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The impact of the Spanish influenza pandemic in Saskatchewan, 1918-1919



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In the autumn of 1918 a deadly pandemic swept the world. The so-called "Spanish" influenza epidemic, and its most deadly side-effect, pneumonia, killed between 50 and 100 million people worldwide. The epidemic created havoc in the medical profession because it was an apparently familiar disease run rampant. Doctors and researchers were baffled by influenza's etiology, the symptoms it displayed, and its spread. The epidemic occurred at a time when many of the important diseases of man had been conquered. The profession was fresh from their victory over typhoid, smallpox, and diptheria on the battlefield when influenza struck. In Canada the epidemic was a significant force behind the creation of the federal Department of Health. It compelled public health boards across the country to re-evaluate their notions of contagious disease and its causes. In urban Saskatchewan the epidemic was the catalyst for change in the way public relief was administered. With a great proportion of the population sick and dying, communities were forced to admit that volunteerism alone was inadequate. There came a realization that government must take responsibility for the sick. Urban communities also "discovered" their poor. The epidemic revealed that injustices and inequities in life were repeated in death. Organized workers responded to this ultimate injustice using the only means they had available. It firmed the resolve of many workers to take part in the sympathy strikes that occurred across the prairies in response to the Winnipeg general strike. Rural Saskatchewan bore the brunt of the epidemic. Isolated and without even rudimentary medical attendance, homesteaders were easy prey for the epidemic. In its wake organized farmers demanded accessible medical attendance and rural hospitals and took the initial steps toward a universal medical care system. The influenza epidemic was a significant force for change in Saskatchewan. No one was left untouched by the experience. Besides forcing a re-evaluation of government's role in caring for its constituents, it also caused, or added to, much of the wearines and discontent that was so characteristic of Canada after the Great War .





Master of Arts (M.A.)







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