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Taber struggled with pandemic tragedy in 1918

Posted on April 15, 2020 by Taber Times

By Trevor Busch
Taber Times

As Taber and the wider world struggle with the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, it might be largely forgotten that our fledgling community grappled with some of the very same problems just over a century ago during the Spanish Flu pandemic that swept the globe on the heels of troops returning from the trenches in 1918.

The following is an excerpt on the historical pandemic from Taber: 1905-2005 compiled by Ruby Danforth and published by the Taber and District Museum Society:

“To stop diseases from spreading, families were quarantined. There was a sign on the door and no one came in and no one went out until everyone was better. The father often stayed in the bedroom with the sick child while the mother and other children lived in the rest of the house. Usually everyone in the family had come down with it before the quarantine was lifted…there were no vaccinations and once a communicable disease began in a district it would reach epidemic proportions very quickly.”

“The flu epidemic of 1918 was considered more devastating than WWI. It spread through Europe and then the Americas and caused 20,000,000 deaths worldwide. The disease broke out aboard one ship carrying soldiers home to Canada. There were over 200 deaths before they reached Halifax. Men who had survived the Great War died before they reached home and were buried at sea.”

“The epidemic spread quickly affecting almost every household with several or all of the family being deathly ill at the same time. Casualties were high. So many were ill there were scarcely enough people to care for the sick and bury the dead. If both parents died there were young orphans who needed someone well enough to look after them.”

“Dr. Hamman’s phone rang constantly. He made house calls, driving a rubber-tired buggy pulled by a bay gelding one day and a black mare the next. He’d leave about 10 p.m. to visit the sick in the country and be back about 5 a.m. He’d sleep until 8 or 9 p.m. and then go on his rounds in Taber.”

“Desks were moved out of Central School in Taber and it became a big hospital. People donated many loaves of bread, quarts of milk and bowls of homemade soup. Some shared their preserved fruits and vegetables while others brought their own bedding to help out and took soiled linens home to launder.”

“Neighbours helped neighbours. Mr. Bonette would go out every morning and scan the horizon. If there was smoke coming from his neighbour’s chimneys all was well, if not help was needed. Sarah Redel kept a pot of homemade soup on the kitchen range ready to take with her on her errands of mercy.”

“There were no effective remedies. People were told to stay home, eat lots of lemons and onions, and take a shot of whisky before going into a house where there were sick folk. Symptoms included a severe headache, chills and high fever. Deaths were caused by complications such as pneumonia or bronchitis. Many tried cooked onion poultices or mustard plasters on the patient’s chest. One mother made a kerosene poultice for her husband who was very ill. It burned his back and chest and was very painful but he survived. Those who had to be out were required to wear a mask made of a handkerchief with a bit of gauze daubed with a few drops of eucalyptus. Schools were closed. Trains did not stop. The whole town was quarantined.”

“Eliza Jane Parke of the Lost Lake district, ‘Grandma Parke’ as she was known, drove many miles by horse and buggy caring for the sick…during the flu epidemic she cared for many as the doctor was far away and very busy. During those early years, Julianna Kambeitz, fondly called ‘Aunt Julianna’ by many, was mid-wife to most of the children of the Grassy Lake district. During the terrible flu epidemic of 1918 and bouts of typhoid, she constantly helped out at one home or another. Grandma Jean Kinniburgh had two brothers in Scotland who were doctors. She had studied their books and was a doctor herself in everything but name. Everyone within driving distance she considered a neighbour and she never turned anyone down. She is well remembered for the unfailing help she gave whenever it was needed. All of these women were a ‘God-send’ to the community in which they lived.”

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