By Laura Suchan, Executive Director
Recently one of my colleagues shared news of a project she was involved in to honour the more than 700 people who succumbed to influenza in the Wellington Region of New Zealand. The 1918 Influenza Kaori Cemetery Project was a two year project to remember those who died in the pandemic by cleaning their headstones, tidying burial plots and researching the family histories. This project prompted me to think about Oshawa’s Union Cemetery and how many Influenza victims from the 1918 pandemic were buried in the cemetery.
In an earlier blog post about the Spanish Influenza, Curator Melissa Cole noted how the pandemic affected Oshawa. The Spanish Flu reached the United States in March 1918 and soon after Canada, through troop, hospital and civilian ships sailing from England to Grosse Île. The Ports of Montreal and Halifax soon became the main routes of infection into Canada, however by late June/early July the Flu spread across the country via the railway. It came in multiple waves. The first wave took place in the spring of 1918, then in the fall of 1918, a mutation of the influenza virus produced an extremely contagious, virulent, and deadly form of the disease. This second wave caused 90% of the deaths that occurred during the pandemic. Subsequent waves took place in the spring of 1919 and the spring of 1920. Between 1917 and 1918 the deaths recorded in Oshawa increased by 67 to 213 as compared to 146 in the earlier year. Still, the situation in Oshawa was better than for many communities. At the height of the pandemic, beds where placed in the armouries to treat the sick, and all churches and schools were closed to prevent it from spreading.
To see just how devastating the Flu pandemic was in Oshawa, I turned to the Ontario, Canada, Deaths and Deaths Overseas 1869-1948 database for the Town of Oshawa, for the months starting October 1, 1918 until March 31, 1919. Within this database I was able to search for any cause of death listed as “Influenza,” “Spanish Flu,” and “Flu.” I also looked for any case where the secondary cause of death was listed as influenza. In some cases, the coroner listed the cause of death as “Pneumonia” following a case of “Influenza.” If influenza was mentioned, I included the death. This was not in any means a scientific review of the data, however there were a few observations I was able to make.
- 50 – number of people who died as a result of the flu or an illness following the flu during the 6 month period
- 23 – deaths were reported in those 25 years of age or younger
- 2 months – the age of the youngest victim – Robert Starie
- 70 years – age of the oldest victim – Alvin Terry
- 30 – number of those buried in Union Cemetery
- Week of October 27-November 2 – the deadliest week in the 6 month period with 16 deaths. The previous week saw 15 deaths due to influenza. These 2 weeks accounted for more than half the deaths reported in the 6 month period.
- October 1918 – the deadliest month with 35 deaths, followed by November 1918 with 7 deaths, February 1919 – 4 deaths, December 1918 with 3 deaths. January 1919 reported only 1 death and 0 deaths were reported in March 1919.
Remembering some of the victims of the pandemic
Hattie Maud (Ham) Hewson lived on Ontario Street with her husband William when she passed away at the age of 39. Her official death record lists miscarriage and influenza as her causes of death. William passed away in 1960.
Alex Swankie was a Private with the 37th Battalion and fought in France with the 60th Battalion C.E.F. He was born in Scotland, November 11, 1891 and was a machinist by trade. According to his Attestation Papers, he signed up for the military in Niagara, June 10, 1915. He was discharged from the 60th Battalion in early 1917 as the result of a knee injury and was in outpatient treatment in Toronto until October 31, 1918. Alex died February 16, 1919 at the age of 27 of pneumonia and influenza.
Melville and Rose Babcock
Melville and Rose (Darlington) Babcock were married in 1900 and both died within one week of each other from the Flu. Melville was the first to pass away on October 21 1918 at the Oshawa Hospital after suffering from the Flu for one week and pneumonia for 3 days. Rose is listed as the informant for Melville’s death. Six days later, on October 27, 1918, Rose also succumbed to the flu at Oshawa Hospital. Rose is buried in Union Cemetery as noted in the death registry however there was no burial location noted. There is a good possibility he is also in Union Cemetery.
Influenza also touched the lives of two well known Oshawa families. Marjorie Gibson Hoig Lander was a young mother of at least 3 children when she passed away from influenza on November 7, 1918. Marjorie was the daughter of Oshawa’s Dr. Hoig, and she married coal merchant Elgin Vesta Lander in 1910. Lander was a successful coal and wood merchant, and the couple lived at 221 Simcoe Street North, just south of Parkwood. Daughters Alice and Virginia were born in 1913 and 1915 followed by son David in 1917. Marjorie was only 31 years old when she died. Her husband Elgin remarried in 1927 and died in 1976. Both are buried in Union Cemetery.
The year 1919 was not kind to the McGregor family. Daughter Gladys Mae died in February of the flu, aged 13. Her father Robert McGregor, a harness maker, died in June 1919 from Tuberculosis and mother Lucy Parish McGregor died in November 1919 of nephritis (swelling of the kidney). All three are buried in Union Cemetery. Robert and Lucy had other children who would have been left orphans by their parents’ deaths.
To find out more about the 1918 Influenza Kaori Cemetery Project please visit https://1918influenzakarori.weebly.com/home.html
To view Laura’s research of people in the Town of Oshawa who died of Influenza between October 1918-March 1919, view this document: