Rugby in History

May 24 2020

Letter to Editor - October 27 1918

Rugby in Victoria During the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918-19: Part 4 - Outdoor Sports Continued Even Though Churches, Theatres, Schools Closed

This is part four in the series covering the first half of November 1918. Rugby had started its league games, the influenza continued although health authorities believed it had hit its peak, the war was winding down.

The influenza was raging around the world, Vancouver Island had been fairly sheltered, about 800 cases in total by the end of October with about 70 being added daily. Elsewhere figures were dire, in Europe deaths in Dublin were 250 per week, in USA figures for Minnesota were almost 19,000 cases to date.

The message was clear from Dr Price the Victoria Health Officer, avoid crowded assemblies, get plenty of fresh air.

It has become apparent after 4 articles that sport had a privileged place in society during the War/Pandemic era. In Victoria, outdoor sports like Rugby and Soccer were exempt from closures that were affecting other activities. Churches, Theatres, Schools were closed, Public Funerals were banned, even a Regimental Band playing on a street corner were told to shut down but you could play and watch a soccer or rugby match on any Saturday. We'll look at some of the reasons for that in a later article when we summarize the series.

Part 1 - Pre October 2018 - Before Influenza Contact

Part 2 - First Half of October 1918 - First Influenza Contact

Part 3 - Second Half of October 1918 - Rugby Starts, Influenza Continues

November 3rd, 1918 - Sunday

The front page headline again was war related, "Canadians Take Valenciennes After Hard Fight in Suburbs and Press Further East".

The influenza showed up in several stories, one of the more bizarre involved a member of the International Bible Students, a precursor to the Jehovah's Witnesses, who was imprisoned for 3 months for having "forbidden" literature. He had the Spanish Influenza while in jail and reportedly "threw himself off the balcony", the inquest ruled that "death was a result of a fall while in a state of delirium caused through illness".

A short article indicated "Influenza Rages Up the Coast" with hospitals being filled to the limit at Rock Bay and Alert Bay. Two nurses in Rock Bay were taken ill with the influenza.

Vancouver and New Westminster were given new "powers" by the Provincial Government to close stores at 6pm on Saturday. The requests had to come from the mayors of the cities as the Province refused to act unless the requests were sent. The Retail Employees Association initiated the pressure as many employees were falling ill.

Requests were coming in from doctors around the Province asking about vaccines, the Provincial Health Officer Dr. Young had this to say, "Evidence at hand affords no trustworthy basis for regarding prophylactic vaccination against influenza as of value in preventing the disease or reducing its severity. Second: Evidence at hand convinces the board that the vaccines we have considered have no specific value in treating Influenza".

Victoria got its first view of "Flu Masks" when two Japanese officers disembarked from a ship getting repairs. It was novel enough to hit the news "whatever sign of embarrassment they might have shown was effectively concealed beneath a wad of heavy gauze".

Victoria Health Officer Dr. Price was quoted as saying there were only 19 cases reported yesterday and the paper interprets that to mean the "epidemic is gradually declining here".

The Victoria Winter Sports committee is advised by Mayor Todd that their "week of sports" should be postponed due to the Influenza. The paper explains that if it was just Victoria athletes it wouldn't be a problem but since it involved athletes from the "Sound Cities" and the prairie communities it would cause hardship, "As these cities are suffering in many cases to a far greater extent than Victoria".

The Victoria Branch of the Army and Navy Veterans in Canada put out a notice requesting donations for families as they have just lost 8 members to the H.M.C.S. Galiano disaster (lost at sea near Triangle Island) and have 10 members in the Emergency Hospital with the Spanish influenza.

Meanwhile on the Rugby front, an article gave an overview of the situation due to the war, "Rugby football has not been to the fore since the war began owing to the Rugby Union having decided to disband until the declaration of peace. It may not therefore be amiss to remind Victorians that the Capital City hold the following rugby cups: McKechnie Cup, carrying with it the championship of British Columbia, and the Cooper Keith Cup, carrying the championship of the North Pacific Coast. Meanwhile until the Rugby Union takes up the game again, the Victoria City Rugby League has decided to take the sport in hand and has already arranged for two championship matches, each one carrying with it a handsome and valuable cup donated by prominent citizens."

The Intermediate league kicked off its first match, with the Naval Cadets defeating V.I.A.A. 9 to 6. The paper remarked on the Cadets play, "Some of their men found it hard to forget that they were not playing Canadian Rugby, the rules of which are different from those of the English game."

November 6th, 1918 - Wednesday

The front page headline reads "British Conquer Immense Number of Enemy Troops". An armistice had been signed with Austria-Hungary and Germany, now alone, were given terms which they would sign on November 11th. The war was near to an end.

Closer to home a page two headline read, "Influenza Finds Fewer Victims" with updates from various cities. Vancouver had 31 new cases but that was down from 140 new cases the day before, 6 deaths were reported, down from 29 the day before. San Francisco reported 392 new cases and 8 deaths. In Calgary, it was reported they had 953 cases in October and already 182 cases in November with 45 cases on the day. Edmonton reported 29 deaths on Monday for a total of 149 deaths to date. Toronto had 6 deaths that day with their medical officer proclaiming, "The bottom has dropped out of the epidemic". Montreal had 16 deaths on the day, which was recorded as a "new minimum". Regina had 13 deaths yesterday for a total of 179 deaths to date. Winnipeg were struggling with 619 new cases reported and 20 deaths on the day.

A debate was ongoing about the compulsory use of "Flu Masks". The Provincial government wouldn't make it compulsory across the province but it did pass legislation allowing individual municipalities to make masks compulsory in their areas of jurisdiction. Cumberland were the first municipality to enforce that regulation.

Death figures from around the province were starting to come in for October. In Victoria 46 people died of the Spanish Influenza in October, 34 males and 12 females. In the New Westminster District, the death figure for October was 58.

Victoria had 85 new cases the previous day much to the consternation of Dr Price the health officer for Victoria. He blamed the "crowding that occured at the "Human Fly" performance last week". The Human Fly (James Gardiner) was a travelling performer who scaled buildings in a daredevil act. He was helping to raise funds for the war effort through Victory Bonds, but was not ingratiating himself to the medical officers who saw influenza numbers rise after his crowd-drawing performances.

The influenza was affecting the starting of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, the professional hockey league on the west coast. The winner of the league would play the winner of the east for the Stanley Cup. In today's article, league president Frank Patrick indicated the league would probably start New Year's day. The Vancouver Millionaires ended up winning the PCHA title, defeating Seattle but lost to the Toronto Arenas 3 games to 2 in the Stanley Cup final in Toronto.

In Rugby coverage, there was an article featuring the upcoming Saturday rematch between the shipyard's Foundation side and V.I.A.A The shipyard won the first match in close contest.

In Soccer, an anticipated match on Saturday would feature the sailors from the H.M.S. Lancaster vs the returning soldiers who named themselves, Fragments of France.

Even though soccer and rugby pushed ahead, it was odd to see on the same page an article from Nanaimo, "Nanaimo Puts Ban on Public Funerals" and "bereaved are requested to have the funeral as private as possible".

In 2020 the Province manages the influenza effort in the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, back in 1918-1919 during the Spanish Flu pandemic it was each municipality and their chief health officer who were making the day to day decisions.

November 10th, 1918 - Sunday

The day before Armistice Day when the war officially ended the headlines read, "Germany Navy Mutinied When Ordered to Fight" and "Sir Eric Geddes Says Stage Was Set for Great Sea Battle - Decision of Enemy on Armistice is Expected Today - Revolution Spreads".

Dr Price reported that only 18 influenza cases had been reported on the day. He indicated that 96 cases had been dealt with at the Isolation Hospital and 35 at the Fort Street special hospital since the outbreak the previous month. He didn't have a date for when the ban on public gatherings would be lifted but added, "When it finally is withdrawn there will be no distinction made. The church, school and theatre will be dealt with alike. They will all be permitted to open at the same time".

A brief snippet indicated Dr Price even shut down a military band playing street corners to raise money for the Victory Bonds, "The 5th Regiment band played a few street corners yesterday afternoon to advertise the campaign, but Medical Health Officer A.G. Price intervened by referring to the clause in the influenza closing order prohibiting demonstrations likely to attract a crowd."

Vancouver had 49 new influenza cases reported on the day, along with 12 deaths.

The Prohibition Commissioner, W.C. Findlay, declared that liquor sales at the Government stores had fallen off 50% compared to the previous week, "This may be a barometer of the influenza situation" was his quote. Sales at Government liquor stores were by doctor's prescription during prohibition so that fact was likely driving his conclusion.

Portland reported 15 new influenza deaths on the day and 200 new cases.

Ads in the newspaper promising influenza cures continued to make outrageous claims and show how lax advertising standards and pharmacy regulations were at the time. An ad for Kennedy's Tonic Port taken four times daily purports to "keep your body strong and thoroughly fortified against the ravages of Influenza". As an assurance it states "Big doctors prescribe it, Drug stores sell it".

Another brief snippet mentions influenza spread in Illinois, one million cases reported with 18,000 deaths with half of those figures coming from Chicago.

In San Francisco, wearing influenza gauze masks was mandatory, police had arrested 650 people accused of not wearing masks or wearing them improperly bringing the total to 1,200 arrested to date, "Fines aggregating $2,000 have been turned over to the Red Cross".

In Sports news, the Willows military camp in Oak Bay had an intra-camp soccer match and baseball game. The baseball game featured the 259th Battalion vs the Machine Gunners. There were top athletes on both sides and the paper noted that, "Durcon, second baseman for the machine gunners, was a member of the Hamilton Tigers Rugby team when they won the championship of Canada". The rugby Championship of Canada pre-dated the Grey Cup and involved teams in the east. The Hamilton Tigers, eventually the Hamilton Tiger Cats, won the championship in 1906 and 1908. The Grey Cup was first awarded in 1909.

The match report for the Senior league game between the Foundation and V.I.A.A. was posted. It ended in a 3-3 draw, a try apiece. The shipyard team, Foundation, had a better scrum and weightier set of forwards but the Victoria and Island Athletic Association won the battle in the backline. The newspaper rugby scribe had some words of advice in the article with a subheading of, "One Try All Was the Score Yesterday in Match Between V.I.A.A. and Foundation - Some Advice to Players". One bit of advice given was, "They have to learn that it is comparatively easy to hand off a man who tries to collar you around the neck, but the fellow who dives for the level of your knees is a much harder impediment to get rid of."

In the next article in the series, number 5, we'll cover Armistice Day, November 11th, and the remainder of November.


Sunday, November 3rd 1918

Wednesday, November 6th 1918

Sunday, November 10th, 1918

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