10 Facts about the Spanish Flu

In January 1920, Stan McVittie was a fit and robust electrical engineer working at a hydroelectric generating plant on the Wanapitei River in Northern Ontario. Just six years out of university, he loved his work and the outdoor life he’d known all his life. The future was brilliant. While his young wife and daughter were visiting her parents in St. Marys, Stan developed a mild cough and a fever, but nothing to worry about for a healthy six-foot-two outdoorsman in his prime. A few days later, while visiting his father and sister in Sudbury, his symptoms worsened slightly, so he paid a call on the family doctor “just to be safe.” Nine days later, Stan was dead from the Spanish flu, like 50,000 other Canadians who’d died since the pandemic first appeared 18 months earlier. In a stunningly short span of time, the Spanish flu killed almost as many Canadians as had been killed during the four years of the Great War. Indiscriminate and horrific in its proportions and the speed with which it spread and killed, the pandemic had a profound impact on the history of Canada. Consider the following: one-third of the world’s population was infected by the Spanish flu; 50% of those infected were healthy young men and women under 40; 3% of the world’s population died; the Spanish flu killed more people in 18 months than AIDS has killed in 35 years or the Black Death killed in 100. The stories that such statistics tell are seemingly endless. But Canadians responded with purpose and determination; the pandemic brought about the creation of the federal Department of Health; and it persuaded Canadians to recognize disease as being a community problem, not an individual one. Isn’t this a story more Canadians should know?