Lessons of the 1918 flu pandemic

In the dying days of the First World War a second cataclysm struck: the Spanish flu. The 1918 influenza pandemic sapped armies, spread panic throughout the civilian population and racked up a death toll of approximately 100 million.

A century later, it remains one of the deadliest disease outbreaks on record.

Credit: University of Waterloo

In August of 1918, a virulent strain of the virus crossed the Atlantic and started spreading across Canada. It hit Paris on Sept. 27, according to the Star-Transcript. Large numbers of townsfolk experienced chills, aches and pain in the back and limbs, a severe sore throat, fits of sneezing, a flushed face and temperatures between 101 and 104 degrees.

“The passing of Louise Marie Snell came as a shock to many who were not aware of her severe illness,” the newspaper reported. “The entire family had been down with the influenza but were convalescing nicely. Mrs. Snell, however, took a relapse on Thursday and pneumonia developed. She passed peacefully away at the age of 32.”

That was often the way it happened. An influenza attack typically lasted from two to five days. It left victims so miserable they scarcely cared whether they lived or died. If they pulled through, they remained weak, tired and susceptible to complications for weeks. Many came down with pneumonia, acute bronchitis and severe asthma. It was these opportunistic illnesses — not the flu itself — that took their lives.

Advertisement: Toronto Globe 1918

As reports of disease multiplied, panic set in, driving people to quacks with all manner of contraptions and cures.

On Oct. 16, Paris town council ordered the closing of schools, churches, dance halls, moving picture shows, pool rooms and concert halls, in an effort to halt the spread of the outbreak. A week later, it authorized a 30-bed emergency hospital in the armoury, staffed by volunteer nurses and orderlies.

One of the saddest stories of that time was the death of Dr. Alpheus Lovett, a well-liked physician who worked tirelessly to save lives during the outbreak. On Oct. 18, he succumbed.

He was 45 years old with a wife and four young children. According to the Star-Transcript: “Day and night during the whole illness citizens were constantly inquiring about the doctor’s condition. It was felt by everyone that a life so energetic and useful, so devoted to the community and so needed at a time like this must recover. But a gloom came over the community when the news of his death was known.”

By November, the epidemic had begun to taper off. On Armistice Day, relieved Parisians ventured out of their homes at 11 am to celebrate the end of the World War and the abatement of the disease. In the evening, there was dancing on the street, followed by a torchlight procession and fireworks.

Forty-one townspeople died in the pandemic, 10 of them young children. Approximately 1500 Parisians were infected. The province-wide death toll was 8,705.

What makes this relevant today — besides the fact that 2018 is the centenary of the pandemic — is how few lessons we have learned.

Centers for Disease Control

Today we have antibiotics that would have cut the death toll in 1918. But two-thirds of us don’t get a flu shot.

No one can predict when a strain of the flu as lethal and highly contagious as the 1918 variant on the H1N1 virus will return. But instead of preparing, global leaders are impeding our chances of finding an effective remedy by erecting trade barriers and slapping tariffs on a growing list of items. Caught in the escalating trade war between the U.S. and China is the latest Chinese flu vaccine research.

The precautions our medical authorities prescribe are much the same as those recommended by their counterparts a century ago. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze; wash your hands regularly; stay home from work and school if you have a fever or flu symptoms. Yet many of us still don’t. We’re too busy, too preoccupied with other priorities, too willing to take our chances.

May we be luckier than our forebears.

by Carol Goar

Sources: At the Forks of the Grand, Volume II by D.A Smith, PMHS files, Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, TVO, Statistics Canada

Our turn to carry the torch

Bells peeled and sirens pierced the air at dawn on Nov. 11, 1918. Parisians rushed out of their homes cheering, shouting and waving torches. “The war to end all wars” was finally over.

Neighbours hugged each other with joy and relief. It was a noisy, happy chaotic celebration.

The 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended WWI was more subdued.

Close to a thousand citizens gathered at the Paris Cenotaph to honour those killed in war.

They acknowledged the horrendous cost of war: lives cut short, families shattered, communities stripped of their young talent. They imagined the massacres at Passchendaele, Vimy Ridge and Ypres. They renewed their pledge never to forget the sacrifice of a generation that fought so bravely.

Ninety-four soldiers and one nursing sister from Paris were killed between 1914 and 1918 or succumbed to their injuries in the months afterward. For a town of just 4,200, it was a devastating blow.

This year’s Remembrance Day ceremony held special significance — partly because it marked the centenary of the Armistice that ended WWI; but also because two new stones had been erected at the cenotaph correctly identifying every individual lost in WWI and WWII.

These pristine stones, a year and a half in the making, had been dedicated just two weeks earlier. They stood like sentinels against the grey sky as the crowd gathered to mark Remembrance Day. Over the course of the morning, their appearance was softened by dozens of wreaths; laid by descendants of the fallen, schoolchildren, police officers, firefighters, politicians, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, and representatives of local churches, service clubs and charitable organizations.

Marie Williamson, accompanied by Carol Goar, laid a wreath on behalf of the Paris Museum and Historical Society.

“They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old,” said Reverend Canon Mario Hryniewicz at the ceremony. “Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”

The crowd repeated the familiar words: “We will remember them.”

The Ayr-Paris Band played hymns of remembrance. The Paris-Port Dover Pipe Band added the skirl of bagpipes.

As a lasting reminder, members of Branch 29 of the Royal Canadian Legion gave everyone a bookmark inscribed with John McCrae’s poignant Word War I poem, In Flanders Fields.

After the benediction, families walked home together or warmed up in local restaurants and coffee shops. A few lingered to get a close look at the monument with its two new stones.

Similar ceremonies were held across the country, uniting Canadians in a moment of gratitude and remembrance.

The Paris Museum presented a slideshow of portraits of those paid the ultimate price. The pictures are part of its Fred Bemrose collection. Bemrose, a founder and early curator of the museum, spent years diligently collecting photos of everyone who served.

At 5 pm, church bells tolled across Paris in a final tribute to the soldiers, sailors, nurses, airmen who made the supreme sacrifice.

– by Carol Goar

Learning about history

On November 7th the museum was enlivened by members of the 5th Sparks and Brownies, Brantford Unit. During their visit they learned about local history and why it is important to preserve it.

Christmas at the Museum

One of our volunteers, Anne Vernon is preparing the Museum Gift Shop for Christmas at the Museum.

The museum will be open for Christmas shopping on the following dates:

  • November 9th from 6 pm to 9 pm
  • November 10th from 9:30 am to 5 pm
  • November 11th from 9:30 am to 4 pm

Welcome resurgence of interest in walking tour

An eager group of 12 walkers came out for the Paris Museum’s final regular walking tour of the year on Sept. 29. The brisk autumn air seemed to increase their enthusiasm.

This resurgence of interest was welcomed by tour leader Wayne Wilkinson and assistant Marie Williamson after a disappointing summer. Low turnout forced the cancellation of Wayne’s August walking tour. A June nature hike, led by Garth Pottruff, was cancelled because of inclement weather.
This time, the participants — from Toronto, Brantford and Paris — had lots of questions and a few contributions of their own. When Wayne reached 16 Broadway Street West, the site of one of the town’s finest cobblestone homes, he admitted he’d always been stumped by the symbols above the door. A young woman on the tour was able to unlock the mystery. Recognizing the insignia, she suggested they represented “health” and “prosperity”.

For Wayne and Marie personally, the tour was a tribute to the late Doug Hazlewood; Wayne’s frequent tour assistant. They considered cancelling the Saturday tour out of respect for their friend and fellow volunteer, but decided to go ahead, convinced that is what Doug would have would have wanted.

As mourners paid their respects to Doug at the William Kipp Funeral Home, Wayne remembered his walking tour buddy in a happier place.

by Carol Goar

Trip Down Memory Lane

The husbands grew up in Paris. The wives love the town for its charm, its pace of life and the secrets it has revealed about the men they married.

Each year five families, now widely scattered, return to Paris for a reunion. One of their mandatory stops is the Paris Museum & Historical Society for a trip down memory lane. The men pore over photos and information about their family homes; the landmarks of their youth; long-lost schoolmates and local history. The women tour the exhibits, visit the gift shop and eventually drift back to the research room to join their husbands.

This year, they kept four volunteers — Dale Robb, Chris Galloway, Sharon Murphy and Carol Goar — busy when they dropped in on Thursday, Sept. 20 and stayed for an hour and a half.

left to right: Linda Geary, Carolyn Smiley, Gordon Smiley, John Fielding, Diane Fielding, Art Binch, Hazel Binch, Jeremy Hamilton-Wright, Barb Hamilton-Wright

This year’s trip had special significance. John Fielding, a retired history professor, brought along his just-published book, Paris Daze. Like his previous six textbooks, it was designed to make history engaging. But unlike the others, it was highly personal. His subtitle made that clear: Adventures and Misadventures Growing Up in the Prettiest Town in Canada. In addition, his wife Dianne painted the water colours that adorn the front and back covers.

John grew up on Banfield Street, graduated from Paris District High School and went on to University of Western Ontario where he earned an honours degree in history. For the next 37 years, he taught history, first at the secondary school level, then at university. Now he is a happily retired grandfather.

John Fielding with his new book Paris Daze

The Fieldings drove from Kingston for the reunion. Art and Hazel Binch came from Ottawa; Jeremy and Barb Hamilton-Wright from Northville, Michigan; and Gordon and Carolyn Smiley from London, Ont.

As they reluctantly departed — leaving eight copies of Paris Daze to sell in the gift shop — they promised to return next year, with full-sized prints of Dianne Fielding’s water colours of Paris.

Written by Carol Goar with photos by Sharon Murphy

High Drama on the Voyage to Paris

For four days the crew and passengers of the Apollo clung to their listing vessel. Caught in a fierce storm off the coast of Newfoundland, the barque hung at a crazy angle in the frigid water, all four masts sheared off by the high wind. Crewmen and passengers worked the pumps in two-hour shifts to keep the ship afloat.

One of those passengers was George Low Scott, a druggist from Dundee Scotland making his way to North America to build a new life. Scott lived to tell the tale and establish a successful pharmacy — carrying everything from medications to Wedgewood china — on Grand River Street North in Paris.

George Low Scott 1828-1892

“It’s a story that has it all — drama, terror, life and death,” said Bob Hasler, a lifetime member of the Paris Museum and Historical Society, explaining why he chose The Wreck of the Apollo for his contribution to a local history roadshow organized by the County of Brant Public Library. The first round of storytelling takes places at the Paris branch of the library on Sept. 26 at 7pm.

It would be an understatement to say Bob is well-prepared. Three weeks before the event, he had written and re-written his lecture several times, edited it with help from his wife Pat and timed it to precisely nine-and-at-half minutes. (All 6 of the evening’s speakers have a 10-minute limit.)

One of the themes Bob hopes to emphasize is that The Wreck of the Apollo barely scratches the surface of the Scott family history. So determined was George to emigrate that he set sail a year later from Liverpool. This time, he landed successfully in New York City, made his way north to Dundas in April of 1848 and opened his drug store in Paris in 1850, the year the village was incorporated.

All these details — and many more — are part of a 13-box collection of letters, artifacts and memorabilia donated to PMHS this year by 2 of the patriarch’s descendants, Aleda Scott of Hamilton and her brother James.

Bob Hasler with some items from the Scott family donation

Bob has already spent 300 hours poring over the collection, organizing the contents chronologically, separating business and family correspondence, tracking George Low’s antecedents in Scotland and his descendants throughout Canada and the United States. The papers are in almost pristine shape, he says, thanks to the careful preservation of several generations of heirs.

“I know more about the Scott family than I know about my own family history,” he says, reflecting the all-consuming passion of a dedicated researcher.

Bob is eager to share his knowledge of “a middle-class Canadian family with a strong business ethic and strong faith.”

All he can do in a nine-and-a-half-minute “lightning lecture” is whet listeners’ appetites and urge them to come to the Paris Museum to learn more about the Scott Saga.

by Carol Goar

“Lighting Lectures” Coming to Paris

This fall, the Paris Museum and Historical Society will help kick off a local history road show, designed to bring together organizations across Brant County to tell local stories and highlight their collections.

Beginning Sept. 26, six historical organizations will participate in an evening of 10-minute “lightning lectures” at the Paris branch of the Brant Public Library. The museum’s contribution, provided by lifetime member and tireless researcher Bob Hasler, is entitled “The Wreck of the Apollo: An Immigration Adventure”.

A second set of lightning lectures will be held Oct. 30 at the Burford Township Museum in Harley. The final installment of the autumn series will take place Nov. 28 at the South Dumfries Museum in St. George. The Paris Museum will take part at all three venues.

“The local history road show is a way of raising the profile of local history within the community at large and allows groups the opportunity to talk about all the interesting things they encounter,” said Gary Jermy, Community Engagement Librarian for the County of Brant Public Library. “Being able to hear talks from six different local history organizations should make for a fun and interesting evening.”

The lectures, which start at 7pm, are free, but registration is required. To sign up, go to:

This countywide series will take the place of the Paris Museum’s individual lectures. The board of PMHS liked the idea of blending the voices of our researchers with those of our local counterparts.

Along with Bob Hasler’s talk, one of the gems from a 13-box donation by the family of nineteenth century Paris chemist George Low Scott, participants in the Sept. 26 set of lectures will hear about the tools metermen used a century ago in the Grand Valley, the history of Brantwood Farms, the Harley General Store, and the life of the remarkable Dr. O, “Peter Martin” Oronhyatekha.

“I wanted something with enough substance that people would find it worthwhile to attend,” Jermy explained.

Please mark your calendar and head to the Paris Branch of the Brant Public Library at 12 William St, in Paris on Sept. 26 at 7pm.

By Carol Goar

Next: A sneak peek of Bob Hasler’s talk