Edmonton was a city of 53,000 people on October 9, 1918. The Great War was still raging across Europe but cautiously seemed to be in the process of winding down. Eventually killing more than 66,000 Canadian troops with 149,000 wounded, it took a terrible toll in the city. Every family, business, church, and school had loved ones or knew someone fighting overseas and/or had been killed or wounded in action.
A sensational murder trial was about to start, and a double-murder that unleashed a region-wide manhunt would come within 10 days.
A raucous, bitterly fought Mayoral campaign was gearing up, with former Alderman and perennial Mayoral candidate Fightin' Joe Clarke (so named after coming to blows with then-Mayor William McNamara) running against current Alderman Charles Wilson.
Then came The Influenza Epidemic.
What was called "Spanish Influenza" was first reported at Fort Riley military base in Kansas in the spring of 1918. The virus spread rapidly through soldiers on the base who were then shipped overseas to fight, soon spreading it across Europe before bringing it back to North America in the summer and fall of 1918.
The influenza epidemic spread like wildfire through eastern Canada through the summer, though it's deadly effects seemed mostly confined to the elderly and sickly. By October, a second outbreak became much, much more deadly, with the deaths as a result of the flu soaring and becoming a sudden, likely death sentence to young adults through those well into their 30s if infected.
In short time all churches, schools, theatres, and all gathering spots in Edmonton closed due to the epidemic. If people ventured outside they wore masks; if they didn't, police threatened arrest, no exceptions.
Hospitals soon became overcrowded; schools and armouries were then opened to the afflicted. Funeral homes, already overworked by the those killed in action and returned for their burial, soon became overwhelmed by the sheer number of deaths from the flu in such a short time.
In the four years of war 66,000 Canadian servicemen were killed; in just 2 months of the second wave of the 1918 Flu Epidemic 50,000 Canadians died. In Alberta, upwards of 1500, with 500 in Edmonton and Central Alberta.
60 Days In Edmonton (October 11-December 9, 1918) is a newspaper record and project of that volatile, stressful time in the history of Edmonton. Through the archives of The Journal and Bulletin, I've tried to compile the best chronological flow of the war, the influenza outbreak, and the effects of the city, government and citizens to deal with those calamities along with with their everyday lives.
Starting on Friday December 29, with new posts every Tuesday and Friday at 6:00am until January 20, it's my hope that you'll be hooked by the history of this time as you read each part and go discover on your own online and at the City and Provincial Archives the absolute wealth of treasures inside.
Many thanks to The City Of Edmonton and Provincial Archives of Alberta, as well as the University Of Alberta Libraries for their help over the years.
The Days Before: October 9-10, 1918: