In History: Spanish Flu pandemic hit Mohawk Institute, Six Nations

BRANTFORD — The last time the entire world was brought to a halt was just a little more than 100-years ago when the Spanish Flu spread around the globe.

Brantford Expositor’s obituary pages listed at least three deaths at the Mohawk Institute attributed to the Spanish Flu, between October 23rd and 27th of 1918.

“At the Mohawk Institute little Lillian Avery, a girl of 11-years from the reserve, died last night after an attack of the flu,” the obit starkly stated. Two day later, “Russell Bennett, an Indian lad at Mohawk Institute,” was also announced, followed two days later, on Oct. 27th, with “Hilda Wilson whose father lives in Hamilton passed away at the Mohawk Institute on Sunday; two little daughters, Victoria and Maude of Mr. Carpenter, a thrifty Six Nations man,” also died at the school.

Many church goers believed it was a sign of the end-times and they couldn’t have been criticized for that level of fear. The trenches of the eastern front incubated and spread the virus in the appalling filth, killing many without actually knowing why. Later tracing seems to indicate the first case being recorded at an American military base near the end of WWl.

The armistice ending all hostilities, didn’t stop the other war that soldiers in all uniforms were also fighting. The joy and exuberance of the end of the War pushed any form of flu protection measures onto the back burner as people danced in the streets in the millions in every town and city around the world.

Nobody wanted to hear the truth, least of all the politicians who were more than eager to get the economy back on track.

A statement was issued by Provincial Officer of Health J.W. McCulloch on October 7 advising local health officers not to “dislocate business or ordinary affairs of life,” stating tat the shutting down stores and institutions were “ill-advised measures which only serve to irritate the public and accomplish no useful purpose.”

Other false health advisories was issued to play down what was obviously a pandemic. While advising the public not to ride crowded streetcars or attend large gatherings, at the same time, the provincial board of health issued this statement to stop the bad media coverage. “It is advisable to eat moderately, take plenty of outdoor exercise, sleep with windows open, drink lots of good water, and do not get excited about newspaper reports.”

Like now, the use of surgical masks was strongly recommended, although there were doubts about their effectiveness and not many besides police and healthcare workers did.

Opportunists took full advantage of quack remedies supposed to kill the virus for “just a buck a bottle.”

In total throughout the region the Spanish Flu killed 414 people in Brantford, Brant County and Six Nations from 1918 -1920. A wave of 235 deaths occurred in just two months.

A Report from Indian Affairs in 1919 showed the reach of the Spanish Flu pandemic across Indigenous communities.

Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick were all hit bad by Spanish Flu. Nova Scotia and Alberta were doubly hit with smallpox epidemic that same year.

Only three deaths on Prince Edward Island were reported – largely due to cooperation with sanitation rules. No cases hit Yukon Territory in 1919 but in 1920 an epidemic wave of both Spanish Flu and smallpox hit the territories absolutely desecrating local populations.

The most serious cases were reported in British Columbia in the Kamloops and Lytton bands. Kamloops saw 194 deaths and Lytton lost 100 of it’s members. A number of chiefs and farmers passed during the pandemic which led to a demise of local crops as well.

The Department of Indian Affairs response to all reserves across Canada cost $87,320 from the Indian Trust Fund – bumping the year’s cost of funding to all Indian Reservations in Canada that year up to $1,051,292.

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