awhile."
- Stevens' father was Harry or H.H. Stevens, a Conservative
member of Parliament for one of the Vancouver ridings. Fortunately for
the Stevens family, Parliament wasn't sitting in the fall of 1918 so Mr.
Stevens was home.
- He was forced to take on kitchen duty as influenza struck
all five children and eventually his wife. Then he too fell ill.
- "I can recall in January my father getting the meals
when he was hardly able to walk around," Rev. Stevens says. "And
I would help him. I actually helped him make porridge."
- All pulled through, although the youngest, a three-year-old
named Douglas, had been a sickly baby and gave them a scare. "He had
a terrible time during the flu. My mother thought he was going to die."
- Most of the people in the neighbourhood were sick. A
cousin got sick and died in the space of a few days. Still, awareness of
the enormity of the event was slow to take hold, Stevens says.
- "Well, it was cumulative, like a snow slide or something.
It got worse and worse. It got so bad that some of the churches didn't
have service. We didn't go to Sunday school. School was closed. They told
people not to go anywhere where there was a crowd."
- "That was pressed on people, in the paper, almost
every issue. 'Don't go out in the crowds."'
- Nearly a century later, he remembers the loneliness of
the time, but doesn't recall a sense of relief when the viral assault subsided.
"I don't remember the all-clear. I just remember that we went on."
- Ninety years after the Spanish flu laid her entire household
low, Anna Shillinglaw remembers the kindness of neighbours that helped
her family pull through.
- Born Anna Rott, she grew up on a homestead in southwest
Saskatchewan, near Bitter Lake. Her father, August Rott, was "one
of the farmers of Saskatchewan," she says with pride.
- Shillinglaw, whose 98th birthday is in mid-September,
was the fourth of seven children. All caught the flu bug, including her
- Shillinglaw remembers that as she was coming down with
the illness, she was frightened to find herself alone in a bedroom.
- "I put my head in the pillows and I cried and I
cried. And my mother said to my dad: 'Give that girl a lickin.' And my
dad said: 'Would I give that girl a lickin'? That child is sick."'
- She recalls little of her battle with the virus, though
something that befell a younger brother, Benny, is etched in her memory.
At one point, she says, he tried to get up but was weak and leaned against
the wall for support.
- "And thick red blood, clotted blood, came out of
his nose. And I thought 'I'm going to see what happened here.' And I went
closer and it smelled just like a dead critter."
- No one in the family was well enough to tend the animals
on the Rott farm. "We were all in bed. Nobody (was) up any more then."
- A boy from a neighbouring homestead came to help, bringing
soup his mother had made. Decades on, Shillinglaw still is eager to acknowledge
her family's benefactor, Henry Kindopp.
- "Put that in," she says of his name. "My
dad always said 'I always did like him. You could depend on him.'"
- The entire Rott family was in bed for two weeks, but
- "After we got all up and around, Dad said: 'I thought
this girl here, I just about thought we just about lost her.' And he said
'She wouldn't move. She was just like no life there."'
- "And that woke me up. He was talking about me."
- Shillinglaw, who now lives in Langley, southeast of Vancouver,
recalls hearing of many local people who were ill, some of whom died. One
woman's husband was so addled with fever that he kept threatening to throw
himself in the well.
- "She had one of her brothers come and stay with
her in case he tried to do something delirious."
- The Spanish flu claimed the life of the woman who would
have been Anna Rott's mother-in-law. Ada Shillinglaw, who lived in Alberta,
died at age 39 of the flu a few days after giving birth to a baby. The
infant died as well.
- "It was a great disturbance across the country,"
says Shillinglaw, who named a daughter Ada after the mother-in-law she
- Isabelle Dunn was one of the fortunate ones in 1918.
When the Spanish flu swept through MacGregor, Man., 130 kilometres west
of Winnipeg, Dunn then 10-year-old Isabelle Moore did not contract
the vicious influenza bug.
- Still, she remembers the disruption in the community.
Her father was a policeman and was often pressed into service to help families
who couldn't tend to their farms because they were too sick.
- As Dunn recalls, the women who worked the local telephone
exchange would call around to homes with telephones to check on how people
were fending. They would then try to round up help for those who needed
- Dunn's father took a lot of those calls.
- "They'd go to the farms and let the stock out and
feed them or give them water, because they couldn't last very long if they
were tied in with no water. And people were very, very ill," says
Dunn, 100, who now lives in Burnaby, B.C.
- "He kept going out when he could and doing work
- Dunn and her eight siblings, however, were on strict
orders not to stray from home.
- "There were an awful lot of sick people. And the
schools and church everything was closed," she recalls.
- "And we were kids and we had to stay home in our
own yard. You didn't run around so much."
- Dunn's father made his children work on lessons at home.
When they went back to school, both Dunn and one of her brothers got put
into a grade ahead, "because we were so advanced. I guess that's because
we didn't get the flu. We had to sit there and do our homework."
- Dunn's stepmother, who was a district nurse, did fall
ill. But she survived. Others were not so lucky.
- Dunn recalls that a big empty house in the town was turned
into an emergency hospital, and that caring for the sick and the
dead put a strain on the community.
- "Lots and lots of people passed away and they couldn't
bury them. There were just not enough people to do all this."
- "Bodies were stacked up in an old hotel down there,
I know that."
- She remembers one case in particular, a boy who fell
ill in the spring wave of 1919.
- "One of the boys in our class lived with his brother
on a farm about a mile and a half or two miles out of town. And he went
home from school and found his brother just lying on the ground and he
had possibly laid there all day. And he was very ill."
- "And this boy ran back to our place because we had
the nearest telephone."
- The ill youngster was taken by train that night to a
Winnipeg hospital, but was released several weeks later sent home
to die. He did, says Dunn.
- Colleen Levesque wasn't yet a gleam in her parents' eyes
when the Spanish flu raced through northern British Columbia.
- But the tales her parents, Amadee and Sybil Levesque,
told her as she was growing up made the events of the time strikingly real
for the 86-year-old Levesque, who now lives in Courtenay on Vancouver Island.
- Just weeks after her parents were married on Thanksgiving
weekend in 1918 they went to Vancouver to get supplies for the logging
camp where they lived in the Charlotte Islands.
- On the trip back to Prince Rupert, people on the boat
began to get ill. When they reached Prince Rupert, armed policemen were
waiting at the dock, Levesque's parents told her.
- "Prince Rupert was at that time quarantined because
there were so many sick people. And the captain didn't want to take them
back to Vancouver, because he said 'We don't have enough food on the boat
to feed these people,"' she says.
- "And so Dad said to the captain 'I think it's a
good idea if you have one of your deck hands put down a ramp. And if you'll
do that, I'll take my wife's hand (and) we'll go down the ramp first and
our crew can follow us. And as soon as we're off the boat, then you can
put your boat in reverse and get out of here."'
- "And Mum said the policemen on the dock were shooting
their guns into the air because they didn't want them there. They had so
many sick people they couldn't take any more."
- A born storyteller, Levesque recounts the memories as
if they were her own.
- "Mum said it was just really scary. They didn't
want any more people because they had so many they could hardly look after
- "But you can understand how they (the Levesques
and their crew) felt. They wanted to get back to the logging camp and get
working. 'Course, it ended up quite a few of them died."
- The group managed to disembark at Prince Rupert. But
Sybil Levesque was already dizzy with the onset of flu. Her daughter says
she and another woman were made to spend the night in a warehouse.
- "And they didn't know till the morning they were
sitting on coffins. There were three coffins in there with dead people
- A cook from the logging camp travelled to Prince Rupert
to look after the sick workers. The man, who went by the name of Dada Sauve,
forced Sybil Levesque to eat oranges. She later credited his care with
pulling her through.
- Amadee Levesque was also ill, but was cared for elsewhere
in the town. His daughter says he recounted seeing flu-stricken men rise
from their beds in delirium and keel over dead.
- "Mum said when she met (up with) Dad, he couldn't
even lift his suitcase, he was that weak," Colleen Levesque says.
- The Canadian Press
- Patricia A. Doyle DVM, PhD Bus Admin, Tropical Agricultural
Economics Univ of West Indies Please visit my "Emerging Diseases"
message board at: http://www.emergingdisease.org/phpbb/index.php Also my
new website: http://drpdoyle.tripod.com/ Zhan le Devlesa tai sastimasa
Go with God and in Good Health