While the newspapers screamed of war overseas, the real war was just beginning back home.
After four long years of grueling trench warfare, thousands of Canadian soldiers left Europe in 1918 to return home. As they disembarked from trains across the country, they unknowingly helped spread the Spanish Flu, the deadliest flu to ever occur in human history.
From 1918 to 1920, the Spanish Flu reached every corner of the globe. In the north it wiped out complete Inuit communities, and in the South Pacific whole countries were infected. Worldwide, the Spanish Flu killed between 20 and 100 million people. Canada was fortunate, but we still lost between 30,000 and 50,000 people, a number only slightly lower than that of the war.
By the time the flu arrived in Regina in the autumn of 1918, Eastern Canada was under a state of crisis. Schools, churches and public spaces were shut down and hospitals were filling up with victims. The first recorded case of the Spanish Flu in Saskatchewan was on October 1st, 1918. By November 2nd, there were 1,977 cases in Regina and 144 people had died.
In total, 10% of Regina's population would become infected and 330 people would die. While devastating to the city, the province suffered much more, with over 5,000 people having succumbed to the virus. Unlike normal strains of the flu, the Spanish flu targeted young, healthy adults, mostly between the ages of 20 and 40, many of which were the very soldiers that fought for our country overseas.
Note: The below tables are of Saskatchewan-wide data, not just Regina.
Regina followed in the steps of Eastern Canada, and under the influence of the Influenza Relief Committee, they began a complete shutdown of public spaces. Stores were either closed or had their hours cut, churches had their doors sealed and schools were converted into hospitals, in which teachers would take on the roll of nurses. Regina's booming theatre district was also shut down, and over 100 people were left unemployed.
By November 6th, 1918, only four days after the earlier report of 144 people having died, The Leader wrote that the number had climbed to 277.
At one point, according to the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon, there were 57 bodies in Speers Funeral Chapel waiting to be buried. To get the bodies underground as fast as possible, funeral services were reduced to 45 minutes, and then again to 15 minutes. Gravediggers were hired by the dozens to meet the demand.
According to local historians, many of these victims ended up buried in the northern edge of the Regina Cemetery, in an area unofficially referred to as "Potter's Field". According to the City of Regina Cemetery, all the bodies in this area are accounted for and can be seen online, but their online archives only list 4 deaths having occurred in 1918. This number is far from the November 6th, 1918 newspaper headline and implies that there must be some graves that are not accounted for.
Things were different 100 years ago, and the possibility of there being unmarked graves is not unheard of. Nobody can blame the actions of grave diggers, cemetery record keepers or funeral directors. Nobody is at fault for losing track of these victims. The city was under a state of crisis, and something had to be done, but after 100 years it's time to set it right. I have begun a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for a memorial for the victims of the Spanish Flu, both those with and without marked graves. The Regina Cemetery is a treasure trove of history, dating back to the very beginnings of our city and I feel it's about time the Spanish Flu victims were included in it.
Along with my GoFundMe campaign, I will also be doing tours of the cemetery throughout the summer. These tours still have to be approved by the city, but once they have begun, money raised by them will be going towards the memorial and to print more copies of the Regina Cemetery Walking Tour - Tour 1 and Regina Cemetery Walking Tour - Tour 2. These two books and the material within them inspired this entire project.
These tours and my campaign for the victims of the Spanish Flu will be featured on Global Regina's "Focus Saskatchewan" at 6:30 PM this May 13th, and at 11 AM and 6:30 PM on May 14th. You can see a teaser for it on their Facebook page.
This project would not be possible without the hard work of the Regina Ethnic Pioneers Cemetery Walking Tour Inc (REWT) and individuals like Eilleen Schuster, Erica Frank of the Regina Cemetery and Dana Turgeon of the City of Regina Historical Information & Preservation Supervisor along with countless others.
The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.
Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.
Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.
Love poutine, Justin Trudeau and just about everything Québécois? G Adventures had the right idea including Montréal in two of their Canadian tours, but Montréal isn't the only noteworthy place to visit in Québec. Now, this tour doesn't give Québec the justice it deserves either, but hopefully it inspires you to take your time to explore the wonders it has to offer. Québec is a beautiful province with a long history, stretching back over four centuries, so this tour is dedicated to the incredible history and culture of French Canada.
Our fictional tour starts in Montréal. If you've read my Five Historic Canadian Cities article last week, you already know Montréal is one of Canada's most lively cities. Packed with some of Canada's most impressive scientific museums, Montréal is also home to an archeological and historical museum, Pointe-à-Callière. Inside one of the most unique buildings in Old Montréal, this museum ventures deep into the history of the city and explores its foundation, its struggles and its changes. With 375 years of history, to uncover this museum starts off with the discovery of Hochelaga and showcases various sections of the original sewer system. The museum also has several illustrations showing the plagues and fires that once decimated the early city. The museum also has an interactive section about the pirates that once terrorized the St. Lawrence River. This museum is one of my absolute favorites, so if you love museums as much as I, you'll want to check it out.
As I stood in the courtyard of Fort Henry, I heard screams emanating from within. Fort Henry was constructed to protect the Kingston Royal Dockyard from the invading American forces during the War of 1812. The threat was so real that the capital of Canada – which was then Kingston – was moved to Quebec to protect it. The docks are all that stood between the United States and the St. Lawrence River and both countries were all too familiar with how easily it would turn the tides of battle.
As the screams from inside Fort Henry faded, I turned to the man beside me. He had come with his family. We got talking, trying to calm our nerves as bloodied clowns and undead mimes began wandering out from inside the fort.