Category: agriculture

THE 1918 INFLUENZA OUTBREAK

THE 1918 INFLUENZA OUTBREAK

The Spanish Flu Panics Canada

By George Siamandas

 

Is today’s swine flu an echo of the savage Spanish flu that struck the world in 1918? That fall, as our troops returned from WW1, they brought home a silent killer that would afflict one in six Canadians, killing 30,000-50,000 during the winter of 1918. Such pandemics had visited before. In 1889-90 flu affected 40% of the globe.

The Spanish flu hit Canada Sept 9, killing 9 American soldiers in Quebec City. On the same day 400 students in a Quebec College fell ill. By Oct 9, Brantford Ontario reported 2,500,cases. The flu then raged across the prairies. As the troop trains headed west, during that dreadful October, soldiers brought home the disease to their towns, villages and farms. Tens of thousands fell ill. By early October as the death toll mounted communities started to ban public gatherings. Schools, colleges, and universities closed. Across the country most church bells did not ring on Sundays. But Father Trasiuk of Hamilton’s Stanislaus Church, had defied the ban, and was fined $25.

Hudson Bay stores remained open but for the protection of customers, staff wore masks. So did employees of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and telephone workers. In more than 100 prairie towns, passengers were not allowed to de-train unless they promised to stay put for the duration of the epidemic. Some towns like Lethbridge and Drumheller threw up a total quarantine.

 

HARDEST HIT

The most vulnerable were healthy 20-30 year olds, the dangerous age according to the Regina Leader. Their symptoms? A cold that turned into flu. Temperatures of 105. Dreadful aches. And then pneumonia where victims suffocated in their own secretions. Some, bleeding from the nose. At the greatest risk were pregnant women who miscarried and almost always died.

 

ABORIGINALS PERISHED IN HIGH NUMBERS

The flu scorched its way through northern communities devastating aboriginal populations. Amongst aboriginals living in tepees and log cabins in the Peace River district, 85% died.

Some became desperate for medical attention. An aboriginal woman whose husband had died, paddled 33 miles down the Kapuskasing River, with a 6 mile portage to find a doctor for her two children. At the Indian Village of Sand Point, near Lake Nipigon, 58 out of 70 were sick. Luckily, only five died. But according to the custom of the day, Indian caskets were painted black, while white victims had their caskets covered in white cloth.

In Calgary they ran out of coffins. And in many rural areas, with no time to bury the dead, corpses were placed on the roofs of their owners’ log cabins, out of reach of animals till spring.

 

EVEN THE HEROES

After years at the front, returning soldiers could not embrace their loved ones. Anxious wives would meet husbands at the station unable to touch them, or even get near. One, who did, died, shortly after their reunion. Another case poignantly brought home the flu’s cruel irony. Airman Alan McLeod of Stonewall, Manitoba became at 18, Canada’s youngest Victoria Cross winner. Days after returning to his home town, this young hero, who had shot down three enemy planes and survived a burning plane crash, did not survive the silent killer.

 

MEDICINE IS POWERLESS

At the peak of the epidemic some doctors saw 80 patients a day and one averaged 58 house calls daily. Few charged for their services. Dr James Colliers practising in Vernon River PEI would take his daughters with him on housecalls so they could do the sweeping or wash dishes. Meanwhile scientists looked desperately for a cure. Winnipeggers Major Dr FT Cadham of the Canadian Army Medical Corps, and Doctor Gordon Bell, frantically worked for a vaccine, and found some success. Dr Cadham reported to a national medical conference in 1918 that of their test sample of 528 soldiers admitted to a Winnipeg hospital, no soldier who had taken two doses of the vaccine died. When word got out, Dr Cadham needed a police escort, so desperate were citizens to get the vaccine.

 

COMMUNITY VOLUNTEERS

In 1918 almost everyone was nursed at home. People helped their neighbours in whatever way they could. Women volunteered as nurses. Service club members cooked meals in church kitchens and boy scouts delivered the meals. In Ontario the thousands of women volunteers became known as the Sisters of Service. Throughout the country Christmas dinner celebrations were held to thank the volunteers. But there was a sour side too. In Calgary some women posed as private nurses charging as much as $25 per day, while real nurses worked two shifts for only $2. Meanwhile, druggists in Vancouver boosted the price of camphor used as a disinfectant from 60 cents pound to $6.50. Masks sold for a nickel. Preventive measures included bags of camphor, or garlic. At Toronto’s Union Station, tin drinking cups were replaced by disposable paper ones. Cinnamon, tobacco, alcohol and goose grease and turpentine mixtures were touted as cures.

 

THE AFTERMATH

Scarcely a family escaped being touched by the flu. Almost everyone lost a mother, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, or a dad. Thousands were left orphans. Others survived to suffer a lifetime of heart and respiratory problems. In 1918, with no national preparedness in place, all the effort had been at the grass roots level. In 1919 the federal govt finally established a health dept. Hospitals were built. Public health improved.

 

FLU’S ORIGIN

And where did it start? I remains unclear. The Spanish flu is thought to have originated in burning pile of manure at Fort Riley Kansas in March 1918. American troops got sick, subsequently taking it to Europe. It got tagged the Spanish flu because Spain was first to get hit hard and without censorship, the first country to admit it had an epidemic. By the time it was over, influenza had killed 20-30M worldwide. But its cause remained a mystery. In 1933 a British doctor successfully isolated the disease to an airborne virus. Later it was identified as the A type strain. Today the story of the world’s greatest killer is all but forgotten. There is little mention in history books. It’s as if it never happened. But could it happen again? And if it does, are we ready for it? Do we really have an effective vaccine today? And can we develop it quickly enough when needed?

The 1919 Winnipeg Police Strike

1919 Winnipeg Police Strike

The tale of two Winnipeg Police Chiefs

By George Siamandas

© George Siamandas

It has only happened once in Winnipeg’s history, a Police Strike, and when it happened 81 years ago June 9, during the six week 1919 general strike, it resulted in the firing of all but 23 members of the police and major changes in the careers of two police chiefs. Despite warnings by the Police Commission in 1917, Winnipeg policemen had formed their own union in July 1918. At a meeting of the trades and labour Council the newly formed union voted in support of the general Strike. Yet they stayed on the job at the request of the strike committee. In effect it replaced the city as their control.

It is thought the policemen having just returned from WW1, where they fought side by side with workers were sympathetic to the aims of the workers. On May 19 Mayor Charles Gray, asked the policemen to sign an agreement not to participate in a sympathy strike. Two hundred and twenty-eight refused and on June 9 all but the 23 who signed loyalty oaths were dismissed from the force. To keep order, a special police force was set up under Major Lyall with members of the Army and the North West Mounted Police. Three thousand “specials’ were hired.

FIRING OF CHIEF MACPHERSON

On June 11, Chief McPherson took the fall for the policemen’s actions and was dismissed. McPherson had been chief from 1911 and a cop since 1903. McPherson had a good record and had been prominent in the successful firebug investigations of 1913. Deputy Chief Chris Newton who had been one of the 23 to sign the loyalty oath replaced the disgraced Chief MacPherson who was never given a satisfactory answer for his dismissal.

Hugh John Macdonald a member of the Police Commission fought against MacPherson’s dismissal. A year later MacPherson was still fighting for compensation and finally received $5,000, a year’s salary and a letter of recommendation. On June 21 the strike got ugly as two strikers were killed by Mounted Specials. By June 26 the strike was over and on June 27 the original policemen began to return to their jobs. Newton noted that 39 men several of whom had been active in the union should not be allowed to return to the force. Those that had stayed on during the strike received bonuses.

CHIEF NEWTON

Chief Newton helped build morale within the dept. He helped organize the Winnipeg City Police Athletic Assoc and later the Police Pipe Band. Twenty five years later, at age 63 after a distinguished 33 year career, Newton would face his own crisis of confidence.

It started with a fight after a traffic incident at the corner of Broadway and Balmoral St.

In June 27 1934 300 pound Winnipeg Police Chief Christopher H Neuton was charged with beating up 145 pound Joe Erlicky closing his eyes shut. The Free Press showed the diminutive Erlicky with his eye closed shut. Neuton had the class to resign. After a circus of a trial Neuton was found guilty of common assault and had to pay a $20 fine.

THE BUREAU OF CHILD HEALTH

THE BUREAU OF CHILD HEALTH

Early Efforts to Help Winnipeg Children

By George Siamandas

On Mar 1, 1916, the City of Winnipeg established the Bureau of Child Health. It marked a big step forward. For years councillors and the general public had avoided grappling with the reality of Winnipeg’s alarmingly high child mortality rates. In the early 1900s it was typhoid that ran rampant revealing Winnipeg as the sickest city in North America or Europe: 23 deaths per thousand in 1904, 138 deaths in 1905. An investigation revealed most deaths in the areas without sewers: the north end around the CPR tracks. Winnipeg medical health Officer Dr Douglas likened conditions in Winnipeg’s north end to those of a medieval European city. He noted the squalor in the north end was beyond the powers of description. Also in 1904, untreated water had been pulled into the water supply system to fight a rash of fires.

WHAT MADE PEOPLE SICK?

A combination of ignorance and poverty was making people and especially children sick leading to the highest mortality rates in North America and Europe. Far too many people were living in slum housing conditions. Parents were ignorant of hygienic practices. Children were malnourished. The water was neither safe nor abundant. The 1912-year saw infant death rates soar again: 126 per thousand in 1912 and 199 per thousand in 1914. Clearly it was time for action.

DR AJ DOUGLAS

Leading the effort was Dr AJ Douglas, Chief Medical Officer from 1900 to 1940. Douglas would face numerous epidemics including typhus, smallpox and influenza. Winnipeg was lucky to have an advocate at the job. Year after year his reports to council recommended action to hire more inspectors, ensure all houses were connected to sewers, and to reduce overcrowding. Douglas was particularly forceful in 1914 recommending that if necessary the city should get into the housing business. He urged that the city do more about the health of less fortunate Winnipeggers and in particular to put a special focus on child health. He got results. In 1913 working out of a house at 31 Martha St, Health Officer Tustin began to report on Child Hygiene.

COMMUNITY OUTREACH

Three years later the new Bureau of Child Health began to operate from a modern building at the corner of Main and Aberdeen. Nurses provided infant examinations and two doctors were available mornings 6 days a week. Volunteering their time to help the sick were Drs RF Rorke and E Richardson.

One major service was the dispensing of baby’s milk feedings. Over 350,000 bottles were delivered in 1916. The bulk of it given free. That year Douglas requested an automobile to help deliver the milk before it spoiled on hot days. They made 119,730 nurse visits in 1916. Each nurse cared for over 400 infants. They encountered many young unwed mothers who knew nothing about childcare. Child health improved as more and more information was dispensed. The health dept issued Monthly bulletins: simple things about hygiene, yet things mothers did not know.

Working with other agencies like the Margaret Scott Nursing Mission and the All People’s Mission, help arrived for Winnipeg’s immigrant poor. Finally a tradition for social justice was emerging in Winnipeg’s early days.

BALDUR STEFANSSON THE FATHER OF CANOLA

BALDUR STEFANSSON

THE FATHER OF CANOLA

By George Siamandas

© George Siamandas

Baldur Stefansson is one of Manitoba’s most distinguished plant scientists and the father of the new breed of canola which he derived from selections of rapeseed. Stefansson’s father had come from Iceland in 1910 and settled in Vestfold in the Interlake between Lundar and Inwood. He was a cattle farmer. Baldur was born in April 26, 1917. The area was not very prosperous. The area’s soil lacks phosphates, as he would later discover. It was so bad the cows would chew the 2×4 lumber.

Baldur went to WW2 and when he returned decided against becoming a farmer. Why? Because he saw it as being too competitive. Every one of your neighbours is a competitor he maintains. And to get into farming takes a large investment. In the final analysis, the profit margin is very low. Instead, like many returning soldiers, he went to university, studied agriculture and settled on plant science. He earned an MA and a PhD.

PLANT SCIENCE INSTEAD OF FARMING

He became interested in finding new sources of edible oil. While hemp was an attractive possibility, Stefansson and his colleagues knew that the govt would not permit research with this plant. Instead they concentrated on rapeseed. He wanted to develop an edible oilseed for large-scale production on the Canadian prairie.

WHAT IS CANOLA?

Canola is the bright yellow crop, growing across the prairies. It is an oil seed. It came from selection of rapeseed, which is part of the mustard family. Rapeseed originated 2,000 years ago in India and was introduced to Asia during the time of Christ. It arrived in Europe in the 13th century. It became popular on the prairie because of its ability to grow in cooler climates. Grown for the oil contained in the seed, it was a particularly favoured lubricant because it could stick to metals in the presence of water. In 1936, a Saskatchewan farmer imported some rapeseed from Poland and began to grow it in Canada. It seemed to do well.

OVERCOMING PROBLEMS OF RAPESEED

Rapeseed had two difficulties in being utilised as edible oil. If it was to be for human consumption the amount of erucic acid had to be substantially reduced. And the by product of crushing which is used for livestock feed, had to be made more palatable by reducing anti-nutritive glucosinolates. Stefansson was able to do both. In 1974 he succeeded with the double low “Tower” variety of canola. And to differentiate it from rapeseed the new name canola was coined from “Canadian Oil.” The other choice was CanAbra, but the name was appropriated by a member of the committee who started an Alberta company with it.

WORK FOR CHEMICAL COMPANIES

After developing the in the double low “Tower” variety, Stefansson then began work for Calgene a corporate plant breeder that developed the round-up resistant variety of canola. Calgene was later bought out by the giant in plant varieties: Monsanto. Stefansson has no regrets about the work and how its value had remained with the companies. He was well paid as were literally hundreds of scientists and support staff for years while the company took the risk. He is happy his canola has allowed some farmers to be a little more productive and to be able to make a slightly better living.

AWARD WINNER

He has won many awards over the years and a room in his modest house in Fort Garry now houses the collection. The Wolf prize from Israel, Order of the Buffalo Hunt, the Royal Bank etc. About two dozen in all. He is glad not to doing his plant breeding work in the corporate “dog eat farmer” environment of today.

THOMAS CRERAR

THOMAS CRERAR

Western Canada’s Farmer Political Philosopher & Practitioner

by George Siamandas

A strong promoter of farmer’s rights, Thomas Crerar, the prairie apostle of cooperation dominated the early grain trade. Crerar was born June 17, 1876 near Molesworth Ontario. Of Scottish immigrants, his dad Wiliiam relocated to the Silver Creek municipality 360 km north west of Winnipeg. Thomas Crerar attended school only till age 12 because he was needed on the farm to replace the hired hand his dad could no longer afford to pay because of a crop failure. It was not until age 18 that Crerar was able to return to school at Portage La Prairie. Thomas Crerar became a teacher although what he had always wanted to become was a doctor.

Crerar became active in establishing a farmer-owned elevator company so that the farmers could enjoy lower rates and to force a more competitive attitude by the big grain companies. Crerar rose fast in the grain industry. First as manager of the farmer owned elevator and then as President of the Grain Growers Company which ran from 1907 till 1929. It became UGG in 1917.

CRERAR’S POLITICAL LIFE

Because the grain industry was taken over by the government during WW1 Crerar went into Sir Robert Borden’s Union Government as a representative of grain growers. In 1945 he went into the Senate and began to warn of the growing power of the state: growing public debt, bureaucratic power, and the growing culture of dependence. He felt one could not surrender one’s independence for security because both would be jeopardized in the long run.

CRERAR THE PHILOSOPHER POLITICIAN

A classic liberal, Crerar believed in self reliance. He believed in a unrestricted competitive market in free trade, financial thrift, a minimum of government, and a maximum of freedom for the individual citizen. He was against the eastern trade policies that resulted in prices twice as high for farm machinery than farmers would pay if they bought from the US. He established the western Progressive party after WW1 and waged years of western agitation against eastern colonial policies. Crerar stayed on till 1919 when he moved on to federal politics.

PUBLICATIONS: THE GRAIN GROWERS’S GUIDE

Crerar also saw the value of communication with the western farmer, and established the Grain Growers Guide a farm journal. The Grain Growers Guide became a strong advocate for farmer’s interests and of the need for farmers to take political action. It was clear to farmers that the political and economic system allowed the exploitation of western Canada by eastern businessmen with political clout. The farmers wanted to see a restoration of the 1897 crow’s nest pass tariff reduction and to reduce some tariffs.

POST WW2

Crerar became disgusted with the prospects of social legislation after ww2 being planned by McKenzie King’s people. Crerar who believed in individualism and free enterprise felt that growing statism would be ruinous. He resigned from the government in 1945. He spent the last 20 years of his public life in the Senate.

CRERAR’S LEGACY

TA played a prominent role in the agrarian and political life of Canada. He felt that people coming freely together in cooperative action could look after themselves much better than any government could. He held cabinet positions in both liberal and conservative governments and was the leader of a the only third party, the progressives, that swept the west. He transformed the Grain Growers Company into the UGG. After 22 years with the company Crerar had taken it to a $15m industry which owned 440 country elevators.

Thomas Crerar died in Victoria on April 11, 1975. at the age of 98. He had survived all his contemporaries: both friends and foes.