Rugby in History

August 04 2020

November 15 1918 - Thanksgiving postponed

Rugby in Victoria During the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918-19: Part 5 - Thanksgiving Postponed Until December; Businesses Plead to Open; Ontario Rugby Football Union Senior Series Folds but Rugby in Victoria Continues

A little over a century ago the World was fighting another pandemic, the Spanish Flu. It was a different time, a World War was winding down and the two events briefly overlapped in the fall of 1918. This is part 5 of the series. Part 1 started in October 1918 when the Spanish Flu first arrived in BC.

This episode is focused on November 15th, the Friday after WWI officially ended, Armistice Day, Monday November 11th 1918.

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

Part 4 - First Half of November 1918 - Churches, Theatres, Schools Closed but Rugby Rolls On

In 1918 each region had their own Health Authority, it perhaps didn't provide the consistency of the modern day where the provincial health authority makes the call for the whole province but it did allow more flexibility. The Victoria region had Dr. A.G. Price as the Medical Health Officer and he did a relatively good job on decision making. BC had about 4,000 deaths (according to Vancouver Coastal Health) during the 1918-1919 pandemic, Vancouver accounting for about a quarter of that figure but Greater Victoria only had 259 deaths according to the website. In comparison, the 1918-19 pandemic killed 50,000 in Canada and 50 million world wide.

By November 15th the War coverage had already begun to fade from the front page, the headline was "New Parliament Will Deal With Negotiations", talking about the British elections to be held December 14th.

One interesting column on the front page, "Roumania Wants Transylvania". It wasn't until 1975 that Romania became the common English spelling. The Romanians had been occupied by the German alliance with Hungary-Austria during the war but after the war ended and the German alliance was defeated, the Romanian army with backing from the allies started taking back border areas and Transylvania was high on the list.

At home people were starting to chafe at the pandemic restrictions. In the last article we talked about how churches, theatres and schools were closed. Business organizations were starting to put pressure on the municipality and Dr. Price. In a column in today's paper it states, "Representatives of the Board of Trade, Rotary Club, Retail Merchants' Association and Manufacturers' Association will press their claim for a modification of the influenza ban before a meeting of the City Council at 2:30". Their demand was for "withdrawal of the closing order on private business establishments and churches" and "the rigid quarantine of families affected by the influenza". The article closes with the mention, "sixty-four new cases were reported to the health authorities yesterday".

Special events were postponed such as the drumhead memorial service planned for the Sunday at Beacon Hill. The Health Board declared "that such a ceremony would be at this time a menace to the health of the community."

Even Thanksgiving would be postponed this year. The National Thanksgiving day planned for Sunday, November 17th was postponed two weeks until December 1st. That was agreed upon by the four western provinces. There was an article and an announcement in today's paper, "Advices from from the Provincial Governments of the four Western Provinces show that the influenza conditions are such that the churches will not be open next Sunday, and it is urgent that the national Thanksgiving be postponed. The Government therefore has fixed the date for Sunday, December 1." For those wondering about Canadian Thanksgiving in October, it wasn't until 1957 that Canadian Thanksgiving was declared to be the second Monday of October by parliament.

So in the fall of 1918, due to the influenza, Thanksgiving was moved from November to December. You couldn't attend church, school or the theatre. You couldn't conduct public memorial services and many private business establishments were on closing orders. There was a rigid quarantine imposed on families affected by influenza but, you could still play rugby (and soccer) in Victoria.

The news was upbeat about the direction the influenza was taking, the headline "Plague Cases Decrease" describes Vancouver's 21 cases yesterday at being "almost negligible". Nanaimo City Council was given the "pleasing information" that "the epidemic was abating". However public meetings were still banned. Monday, November 11th, had been the official end of the war marked by public celebrations so authorities had been bracing for a spike in the number of cases.

On the rugby front the Intermediate League had a game scheduled for Saturday at Royal Athletic Park, the Vancouver Island Athletic Association (VIAA) versus the Royal Naval College XV. The Intermediate League schedule took a hit due to the influenza as the University School team dropped out, the school authorities "having decided to maintain a quarantine until two weeks after the ban has been lifted in the city".

In soccer news the Fragments team continued on with their game against the Foundation in Oak Bay despite several of their players down with the influenza. Their captain was taken to hospital the previous day, two other players were ill for three weeks and were still in bed. Another player is listed in the absent category due to "punishment handed out by the league".

The Victoria newspaper throws some shade on the Ontario Rugby Football Union with the heading "Senior Rugby Falls Down in Ontario". The Machine Gun Corps informed Beaches that they were unable to place a team in the ORFU senior series. The article weighs in critically, "and so, after the most unsatisfactory negotiations on record, in which many teams announced their intention of playing and then did "a right about face," the fans will see no senior league games". A clipping from The Toronto World newspaper of November 14th 1918 sheds some extra light, the ORFU senior series was originally set for 6 teams, it dwindled to 3, then down to 2. The final 3 teams were the Dentals, Machine Gunners and Beaches. Only Beaches were able to put out a full team.

We haven't been able to locate a history on the Beaches team, we had thought they had a connection to the current Balmy Beach rugby club (founded 1955?) or the Balmy Beach Beachers who were in four Grey Cup games but they apparently were founded in 1924, there's obviously a connection further back to rugby in the Toronto Beaches area.

There's some murkiness around when British rules rugby, Canadian rules rugby and Canadian football diverged in Ontario and Quebec. Rugby Ontario only claims a history back to the 1950s, the Ontario Rugby Football Union which goes back to 1883 ends up in a CFL pathway on Wiki although the game played pre-1903 was rugby more than football. The Burnside rules which came into play in 1903 introduced the gridiron concept, the number of players were reduced from 15 to 12 and the concept of yards/downs came into play. The forward pass didn't come until 1929.

At any rate the rugby public and newspapers in Victoria were still much interested in what was happening in rugby in Ontario in 1918. Rugby was limping along in Victoria with influenza and war taking its toll, it took a sabbatical in Ontario in 1918.



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