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.
I don't often take blog requests, but a friend approached me recently and asked about Venice. He's traveling to Italy for a wedding this summer and is stopping in Venice for few days. He asked me if I knew what he could do in the Floating City, so I racked up a list of ten things for him to see.
Feel free to leave a comment and let me know if I missed anything, what your favorite thing to see in Venice was, or if you plan to go visit Venice after reading this!
Earlier this year I did a presentation at The Artesian about the Spanish Influenza. It was the first time I had ever done a presentation like this and I was nervous about the number of people that might attend. I told my mother I would be thrilled if five people came that night, but forty people showed up instead. For a topic that very few people know anything about, I was excited to see so many people interested.
But one person in the audience was so interested that several months later she reached out to me to see if I wanted to do my presentation again. Instead of doing it in Regina, she asked for me to travel to Craik, Saskatchewan to tell the Craik Museum and Oral History Society about what I had learned.
For knowing so much about a topic nobody ever asks me about, I was super excited to talk about it. The organiser reached out to Craik School to ask if the students would be interested in attending the lecture too. The teacher said they wouldn't be able to make the time slot work but asked if I could speak to the students about being a blogger at a different time.
Frank Albo is known to many as "The Dan Brown of Canada". He gained this informal title through his many decades of research, interviews and investigations into the secrets of the Manitoba Legislature. Through his work, he claims that Winnipeg was meant to have a much larger role in Canada – going so far to say that it was to be the "Jerusalem of the New World".
It may sound odd, but there are a lot of strange motifs within the Manitoba Legislature that otherwise wouldn't make sense. These include being the exact dimensions of King Solomon's Temple, having medusas and demons guarding the entrances, and a "black star" of sacrifice beneath the rotunda. Stranger still is that none of these symbols are in the visually similar Saskatchewan Legislature which was constructed about the same time and for the same purpose. For some reason, the Manitoba Legislature was uniquely created in this manner.
Albo's research has not only gotten a lot of attention in Canada, but international attention too. One of these people was His Excellency Konstantin Zhigalov, Ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan. While visiting Winnipeg in 2014, Zhigalov attended Albo's tour. After it concluded, Zhigalov pulled Albo aside and invited him to the capital of Kazakhstan. The request was peculiar, but the moment Albo arrived, he knew exactly why he was chosen.