A brief history of pandemics
With the 1918 'Spanish flu,' UM suspended classes, hockey's Stanley Cup called off
Unprecedented. Uncertain times. Never been seen before. These are the words being used to describe the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Yet as we followed the news, UM archivists wondered if this pandemic truly is unprecedented. Digging into our UM Libraries Archives virtual collections we found a plethora of information on the impacts of past pandemics.
With this new series, we bring you highlights of different historical moments and stories from our community. We start in 1918, with the advancing H1N1 influenza virus that was named the ‘Spanish flu.’
In Fall 1918, an H1N1 influenza virus that became known as the ‘Spanish flu’ began to spread as the world awaited the end of World War I. Relying on daily news through local and national newspapers, the citizens of Winnipeg turned to the Winnipeg Tribune for updates from the front.
The flu reached Winnipeg in late September, with soldiers returning home by train. The pages of the Tribune presented readers with a mix of wartime news and flu prevention tips, providing a source of information for Winnipeggers concerned with staying healthy.
As the flu spread, a ban on public gatherings meant that churches, schools, and universities temporarily closed their doors.
The University of Manitoba suspended classes at both their Broadway and Fort Garry campuses.
Reporting on campus activities, the student newspaper The Manitoban makes numerous references to the war and the flu pandemic applauding volunteer efforts of those at home and the patriotic efforts of those on the front.
The Brown and Gold, the UM yearbook, notes the impact of these major world events in the Editor’s Foreword for the 1918-1919 edition:
Our past year has been fraught with many difficulties. The effects of the war are still apparent in our depleted numbers in our organization. Then followed the “flu” epidemic, which became so serious as to necessitate the closing of the University for seven weeks. This proved disastrous and increased the obstacle to overcome. However, with increased enthusiasm and indomitable courage, the students have managed successfully “to carry on.”
Just as the current outbreak of COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the world of sports, hockey was not immune to the influenza either.
Despite the global toll wrought by late December by the pandemic, and partly due to the relatively low attendance at the time at such events, hockey fans that year were watching the newly formed NHL battle it out for a place in the Stanley Cup finals. The Montreal Canadiens and the Seattle Metropolitans had played Game 4 through 3 full regulation and two overtime periods to no score.
Winnipeg and Brandon hockey fans suffered a blow when it was announced that hometown hero, “Bad” Joe Hall, playing for the Canadiens, collapsed during Game 5, despite the team’s win.
The series stood at 2-2-1. The big game was set for April 1, but it would be a year in NHL history where no Stanley Cup winner was decided, as players and coaches from both teams fell ill with the flu. To the shock of all, Joe Hall had succumbed to the Spanish flu, and the final game was called off.
The trophy is still engraved with these words:
Series Not Completed
With the flu pandemic was wrapping up, Winnipeg was headed for a disruption of a different sort. The stress of inflation and lack of jobs for returning war veterans was leading to the Winnipeg General Strike.
Part 2 of the series explores the 1918 influenza connection to the Hamilton Family Fonds collection at UM Libraries Archives. Stay tuned.
>>Read all of the stories in our Pandemics history series by UML Archives.
This story drew from University of Manitoba Libraries archival collections including The Winnipeg Tribune collection, the Brown and Gold Yearbooks, the Winnipeg Building Index, and the University Relations and Information fonds.