Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Heritage’ Category

This is not the first time that Saskatchewan has been ravaged by a major pandemic.

The so-called Spanish Flu, now thought to be a derivative of H1N1, set the entire world on fire in 1918-1919. It was a killer, with a virus that linked to a bacteria, leading to influenza infection then bacterial pneumonia, then death.

The death rates were high: in Canada, about 55,000 Canadians died. In Saskatchewan, its grim death toll by the end of 1918 was nearly 4000 people, and it continued to stalk rural, remote and northern regions until about 1922. The death toll likely reached well over over 5000 people, but records are patchy and we’ll never know for sure. What is known is that the impact on Saskatchewan’s First Nations population was worse, and the disease and Saskatchewan’s efforts to combat it took over everyone’s life in the fall of 1918.

The flu came to Canada with the soldiers, those returning home from the WWI war front, but in reality, it raced ahead of them. The first recorded death from the Spanish Flu was Robert Callander, a drayman in Regina who was sick for a week before succumbing.

What made the Spanish Flu so frightening was its rapid transmission, and its targets. It killed the healthiest working people — soldiers, farmers, teachers — in the prime of their working lives. Its death rate were described as a ‘W’: those aged 0-5 were highly susceptible, ages 5-20 less so, ages 20-50 were very susceptible, then 50-65 less so and another surge in deaths for the elderly population.

2020-03-18 (3)

Calgary Daily Herald October 7, 1918

It also came in three waves. The first wave came in the spring of 1918 and was dubbed the ‘three day fever,’ since people were very sick for just a few days, then mostly recovered. This wave was less noticeable in Canada when compared to other regular grippes, flu bugs and the regular items of a Canadian winter. It was the fall 1918 surge that was the killer, while spring 1919 saw another resurgence, but less severe.

In Biggar, Saskatchewan, we have a more limited view of the fall of 1918. While our local newspaper, the Biggar Independent was then (and remains now) in operation, we have few copies of newspapers from that killer fall — likely because people destroyed newspapers rather than risk them being contaminated with the killer virus. We have a newspaper from September 5, 1918, then nothing until November 21st 1918 (side note: they were five cents per copy!)

September 5th saw no mention of the virus or the disruption to come. A circus was coming to town on September 11th, promising local kids and adults alike some smiles and delights.

2020-03-18 (2)

Biggar Independent, September 5, 1918

But what happened after, throughout the rest of September and October, is unclear. What we do know is that we had local disruption, much the same as we are having now in 2020 with Covid-19. Schools, the pool halls and bars, the Biggar Majestic Theatre, and all churches were closed. And, people died.

2020-03-18 (5)

Biggar Independent November 21, 1918

The article actually lists seven deaths, including an infant and Percy Talbot from Oban region, who died in Calgary — and that’s just from the past week. In all, it could be estimated that as many as fifty people from Biggar and surrounding regions died throughout October and November of the scourge year.

One of the things that the Town of Biggar had to fund was an ’emergency hospital’. In the November 21st copy of the Biggar Independent, the town’s financial report listed over $60 put toward the emergency hospital.

Ernie Hoppe of Biggar said that his mother told him stories of the 1918 epidemic. Their home, 14 miles north and west of town, was “where the sick came for help,” and it’s probable that it became a rural triage and emergency space for those stricken with the awful virus. “Many people died in their home,” he added. I have yet to discover where the town emergency hospital was located, but if you know, reach out.

But by November 21st, things were starting to ease back. The ‘ban’ on gathering had been lifted, and the Biggar Majestic Theatre, along with churches and the pool room, could once more reopen.

2020-03-15 (7)

“Theatre Thoroughly Disinfected” Biggar Independent November 21, 1918

By November 28th, there was a town annual meeting. One of the things discussed: “Those who were present however helped along the urgent need for a hospital one step by appointing S. H. Curran J. T. James and S. E. Shaw as a committee from the town to interview the Council of the Rural Municipality of Biggar with a view to building a Union Hospi­tal in Biggar next year and of continuing the operation of the present emergency hospital until a more permanent building can be arranged for.” [Biggar Independent, “Citizens Show Lack of Interest”, November 28, 1918].

The churches came back: the Methodist church resumed services on November 24th, with St. Paul’s Anglican — the same building we see today — resuming morning and evening services, choir practice, and Sunday School on December 1st.

It took longer to reopen the schools. School terms were more fluid at the time, and could shift according to local need, particularly those in rural areas. It was a disconcerting prospect for many, to consider not only the schools not reopening, but the absence of Christmas concerts and other timely entertainment.

2020-03-15 (8)

Biggar Independent November 28, 1918

But even as life started to return to normal and people moved more freely in the town, the flu and its aftereffects were still to be seen.

2020-03-15 (10)

Biggar Independent November 28, 1918

With only patchy newspaper records — we have no extant papers from December of 1918 from the Biggar Independent — the record ends there. But those interested in reading for themselves, and following the stories told through newspapers should find their way to the Saskatchewan Historical Newspapers Online and the Google Newspaper Archive.

Whether you’ll be relieved, or horrified to know that we’ve been here before, is entirely up to you.

Read Full Post »

In the fall of 2016, I was approached by C.P. Champion, editor of The Dorchester Review, to join a chorus of other writers offering short commentary pieces in response to the question: “How can we strengthen our traditions?”

An innocuous question, and not particularly specific, but then again, that was the point. It’s the context where that question found its legs: throughout 2017, there was a Canadian — and worldwide — conversation around statues, building names, and colonialism that sent tempers soaring, municipalities running, and social media humming.

Campion’s original email set the tone: “Casting a wary eye over the current wave of iconoclasm, statue-toppling, quasi-forced resignations, and all-round history-purging…”. So, the point of view is ‘wary.’ Huh. So I had to really think: Is this the genre of scholarship where I fit, especially since I’m no longer a practicing scholar?

The Dorchester Review receives mixed accolades, and that’s just fine by me. I’ve never been comfortable with the scholar-as-activist model, I do believe that there are points to be made on many sides of a lot of issues, and by the way, they offered to pay me — which is something no ‘scholarly’ journal has ever offered for my work.

Published twice per year by the Foundation for Civic Literacy, The Dorchester Review is a literary and historical journal that deliberately challenges concepts of political correctness. There are a lot of older white men propounding in the pages, and at times I read little more than a more refined version of the same arguments that fill the air at the local John Deere dealership, but even so, gems can be found. If you’re an armchair military historian, there will be much to enjoy. A lot of it is an uncomfortable read for me — but, I’m OK with that. Discomfort is important. If we only read the stuff we already agree with, what exactly are we learning?

The forum is called Safe-Guarding Traditionswhich includes thoughts from twenty-three writers, including me. And — here was the publishing dream — my name is on the top-row, between two authors whose work I enjoy: David Frum and Noah Richler. How about that! I enjoyed Brigitte Pellerin‘s call to “Be the Change,” to strengthen our own ability ‘to converse with others in the political arena’ while listening to points with which we disagree. Noah Richler’s “The Healing Circle” wants Canadians to tear down our existing house of Parliament to construct a new one. That was a bit of a hard pill for me, a past member of the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation. Yet the central point is exquisite: our leadership (MPs, elders and senators, and the Canadian people and press gallery) should sit in three concentric healing circles in a new space without colonial history. David Frum asks us to rename the August long weekend holiday to commemorate the battle of Amiens, a turning point in World War I. That, too, bears thought.

But I wrote something completely different. I started on the expected route, examining “How can we strengthen our traditions?” and how I might answer it. My preference has always been for buildings, bridges, and other social landmarks to be named for anyone or anything other than politicians (plants, animals, birds, heck, insects would be better in some cases); and I’m in favour of more statues, not less (supports the broader arts community, gives a focal point for public spaces, and a place for birds). But, were these points truly unique? No. So…delete delete delete.

Moments before the deadline, I had a bit of an epiphany. I didn’t have to write about statues, parliament, pieces of paper or names on buildings. What were some of our Saskatchewan traditions…and how could we in Saskatchewan make them stronger? Campion’s invitation arrived in fall, it was CFL season, and the Riders were top of mind. So, I thought, there is my hook. How can we in Saskatchewan make our Rider traditions even better?

I came up with a little piece I call Green is the Colour.

Green Is the Colour

For copyright reasons, I can’t reproduce the whole thing here. But here’s the final call (while crossing my fingers which I’m hoping will not be slapped too hard):

green-is-the-colour-2.jpg

So… Federated Co-operatives Limited, that’s your next project: create for us a potion. And sell it at the co-op. That is how we’ll strengthen a major Saskatchewan tradition.

 

Read Full Post »

Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation

The new homepage of the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation https://www.saskheritagefoundation.com/ 

Well, it’s happened: I’m mentioned in the Hansard! (See page 32, under Bill 90, and keep reading).

If you’re not a historian, the Hansard is the record of what is said in the Saskatchewan legislature. It contains the debates, transcribed, as well as the record of visitors, bills being put forward, and shows the province’s political leaders going about the business of government. It’s a great resource to know what’s happening, and to track political debate over time.

So, how did I get there? I wrote an op-ed about the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation that was published in the Star Phoenix. This op-ed is all about the disparity in support for heritage projects around the province, as well as criticism of the way the current bureaucracy in the Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport (where the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation is connected) has been running roughshod over the Foundation.

It’s a hard-hitting piece. I was on the Board of the SHF for three years, and I had a lot to say about heritage in Saskatchewan, and the way the SHF board has been working hard to protect, and fight for, the groups working on heritage projects across the province. In the end, I called for those currently running for the leadership of the Saskatchewan Party to look into the debacle, and get things straightened out.

I’ve since spoken about the issue to sitting MLAs and Saskatchewan Party leadership contenders, because this is an issue that transcends party politics. The SHF has been in existence, helping the people of Saskatchewan for more than 25 years. Heritage is not about politics. It’s about dedicated people fighting hard to save their heritage buildings and cultural landscapes, from north to south, and from east to west across Saskatchewan. Every political party and MLA has a heritage project in their backyard. And the current Ministry officials in the department of Heritage for the province of Saskatchewan are not doing a good job of supporting the SHF, its board, goals, and by extension the people of Saskatchewan.

I’m glad to see some traction on this issue. I understand that the pressure will continue, and I’m encouraged to know that it’s now in the Hansard as a permanent record — even if they accidentally thought that I’m a male, not a female historian.

To sitting and incoming MLAs: keep this on your radar. The people of Saskatchewan expect it: Do better.

Read Full Post »