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Influenza and the Isolation Hospital

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

PC 755

Bird's eye view of Calgary, 1906 (Isolation Hospital in foreground)

Postcards from the Past, PC 755

It is interesting, the images that stay in one's mind. Watching the news reports about the outbreak of the new influenza A strain I remembered the photos I had seen in the newspapers (I mean the old newspapers, I read them more frequently that the current ones, I'm embarrassed to say) of Calgarians during the outbreak of the Spanish flu in 1918-1919. The Alberta government had passed legislation requiring people to wear face masks when out in public. Spitoons and cuspidors were banned, as was spitting on the street. In Regina, one could be fined for coughing or sneezing. Faced with a global outbreak of a deadly disease and with no antibiotics or effective vaccines, health professionals and legislators fought back in the only way they could. That meant isolating those with the flu and keeping them from the healthy population.

That explains the photograph used to illustrate this entry. It is from our postcard collection and is, actually, the oldest postcard in the collection. It shows a view of the city to the north. The building in the centre foreground is the original isolation hospital which was situated on 13th Avenue SE on the riverbank. That is very near where the remains of the second General Hospital, the Rundle Ruins, are located near the Stampede Grounds. The Isolation Hospital was used for patients with communicable diseases such as, measles, diphtheria, scarlet fever and typhoid. It was small, but generally adequate until the outbreak of the Spanish influenza at the end of World War I.

During the outbreak of the flu, the old General Hospital, which had been replaced in 1910, was reopened for influenza patients. Schools were also pressed into service as influenza hospitals as well. Schools had been closed during the worst of the epidemic along with theatres and other places where people congregated. You can see Victoria school at the centre of this photograph. Victoria school was was one of the schools pressed into service. The library, too, was closed. When it reopened on November 21, customers were promised that all books would be fumigated before they were circulated again.

There are lots of interesting books about the history of the hospitals and the history of the Spanish influenza epidemic in Alberta. For a history of the General Hospital, pick up Hospital: a portrait of Calgary General by D. Scollard. For an interesting view of the Spanish influenza outbreak, I found the chapter by Stephanie Keer in The Great War and its consequences 1914-1920 in the series Alberta in the 20th Century to be very informative. You can find both of these titles in the Calgary Public Library catalogue.

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