Turning Back the Pages: Only eight died in Spanish Flu

By Colleen Palumbo

I have just had a taste of what retirement will be like and I have to say I don’t think that I am ready for it, which is a good thing because I have a couple more years to get through first.

After an absence of two and a half months, trying to catch up is a challenge and just when you think you are making some headway, someone comes through the door with an interesting question or challenge and whatever you were working on has to be set aside.

This was the case last Friday when a man and his wife came to the museum looking for information on his father and a friend of his father, immigrants from Japan believed to be working for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Family lore had the two of them, and one other man caught in an avalanche in 1918 and the father, Iwao Masuda, was the only survivor.

So we started a search of the old newspapers, which we can go through very quickly now because they are all digitized and searchable and we could not find a single mention of an avalanche in that year or the two years on either side of it.

Next, we accessed the BC Archives death records and found the name of Mr. Masuda’s friend who was believed to have died in the avalanche. It did indeed say that he died in Golden, but without the actual death certificate we didn’t know the cause of death.

Finally we went to the Golden Hospital records that we have here at the museum, and using the date of his death from the BC Archives information, we were able to narrow down where to look. We found him, but cause of death was not what had been believed by everyone.

Iwao Masuda’s friend was E. Moritani, and he died in the Golden Hospital, one of eight people who died of the Spanish Flu.

According to Wikipedia, the 1918 influenza pandemic which lasted from January 1918 to the end of 1920 was known as Spanish flu was an unusually deadly influenza, the first of the two pandemics involving H1N1 influenza virus. It infected 500 million people around the world, including people on remote Pacific islands and in the Arctic, and resulted in the deaths of 50 to 100 million (three to five per cent of the world’s population), making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.

In Golden, the health authority closed the schools, called of all meetings, and insisted that anywhere two or more people gathered, such as in a hotel, everyone had to wear masks for protection. I’m not exactly sure how long the epidemic went on in Golden, but the first entry listing influenza as the disease was October 27, 1918 and the last was December 16, 1918. Although it’s not known how many people in the community had the flu, because not everyone had to be hospitalized, we do know that 35 people were hospitalized and eight died. Only six of the 35 people admitted to hospital were women and only one of the women died. Ages of those affected ran from eight to 62.

There has long been a rumour in Golden that as many as 100 Japanese and Chinese people died in Golden during this flu epidemic and that they are buried in a mass grave to the right side of the cemetery as you enter the big gate, above the baby heart. Thanks to great records, we can now say with certainty that is not the case.

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