Tag Archives: flu

The Spanish Flu in Newfoundland and Labrador


September 30, 1918  (100th Anniversary) 

Photo Credit: Volunteer nurses, 1918
These volunteer nurses worked at the King George V Seamen’s Institute during the Spanish influenza pandemic. Located in downtown St. John’s, the institute served as a temporary 32-bed hospital to help treat influenza victims.
Photo by J.C. Parsons. Reproduced from The Newfoundland Quarterly 18.4 (1918), 21.

On September 30,1918 the St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram reported three seamen from a steamer out of Burin were admitted to hospital with the flu.

The next day, the Daily News reported that two cases from the schooner Ariceen of Twillingate were taken to hospital.

The Spanish Lady or Spanish Flu was in Newfoundland.

The Allies of World War I came to call it the Spanish flu, primarily because the pandemic received greater press attention after it moved from France to Spain in November 1918. Spain was not involved in the war and had not imposed wartime censorship.

Within two weeks, of the first identified cases in  Newfoundland  the local newspapers  were reporting that several hundred people were infected in St. John’s.

By mid-October, Medical Officer of Health N.S. Fraser had closed the city’s schools, theatres, concert halls, and other public buildings to help prevent the virus from spreading.

In the last week of November 1918, 1,586 cases of influenza and 44 deaths were reported in 28 communities across the island. The highest incidences occurred in St. Mary’s Bay which reported 628 cases.

By February 1919, the epidemic had largely ended on the island, although traces of it remained until the summer.

Before it disappeared, the disease killed 170 people in outport Newfoundland. 62 deaths were reported in St. John’s.

The effects were most devastating in Labrador where the disease killed close to one third of the Inuit population and forced some communities out of existence. Death rates were particularly high in the Inuit villages of Okak and Hebron.

The Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-19 killed between 20 and 40 million people worldwide, making it one of the largest and most destructive outbreaks of infectious disease in recorded history.

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Room Provincial Archives Division  explore Death Records 1918-1919. Reels 32 and 33 and GN 2/5. Special  File 352-A, Colonial Secretary’s Department. “Correspondence Re: Outbreak of Epidemic Spanish Influenza in Newfoundland.” November 1918-June 1919.

Recommended Publication: Boats, Trains, and Immunity: The Spread of the Spanish Flu on the Island of Newfoundland Craig T. Palmer, Lisa Sattenspiel, Chris Cassidy: Newfoundland and Labrador Studies: Vol. 22 – Number 2 (2007)  http://journals.hil.unb.ca/index.php/NFLDS/article/view/10120/10396

Newfoundland advertisers enter the Great War

Archival Moment

February 1916  

War and Advertising

Evening Telegram February 1916

Evening Telegram
February 1916 (Click to enlarge)

In February 1916 the local St. John’s business T. J. Eden’s, the official agent in Newfoundland for “Bovril” announced with great fanfare that “fresh supplies were just received”. The news was delivered in the form of a large advertisement in the local newspapers. It was one of the first times that an advertisement featured a large drawing, containing a sketch showing the trenches of France.

Bovril is blended meat extract, originally created in 1870–1871. From the start, the product creator Johnston sought to associate Bovril with ‘strength’ or what he called the ‘vital principle of prime ox beef.’ In the early days of the First World War, Bovril positioned its product as meat extract used to make gravy and drunk as a warming and strengthening beverage.

The advertisement was quick to catch the imagination of newspaper readers. Newfoundlanders were starving for news of the war and this advertisement brought the war home to them in an illustration. The caption on the advertisement read:

“Bovril at the Front”

Not only were readers drawn to the advertisement because it captured in an illustration a realistic war scene, the advertisement also included a testimonial “from a letter at the Front.” The testimonial read:

“But for a plentiful supply of Bovril Idon’t know what we should have done. During “Neuve Chapelle” and other engagements we had big caldrons going over log fires, and we collected and brought in the wounded we gave each man a good drink of hot Bovril and I cannot tell you how grateful they were.”

Bringing attention to the Battle of Neuve-Chapelle was no accident. The first time that the Canadian Expeditionary Force had been fully involved in action with the enemy was at Neuve-Chapelle. The same Canadian troops trained with the men of the Newfoundland Regiment at Salisbury Plain, England.  Many Newfoundlanders knew from letters from their sons about these young Canadian’s.

These were the days before ‘advertising standards ‘were established and advertisers often laid claim to improbable cures. The Bovril advertisement uses the horror of war to stress the benefits that a hot, comforting drink can bring.

Bovril, was appealing to soldiers and their families as an aid to staying healthy, these soldier boys would be fit and warm when on duty.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: B 14-39; T.J. Eden's Store, 112 Military Road, St. John's

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: B 14-39; T.J. Eden’s Store, 112 Military Road, St. John’s

What Newfoundland mother, with a son in the trenches with the Newfoundland Regiment or on the seas with the Royal Navy would resist going down to T.J. Eden’s and getting a supply for her son?

Advertisers had entered the war.



Recommended Archival Collection:   From your home visit the website, The Great War: http://www.rnr.therooms.ca/part1_entering_the_great_war.asp This site contains the military files of over 2200 soldiers ( we have another 4000 on microfilm) from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment who served in the First World War. These files are searchable by name or by community and will therefore provide invaluable information for all viewers, but will be of particular interest to those who are conducting either family or community research.

Recommended Exhibit: Pleasantville: From Recreation to Military Installation. Level 2 Atrium. With the declaration of war, Pleasantville quickly emerged as a tent city, the home of the storied “First 500”. It was here that the First Newfoundland Regiment recruits began preliminary military training.