Rugby in History

April 26 2020

Dai Thomas withdrawn from 1912 McKechnie Cup due to his professional rugby status

HISTORY: Rugby in BC and the Pandemic of 1918-19 - Part Two - Early October 1918

In the last article we looked at the 1918-19 epidemic known as the Spanish Influenza from September's point of view in 1918 Victoria. The link is here for the full article but a brief summary was it was seen slowly coming west, first reported in Europe, then in the USA military along the eastern coast, then ports in Quebec. BC knew it was coming but not exactly when. We pick up the dialogue in the first half of October in this article, starting with October 2nd 1918.

In 1918 each municipal region had their own health officer, and each one made the call for their region about how to react to the epidemic. Victoria's health officer was Dr. A.G. Price. In the October 2nd article he assures Victorians that there have been no cases reported yet although rumours have been circulating. He goes on to elaborate the steps he would be willing to take if the Spanish Influenza does develop in Victoria, not only "for public health but from the standpoint of duty to the Empire and the recognition that nothing can be allowed to retard the nation's war industries at the crucial moment". Canada were already four years into a war that would cost them over 60,000 lives, this pandemic would have to take its turn. The influenza would take 55,000 more Canadian lives from 1918 to 1920 with 4,000 of those from BC. Dr. Price made it clear in the article he would be willing to close schools, moving picture houses and public meeting places if and when necessary. The day before, the province had issued a warning to be put in public places as a precaution, the full wording is in the newspaper clipping at the end of the article. The front page headline of the day was still war focused, "French Penetrate St. Quentin to Southern Bank of Canal" - part of the "Hundred Days Offensive" that eventually ended WWI.

October 8th, things have changed quickly. There are now 50 to 100 known cases in Victoria and one death, the article states the numbers are probably higher. The measures Dr. Price promised are now implemented, Churches, Schools, Theatres and Meeting Places are to be closed. The Chief of Police has been instructed to enforce the decision. Saanich is doing the same under the direction of their Chief Health Officer, Dr. Holmes. Dr Holmes exhorts "that everyone should get out in God's fresh air as much as possible, as there was nothing better as a preventative." The front page headline today is "French Capture Important Town of Berry-au-Bac." Meanwhile in local sports, Golf takes up most of the column space. Golfers are exhorted to support the 3 day Thanksgiving golf tournament, October 11, 12, 14 (no Golf on Sunday) as part of the Red Cross fundraiser. Rugby shares the page with part of a column, the headline reads "Rugby Men Get Down to Business". It recaps the Monday evening meeting, leading with the subheading "League was formed at last night's meeting - two senior teams and three intermediates entered". Attending the meeting were representatives from the Naval College, Victoria and Island Athletic Association (V.I.A.A), University School, Foundation A.A., Imperial Munitions Board A.A., and Yarrows A.A.

In Lewis Madley's book "Rugby Football in British Columbia 1876-1989" he briefly spends half a paragraph on 1918, "Rugby in Victoria got going again with two divisions playing games in October 1918. The Senior division was made up of three teams Victoria and Island Athletic Association, the Imperial Munitions Board and Foundations Athletic Association, a team from the dockyard. It was to be one more year before J.B.A.A and Wanderers would put teams into competition. In the Intermediate division were, University School, V.I.A.A and the Naval College." It's worth noting the two teams that sat out that epidemic/war year are still represented today in local rugby, the Oak Bay based Wanderers now Castaway Wanderers and JBAA still James Bay Athletic Association.

The newspaper article continued to lay out the plan for 1918-19 season, there would be a practice game at Royal Athletic Park to be held on Saturday (October 12th) with the first league game on October 26th.

Sunday October 13th, the front page headline was "Germany Accepts President Wilson's Terms". The War was all but over. Other headlines read, "Armies of Allies Crush Resistance", "Britain Moves to Stop Cruelty - Threatens Reprisals if German Maltreatment of Prisoners Does Not Cease". The news on the war front was encouraging and so was news on the Influenza front, "Epidemic Shows Signs of Waning" the page 6 story heralded, adding in the subheading "Only sixteen new cases reported yesterday - sunshine helpful - claim outdoor meetings are dangerous". There were 53 cases on Friday, only 16 reported during the day Saturday which was taken as a positive sign, there have been 192 cases reported to date. Mayor Todd is quoted, "It is still early to talk in definite terms, but it is probable that we will be able to lift the ban on places of assembly during the early part of next week. The situation is well in hand and, with continued fine weather, a steady improvement is looked for." Still it's recommended open outdoor services for church not be held today.

Meanwhile in local sports, the Red Cross fundraising golf tournament attracted 50 teams. The soccer league was into week 3 with standings attached and "Rugby Veterans Held Good Practice Game". About 20 players had turned up from all the teams interested in starting the league on October 26th, the practice game was held at Royal Athletic Park. They played 10 aside with a plan for another practice session at 3pm on Monday. It's interesting to note the names mentioned in the article, "A number of the old-timers were out including Dai Thomas...". Dai Thomas had caused a bit of controversy in BC Rugby since he showed up in 1912. He was considered a professional rugby player, likely a Rugby League player, and was banned from player amateur rugby by the dictates at the time. In the 1912 McKechnie Cup match Vancouver successfully protested his inclusion on the Victoria team. He's a possible match to this Wiki article on Dai Thomas, professional rugby league player, which would have made him 39 in 1918, a match for the description "old-timers" in the article.

In article 3 we'll cover the latter part of October 1918 and see how the influenza pandemic is being handled in Victoria and how amateur sports are coping, including looking at the scheduled start of the rugby season on October 26th.

Below are various Daily Colonist snippets referenced in the above article.

October 2nd 1918

October 8th 1918

October 13th 1918

Pemberton Holmes
Real Estate Sales

Tom Woods' Listings
Heritage House Trophies
Lionheart Sports