—— By Cameron Bridge/Nicola Valley Museum & Archives

 

As the horrors of the First World War were coming to an end, another new horror was brewing back home. 

Believed to have started on a pig farm in Kansas, the Spanish Flu is presumed to have been a variant of H1N1 or Swine Flu that rapidly became a worldwide pandemic, reaching both the trenches of France and the people at home waiting for their sons, fathers, brothers, and cousins to return home.

Merritt wasn’t immune to this disease and it rapidly spread itself around the community and the surrounding areas in the fall of 1918. 

Just as the most recent pandemic, the Spanish Flu heavily taxed the medical personnel of the Nicola Valley, including of course the nursing staff.

On October 22, 1918, at the recommendation of local health officials, an Order-In-Council was passed by the Merritt city council. 

The order was that all public buildings, including churches, pools, theatres, and schools, as well as any public gatherings were to be shut down to help prevent the spread of the virus. 

Unfortunately, the order came a bit too late as the epidemic overwhelmed the city. 

The hospital soon became overwhelmed with patients, and so to help prevent Spanish Flu victims from spreading to other patients in the hospital, a temporary isolation hospital was set up in city hall. 

The supervision of this hospital was placed under the care of Nurse Glen with assistance from Nurse Bond with Nurse Batton volunteering the overwhelmed nurses. Nurse Glen had only just graduated from Winnipeg General Hospital a couple of weeks before she came to Merritt and was placed in charge of the emergency hospital.

The Spanish Flu heavily effected the Indigenous Peoples of Canada and the US. Due to the racial policies of the Nicola Valley General Hospital, First Nations people could not be treated at the hospital in Merritt and so Shulus had a small hospital that was operated by Dr. Tutill. 

As the virus swept the Indigenous communities of the Nicola Valley, the hospital soon became overwhelmed and couple of nurses were sent to help manage and operate the hospital, as Dr. Tutill was needed all across the valley at the time and would often sleep in the car that was sent to drive him between the different places he was needed. 

The nurses that were sent were Nurse Sophie Steffens and Nurse Mary (born Bresnik) Ovington, and later after Nurse Bresnik fell ill, Nurse Dunnigan was called to help in Shulus.

Nurses and medical personnel are not immune to the diseases that they help treat, and thus especially during epidemics such as the Spanish Flu and recently with Covid, they place their health on the line by continuing to provide the care that the patients need. 

A number of nurses fell ill due to the Spanish Flu during the couple months it ravaged the Nicola Valley. Nurses Mary Bresnik, Berentzen, Ritchie, Ruby Howes, Menzies, and Edmonds all fell ill while trying to help sick patients.