The Spanish Flu Pandemic 1918-1919 was one of the most catastrophic events in history, and yet it has been all but overlooked or forgotten. For Canadians, the pandemic changed the course of our shared histories. To commemorate the centenary of the Pandemic in Canada, we want you to join us in finding stories about those communities and about those women and men who helped forge changes in our country by their responses to it.

In 2020, the world is experiencing another global pandemic. The outbreak of COVID-19 shares stark similarities to the Influenza Pandemic from a century ago. While enormous progress in Public Health has occurred throughout the 20th century, there remain lessons to be learned from ‘The Spanish Flu’ Pandemic – for Canadians and all global citizens.

Where should we start our learning in 2020?

A pandemics primer: Infectious disease outbreaks, from the Plague to COVID19

Explore our story map

Explore our artifact gallery

Teaching about the Spanish Flu

Since 2017, Defining Moments Canada has led this digital centennial commemoration of the Pandemic nationwide encouraging participation from schools, museums and community partners across Canada. This innovative project is designed to engage Canadians in rich historical inquiry and establish connections for the twenty-first century that extend far beyond the family, classroom or community. What’s more, the Defining Moments Canada website contains the most extensive collection of academic research, popular writing, digital assets and learning resources on the 1918-19 Pandemic available to Canadians.

You can share your work for an audience across the country, and ‘crowd-share’ the Canadian stories that have impacted and shaped our history. This commemorative project will make you and your community a significant part of our national heritage.

A major feature of Defining Moments Canada is our 7 Sentence Story Structure™, which uses the principles of structured narrative to guide users in constructing a non-fiction story with ease. Defining Moments Canada provides online assets, templates, tutorials, and digital research techniques to guide users every step of the way. Commemorative projects stories can be created in any digital medium (e.g. eBooks, websites, videos, interactive displays, exhibits), and showcased on DMC’s Digital Commons.

Our national contest Recovering Canada, held between November 2018 and April 2019, was the centrepiece of this digital commemoration. Featuring curated submissions from schools, museums, local heritage communities and universities across Canada, exemplary digital projects selected by a panel of Canadian experts will be honoured at a ceremony in Ottawa on May 11th, 2019 at Ingenium, Canada’s Museum of Science and Technology.

Remembering the 100th Anniversary of the Spanish Flu Pandemic

In January 1920, Stan McVittie was a fit and robust electrical engineer working at a hydro-electric generating plant on the Wahnapitae 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 6’ 2” 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 eighteen months earlier.

Stan and Maggie
Stan McVittie in November 1919 with his three-year-old daughter, Maggie

In a stunningly short span of time, the Spanish Flu took almost as many Canadian lives 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 profoundly impacted 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 Plague killed in 100;
  • 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;
  • The Pandemic also persuaded Canadians to recognize disease as being a community problem, not an individual one.

Isn’t this a story more Canadians should know?

This commemoration is carried out through the generous support of our partners, including the Ministry of Canadian Heritage, Ingenium, the BC Centre for Disease Control, Library and Archives Canada, Huron College at Western University, and many others.