Remembering the Lives Lost from the 1918 Flu Pandemic

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.

Observations

  • 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 Hewson

Image from FindAGrave.com

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

Image from FindAGrave.com

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.

Marjorie Lander

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.

Advertisement for Elgin Lander’s coal and wood business, 1911 Oshawa Business Directory, OPL Collection

Gladys McGregor

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:

The Way To Go – All About Chamber Pots

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Last fall, we were approached by our longtime partner, CLOCA, to participate in their Durham Children’s Watershed Festival, which shifted to online and virtual due to the pandemic. This festival is designed to for students to engage with “activities that address water conservation, water protection and the preservation of the natural environment in a fun, hands-on and interactive way. Students will learn how many of their everyday needs and choices affect interrelationships within the natural environment and their watershed community.”

When asked about contributing with a historical spin, our minds went to the fact that Victorian homes did not have indoor plumbing. Modern homes have modern bathrooms and toilets, but search as you might, a ‘bathroom’ will not be found inside Henry House. When I give tours, it’s with delight that I share that the Henrys had an ‘ensuite’ – in the corner of the bedroom, we have a washstand, water pitcher, and a chamber pot.

Chamber pots were a portable toilet, meant for nighttime use in the bedroom. Many kids will greet this artefact with a wonderful ‘ewwwww,’ but then I ask them, if it was the middle of the winter, middle of the night, would you want to get all dressed up to use the outhouse outside, or would you rather use your chamber pot? It’s often an ‘aha’ moment as they think about it and realize the convenience that the chamber pot provided.

Chamber pots were common in many cultures before the advent of indoor plumbing and flushing toilets and may still be used in places where there isn’t indoor plumbing.

We have a few examples of chamber pots and commodes in the OM collection. The one which is on display in the bedroom has a crochet cover for the lid, and this helps dampen any noise from the clattering of the porcelain – a wonderful addition if there were any roommates not wishing to be awoken by the lid.

Another interesting example is the commode – it features a lid for discrete chamber pot storage. The top of the lid has a wonderful embroidery, rather decorative when closed, and it lifts for easy access to the chamber pot nestled within.

Thank you again to CLOCA for inviting us to participate in your virtual festival!

Enjoy the video we put together all about the Chamber Pot

The Importance of a Little Wicker Doll Set

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

In 1981, a collection of wicker doll toys were donated to the Oshawa Museum. The donation of a tiny rocking chair, a toy washstand, and a set of doll furniture certainly fit the collecting mandate of the Museum given that the Pankhurst family had been long time residents of Oshawa.  These toys also had deep connection to an important part of Oshawa’s history as the donor, Greta Pankhurst, was the great-granddaughter of Wealthy Andrews, the matriarch of one of Oshawa’s earliest Black families.

Early collecting practices tended to focus on collecting items that had connections to prominent early white settlers. This donation has that connection as the donor forms indicate that the items had belonged to the Conant family before coming into the ownership of Greta. This connection would have made the donation very important under these early collecting practices. While it is unclear if Greta’s connection to Wealthy was known or understood when the items were added to the Museum collection, this donation is important because of its connection to Greta and her family.

Today we are grateful for the existence of this donation as it is one of the few artefacts that we have connected to early Black setters.  Museums use artefacts or objects to help us to understand the past and to tell the story of our community. There is very little artefact or object based evidence to help us tell the history of early Black settlers in our community, and this creates a challenge when it comes to exhibiting these stories.

We are fortunate to have documentary evidence. In fact, beyond resources like census records and land records, we are incredibly fortunate to have the original marriage certificate of Greta’s grandparents, Mary Andrews and George Dunbar. We also have family photographs and an audio recording of Greta’s brother, Ward, reminiscing about growing up in Cedar Dale. Research through documentary evidence has helped us to better understand the history of early Black settlers in the area and has helped us to share this important aspect of our history.

A013.4.519: Marriage licence between Mary Andrews and George Dunbar

While we work to fill in the gaps left by earlier collecting practices, we are also working to tell the histories that were lost in that gap.  Items like the little wicker doll set are a part of work.

Continuing Into the Online World

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

The start of a new year usually brings around a lot of counting. Typically speaking (pre-pandemic, that is), I’ll spend a few days making a grand mess in the shop for the year end inventory count, and at the same time, carefully tucking our holiday merchandise away until the following November. We count and re-count attendance statistics, volunteer hours for the year, and endless social media statistics, such as follower growth, post engagement, blog hits (thanks to everyone who reads!), and how often videos get watched on YouTube. January, indeed, is a month for numbers.

COVID-19 hasn’t changed the counting that needs to get done, but it certainly has made it more challenging. As we’re primarily working from home, counting the gift shop inventory has been an ongoing process throughout the month. In addition, we are making changes to our system and how the inventory is tracked, so the project was far more laborious than in years past. But, this change will bring about good things…

In the near future, the OM hopes to launch an online shop. The OM shop is proud to carry unique items, reflective of our community. We have a large selection of local history publications; some favourite titles include:

  • To Cast a Reflection: The Henry Family in their Own Words
  • “She is One Of the Best.” A Researcher’s Notes on the Life & Times of Florence McGillivray
  • The Oshawa Street Railway
  • Until Day Dawns: Stories From Oshawa’s Union Cemetery
  • And, a favourite of many, Thomas Bouckley’s Pictorial Oshawa: Revisited

We also have a large selection of Oshawa and Oshawa Museum souvenirs (one can never have enough mugs, amirite…), gifts, and toys which are always a hit with our youngest visitors.

We hope to have a selection of items available for purchase on the online shop, with plans to launch in the coming months. Please keep an eye on the Oshawa Museum’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages for more information about when it will be launched and how you can continue your support of Oshawa’s heritage.

The Month That Was – February 1872

All articles originally appeared in the Ontario Reformer

February 2, 1872
Page 2
The Prosperity of Oshawa.
On every side we are seeing our town advancing. Really costly, sightly and substantial buildings of brick are being erected. The new brick hotel of Mr. Hobbs will compare favourably with almost any hotel in the Province, as to size, appearance and thoroughness. Mr. Quigley is preparing to erect a large hotel, early in the spring, on the Fuller lot, which is to be surmounted by an ornamental French roof. Let us hope that as good entertainment for travellers may be found within their walls as their exterior would seem to indicate.

In stores we have the [tasty] and commodious ones lately erected by Messrs. Cowan and Fowke. Mr. John Wilson is preparing to erect a number of stores on the ground of the late fire on King Street, which, as viewed from the drawings thereof, promises to be excelled by a few such structures in our cities. Mr. James B. Keddie, also, proposes to continue the block to the east by a structure similar in style for his own use.

Passing down Simcoe Street, we observe the compact and well-built new brick residences of Messrs. Dickie, and Thornton – both of which have ornamental roofs covered with slate. The palatial residence of TN Gibbs, Esq., is said to rivals that of the Lieutenant Governor at Toronto; and is one of which our town may be justly proud. Mr. Chas. A Mallory is already preparing to erect, early in the spring, the first-class brick dwelling upon a portion of the McGregor property. This property is thought some of the best sites for residences now available. We hope to see many residences erected during the summer on this property, as we understand the present owner, (Thomas Conant,) is about to put the whole of it on the market. This will afford sites for buildings according to the means of purchasers, as to front or back lots relatively.

Centre Street will then be opened out nearly all the way to South Oshawa, and will make one of our prettiest streets, especially for driving.

Many other residences have been erected and are in process of erection north and west of the cabinet factory.

One is almost constrained to say, that in order to keep pace with the improvements in the various parts of our town we should frequently pass through its various wards as new streets are being opened up, and new houses are being erected; we almost lose our reckoning after a few months absence. It is estimated that at least one hundred houses were erected in Oshawa last season. This is probably within the mark. Let us hope for a similar result in 1872.

Prosperity to our various manufactories, and a healthful, steady growth to Oshawa.

There is one thing we might observe, this: that as a rule houses erected are paid for by the proprietors, without incurring and incubus of debt. This fact argues volumes for a steady growth, without any such sudden inflation and corresponding depression as we have seen exemplified in some of our neighbouring towns.

One more word as we close. We have many public spirited men of means in our midst who are intimately concerned with the welfare of Oshawa, and whom, we feel sure, gladly assist new industries, which would add to the growth and wealth of the place.

Let manufacturers come along, and let us make Oshawa doubly noted throughout our Dominion for the excellence of its manufactured articles. In manufacturers alone we look for our continued prosperity.

Feb 2, 1872, p3

February 9, 1872
Page 2
The assembly in Mr. Cowan’s new store on Wednesday evening was a decided success. About seventy couples, from Toronto, Whitby, Bowmanville, Oshawa, and other places, were present, Dancing commenced at about nine o’clock and continued till between three and four in the morning.  The arrangements were complete, and all enjoyed themselves thoro’ly. The music of Davis’ quadrillo band, from  Toronto, was pronounced the best ever heard in the place. The supper was first-class; furnished by Mr. Cullen of Whitby.

The Town Hall Question – A public meeting to consider the above question will be held on Tuesday evening next, 13th inst., and not Monday, as previously announced. A full attendance of ratepayers is requested.

Feb 9, 1872, p3

February 16, 1872
Page 2
Fire – about 3:00 o’clock, on Sunday morning last, the Boot and Shoe store of H. Wilkinson was discovered to be on fire. The alarm was given, and the fire brigade soon on the spot; but, owing to the engine being frozen, it could render but little assistance. The fire quickly spread to adjoining buildings, and was only arrested in its course by the exertions of the Hook and Ladder Company, who worked well. After a little exertion on the part of the fireman, the engine was got to work, and soon all danger of the fire spreading to the Commercial Hotel, which was thought it would at one time, was past . The losses by the fire are Messrs. Wilkinson, Brennan, and Hobbs, on stock and furniture, partly covered by insurance; And Mrs. Woon and Mr. Cherry, owners of buildings.

Mr. Thomas Conant believes in encouraging manufacturers to come amongst us. He has given an acre of land to the hat manufacturing company, and yesterday instructed Mr. English to draw up a deed for the same. We believe the above company intend building a large factory, where they will give employment to 200 hands, men and women. We like to see these things going on, it is healthy for the town. Do it some more somebody else.

Page 3
For Sale
On Colborne St East, two lots and orchard, with one and one-half story frame building. Also two lots and two houses with orchard, on Brock St East, the whole contained in one block. Terms- $500 cash. Balance in yearly installments. Present rental, $250
William Deans
Oshawa, Feb 9, 1872

Feb 16, 1872, p4

February 23, 1872
Page 2
Opening of the new Baptist Church
The church was opened for divine service on Sunday last. Three sermons were preached; In the morning by the Rev. Dr. Fyfe, afternoon by the Rev. W. Stewart, and in the evening by the Rev. Dr. Davidson. At each of those services the church was filled to its utmost capacity.

On Monday evening a team meeting was held in the church, which was again crowded. After tea, TN Gibbs , Esquire, was called to the chair; And after a few introductory remarks, called on the Rev. Mr. Patterson, pastor of the church, to read the report of the building committee. …

Short speeches were then made by the chairman, the Rev. Messrs. Myers, Scott, Stewart and Davidson, each of the speakers congratulating the pastor and members of the church on the beautiful building which they had erected; and hoped that the balance yet required to pay off the debt on the church would be subscribed before the meeting closed. …

The church is a very handsome [edifice]- inside and out, built of white brick, and is of the Romanesque style of architecture, 36 x 30. The tower on the east corner of the building is not yet finished; but when completed will add greatly to the appearance of the building. The entrance is on King Street, by to doors, one on each corner; and from the one on the east corner access to the gallery is obtained, which runs across the front of the church. The pulpit is American style- a platform with a small movable desk, and is fitted up very neatly. Mr. Langley, was the architect; May brothers, masons; Gay, & J. & R.B. Dickie, carpenters ; and J. Brewer, painter and glazier.

Feb 23, 1872, p3