Article: 100 Year Anniversary of Spanish Flu Disaster in Spanish, Ontario, Schools

(Note: Since today is the actual 100th anniversary of the beginning of this disaster, and since not one of the countless newspapers I emailed replied to me, Lol, I’m-a just post this article right here on my website. It’s not too well written, but it gets the points across. And for those who didn’t know, I’ve written a poetry manuscript around this topic. Are you a big-time publisher that wants to publish it? Well if you are, it’s all ready for ya. Lol. But in general, message me if you have any questions. Peace and love.)


As the First World War stumbled to an end in 1918, a considerably more catastrophic world-event was well underway. In the era before penicillin, the first H1N1 influenza pandemic, commonly known as the “Spanish flu,” ravaged the world from 1918 to 1921. In October 1918, it took mere days for the flu’s deadly second wave to enveloped the globe. Where the Great War claimed roughly 20 million people, deaths caused by the Spanish flu are estimated between 20 and 100 million.[1]

1

In the small Ontario town coincidentally named Spanish, the Spanish flu claimed its equal share. However, Spanish, Ontario was unique for more reasons than simply its name. In 1918, it was one of only a handful of Ontario locations home to an Indian residential school.

2

This residential school operated in Spanish, Ontario from the early 1910s until the 1960s. It was physically comprised of two neighboring facilities, the Garnier school for boys (also known as St. Peter Claver) and St. Joseph’s school for girl. As the Spanish flu swept across Canada in October 1918, these schools were hit particularly hard. The immuno-suppressed, the youth, the elderly, and those living in close quarters were the flu’s easiest targets. Therefore, residential schools were the perfect storm of disastrous conditions.

3

The Spanish school diaries reveal an abrupt and malicious attack on the children. The Spanish flu appeared suddenly in the schools on October 22, 1918. Within two days it had infected nearly 98% of the school population. Symptoms began as extreme fevers and epistaxis, often progressing within a few days to delirium, hemorrhages, and pneumonia. The first death at the school from the Spanish flu was on October 27, and subsequently, a child then died every day for over two weeks. By November 11, seventeen children from the Spanish residential schools were dead.[2]

4

Today, the location of the Spanish residential schools is a bleak reminder of this catastrophe and the residential school era. The Garnier school sat abandoned until demolition in 2004. St. Joseph’s school stands as only a ruined shell on private property after a fire decimated the building in 1982, killing numerous people.[3] Up the road at the local cemetery, a modern headstone identifies the Indigenous children who died while attending the Spanish school, including those killed by the Spanish flu 100 years ago this month.


[1] “Inside the Swift, Deadly History of the Spanish Flu Pandemic” by Toby Saul. National Geographic. (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/magazine/2018/03-04/history-spanish-flu-pandemic/).

[2] The Residential Schools at Spanish: The Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919. Translation of School Journal by William Lonc, S.J. Canadian Institute of Jesuit Studies, 2009.

[3] “9 die in Spanish fire, investigation continues” by Boris Hrybinsky and Bill Stewart. The Standard, vol. 29, no. 23, January 27, 1982. (http://archives.algomau.ca/main/?q=node/23452).


 

2 comments

  1. Julie · 12 Days Ago

    I believe that is my uncles name, second from top on headstone….Alexander Wemigwans

    • Evan J · 12 Days Ago

      Would it have been November 9, 1919?

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