The current pandemic has had a lot of historical predecessors. Recently, I’ve read a few articles that make valid points about the similarities between COVID-19 in our time and the devastating Spanish Flu of 1918. They practised social distancing back then. They wore masks, like people are starting to now. They cancelled a lot of events that would attract big crowds. They had differences of opinion on when to go back to work. There was a second wave.
And lots more. But the articles do mostly acknowledge that it was a very different time back in 1918 and the impact of the “Spanish Lady” on Canadian life was completely different to that of COVID-19. Consider that the “war to end all wars” was just coming to an end. As tired soldiers returned home from Europe, they brought the flu with them. And the eventual impact of the Spanish flu on Canadian lives was similar in scope in terms of lives lost to the war: 60,000 Canadians died in the war, and 55,000 died of the flu.
An early Ottawa sports tragedy highlights another big difference between the times of COVID-19 and the Spanish flu. Back in March of this year, as the NHL season was being hurriedly wound down, several Ottawa Senators contracted COVID-19 during a road trip to California. The team flew back home and all the players recovered.
Back in 1918, though, an Ottawa Senator who contracted the Spanish flu wasn’t as lucky. Hamilton (Hamby) Shore was a veteran player and a member of the Senators back when they were known as the “Silver Seven” from 1903–06. He played with the Senators when they won the Stanley Cup during the 1909–10 season. He was described as a brilliant hockey player and an all-around athlete. He was caring for his sick wife when he contracted the flu and died at the age of 32.
And that is the biggest difference. The majority of the 55,000 Canadians who succumbed to the flu 100 years ago were between the ages of 20 and 40. A society that had already lost a large chunk of its youth to the war was now short an equally large contingent to the flu. Eventually somewhere between 50 and 100 million people died around the world.