Fighting the Spanish Lady of 1918: Remedies, Cures and Preventatives, Part 2

January 16, 2018

Here is Part 2 of blogpost on the Pandemic of 1918.

Poster Issued Board of Health-1918-na-4548-5

Living in the 21st century we take the scientific and medical wonders of our age for granted. Let us return to the year 1918 when the deadliest influenza pandemic in history, the Spanish Flu, rampages around the globe killing in massive numbers.

The “Spanish lady”, as it is morbidly nicknamed, focuses its attack on young adults age 21 to 34 years of age and children. The elderly escape for the most part, seemingly because of some immunity from previous flu viruses.

The Influenza of 1918 is a killer virus that attacks the respiratory system and saps the immune system. Most deaths result from complications such as pneumonia. An affected person exhibits symptoms in the morning, is sick by noon, and dies before nightfall.

The healthcare system of 1918 is drastically different than the one we live in today. Hospitals are small and located in larger centers. Few doctors and nurses are available especially in those smaller communities. Antibiotics to fight infection from flu complications such as pneumonia do not exist. Flu vaccines do not exist. The initial first step in the creation of a vaccine, the isolation of human influenza viruses, does not occur until 1933. Even if the vaccines existed in 1918, the public health system did not have a distribution system to deliver vaccine to the populace.

Quarantine is the normal preventative measure implemented by health authorities. In this case it fails. The mailman continues to deliver the mail, the milkman keeps delivering milk door-to-door effectively circumventing the isolation of the victims and unknowingly spreading the disease from house to house.

People desperately seek remedies or cures. Many of these concoctions are cooked at home on the stove, then dispensed to the family members. Some of the more exotic ones include,

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Smoking opium
  • Tobacco smoking
  • Ingesting tiny amounts of strychnine (a deadly poison)
  • Sipping kerosene
  • Drinking cinnamon with tea or coffee
  • Eating red-pepper sandwiches
  • Drinking something called Bulgarian blood tea
  • A mixture of cinnamon, tobacco, alcohol, goose grease, and turpentine
  • According to one belief, the steel particles in a shotgun placed under a victim’s bed would draw out the fever.

Preventative measures to stop the spread of the disease also involved a myriad of strange steps.

  • The wearing of surgical masks. There was much controversy as to the effectiveness of these. These were just loosely fitting cloth unlike today’s tight fitting sanitary versions
  • Tin drinking cups in public places replaced by disposable paper ones.
  • Smoked herrings worn around the neck.
  • Bags of garlic were hung around children’s necks to keep the disease away.
  • Sulphur sprinkled in shoes.
  • Vinegar packs tied to stomachs
  • Cucumber slices tied to ankles.
  • Carrying a potato in each pocket.
  • Breathing through the nose.
  • Chewing food well
  • Avoiding the wearing of tight-fitting clothes, shoes and gloves.
  • Bodies of victims are buried covered in raw, sliced onions from head to toe.
  • Voodoo charms along with chants of, “Sour, sour, vinegar V, keep the sickness off of me.”

The scientific community of 1918 struggled to provide an answer, so society sought its own solutions, however weird. Statistics are not available concerning the success or lack of success for these cures and preventative measures. In point of fact they did nothing to alleviate the pain and suffering.

Make sure you and yours take advantage of the modern miracle of a vaccine. There is no excuse. It will help protect you and others. Our ancestors living in 1918 died for lack of a vaccine.



Alberta and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, Part 1

January 10, 2018

Author’s Note: This is an important and large topic. For this reason I am presenting it in two parts.


Camp Funston military base in Kansas where first case documented in March 1918. Photo: original US Military now Public Domain

The misery of the Great War ended at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of November 1918. Soldiers from Alberta trickled home with the last of them returning by late 1919. These servicemen wanted to come home and pick up their lives where they left off, but nature had other plans.

If you tour older cemeteries in Alberta you will notice in the period from 1918 to 1920 many graves are of young persons. Once you realize this was the time of the great influenza pandemic, these names shout out the impact to the reader of the inscriptions on the silent stones.

In the summer of 1918 influenza ravaged the world with the Spanish Flu. The society of 1918 had no vaccines for influenza, or any other disease for that matter. Influenza is incurable even in the 21st century. The impact on the Province of Alberta and the world was unimaginable. An estimated 20 to 40 million people died of the Spanish Flu worldwide. People could be healthy in the morning, sick by noon, and deceased by evening.

Health officials named this strain the “Spanish” Flu, not because it originated in that country, but because Spain was neutral during the period 1914 to 1918; better statistics and reports emanated from that country due to lack of censorship. Other countries repressed the true extent of the pandemic to maintain morale during wartime. More people died from the flu than soldiers killed in the war.

Symptoms included, severe headache, high fever; chills, aches, and pains in the back and limbs. The flu caused severe problems breathing because it attacked the lungs. Those who didn’t perish in the first few days died later of complications such as pneumonia. Persons between the ages of 20 and 40 were the most susceptible and the majority of the deaths occurred in this age group. To this day no one knows the reason for this.

In the early 1990’s Canadian scientists located several 1918 flu victims buried in a permafrost cemetery in Norway. Bits of viral RNA from their preserved flesh enabled scientists to reconstruct the virus. Scientists in a Winnipeg lab used tissues from First World War soldiers to restore the virus. All this research occurred in high security medical labs. The goal is to find a vaccine. So far they have been unsuccessful.

Influenza, like the common cold, has no known cure. Advice given by health authorities of the era included, wearing of masks to prevent the spread of the disease. Avoiding public gatherings, and public places like theatres and schools was encouraged. Health officials recommended patients drink lots of water, limit exposure to cold, and get lots of fresh air.

The Spanish Flu came in two distinct waves, first in the summer of 1918, and then the spring of 1919. Remarkably it disappeared as fast as it arrived.

Unknown to them, Canadian soldiers returning home brought the flu virus with them. By the end of the pandemic, an estimated 50,000 Canadians were dead out of a population of about 1,500,00 persons. Some smaller villages were almost wiped out. Alberta had a population of about 500,000 in 1918, over 4,300 Albertans died from the flu. In the United States 675,000 people died from the flu out of a population of around 7,000,000.

The flu terrified the populace of Alberta and the rest of Canada. Almost everyone who went outdoors wore a face mask. In fact on October 25, 1918 the government of Alberta ordered all citizens to wear a mask when they left their homes. Closed communities, like remote villages, were most vulnerable.

Albert Farmers-Sp-flu-alberta-field-PublicDomain

Alberta farmers wearing masks. Photo: Public Domain

Aboriginal communities were some of the hardest hit. The flu decimated the First Nation populations. Their settlements were small and close-knit enabling rapid spread of the disease. Many of them had not been previously exposed to influenza and thus were vulnerable. Medical care did not exist in the settlements, often they were left alone to suffer the ravages.

In Alberta gatherings of more than six people were banned. It was a criminal offence to shake hands. Public areas were closed. These included schools, theatres and any other public buildings or facilities. Throughout Canada hearses filled the streets. Hospitals were overflowing and doctors did not know what to do.

People tried everything and anything to defeat the flu. Some of the more exotic cures were smoked herrings worn around the neck, drinking alcohol, eating garlic, raw onions, drinking mixtures of hot milk, ginger and black pepper. Quarantine was implemented to no avail.

Antibiotics were not available to fight the secondary bacterial pneumonia. This compounded the impact of the flu and many deaths were from complications such as pneumonia.

The reason the Spanish Flu caused rapid death has only recently been explained. It seems this strain of influenza filled the lung tissue with liquid preventing oxygen from reaching the rest of the body.

The question for scientists is, could this happen today? The answer seems to be a resounding yes. Science today has technology to develop vaccines for various strains of influenza, but to date they have been unsuccessful in finding a vaccine for the Spanish Flu virus of 1918-1919. Might this virus reappear? There is no reason to think it could not.

Society in 2010 has several advantages over the society of 1918, better hygiene, and the ability, perhaps, to create a specific vaccine for the virus. In addition we have better medical technology and facilities. Lastly, antibiotics are available to battle bacterial complications such as pneumonia.

The impact to Alberta and society in general would be significant. People would still get sick, but it should be possible to minimize fatalities. Health authorities in Alberta and worldwide must remain vigilant.

Further Reading

Wikipedia – Pandemic Influenza History

Alberta in the 20th Century, Volume Four: The Great War and Its Consequences, Chapter Two by Stephani Keer, pp326-341, CanMedia Inc., 1995

Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918, Gina Kolata, Simon & Shuster, New York, 1999

CBC News Online, 1918 Flu Epidemic, Dan Bjarnason and Robin Rowland, January 16, 2007

Pandemic, The Canadian Encyclopedia, Historica Foundation of Canada, 2009

A City Faces an Epidemic, McGinnis, J.P. Dickin, Alberta History, 24, No.4 (Autumn 1976, p.1-11

Alberta Formed, Alberta Transformed, Vol.2, 1919: A Year of Extraordinary Difficulty, Bright, David, University of Alberta Press, 2006


Conservative and proud of it

January 3, 2018


First let’s make this very clear right up front when I refer to liberal or conservative in this post I do NOT mean the political parties, I mean the political leaning a person has toward issues. I also don’t like this Right Wing/Left Wing reference as it implies radicalism and I’m sure not radical or extreme except about golf.

I’m a conservative and proud of it. That doesn’t make me a Nazi or a skinhead. I don’t think liberals are evil. They’re entitled to their opinions just like I am to mine. Conservatives and liberals first of all we’re Canadians. In our own way we want what’s best for Canada and Canadians.

It’s time to stop demonizing each other and learn to work together. First let’s respect one another and learn to compromise, then let’s criticize constructively. All people have good ideas.

As a conservative I value diversity, hard work and doing what’s best for my country and my family. I support legal immigration. Immigrants have contributed and continue to contribute greatly to Canada. Unfortunately though there are evil people in the world who are trying to disrupt and divide us. Security must go hand in hand with allowing immigrants and refugees into Canada. The vast majority are a valuable addition to our country, but let’s not let the evil ones abuse our system.

I absolutely support LGBT rights. Love is love is love. My life is filled with friends of all orientations and beliefs and is richer for it.

Climate change is real, but fossil fuels will be a reality for a long time to come. Renewable and cleaner energy will gradually supply more of our needs. Many barriers exist to making these commercially viable. I’m in favour of developing alternative energy sources, but this will not happen overnight. We must ensure society has access to adequate, sustainable and cheap energy for now and the future.

It’s wonderful to have arts, schools, universal health care, social programs and low taxes, but in order to pay for these we must have a vibrant, sustainable economy. This requires investment. Jobs are created, good paying full time jobs if businesses thrive. The resulting taxes and royalties received by governments will sustain programs and our lifestyle.

I believe it’s possible to do this in an environmentally responsible manner. The regulatory playing field must be consistent, clean and fair. Rules can’t be changed mid-game. Companies spend billions to ensure compliance to the legislation and requirements.

Governments have goals to achieve, but they must work together with industry and individuals to accomplish those goals. They must create an environment that encourages investment and job creation. Governments must make the rules consistent, reasonable and fair to all parties.

I’ve not seen that from the existing federal government or the provincial government. A rude awakening is coming. Investment, tax revenues and charitable donations have been and will continue to be reduced. Investment in all sectors is leaving Canada at an alarming rate. The hurt to our social programs will be substantial. Brace yourself.

Power Generation in Alberta: Changing the mix.

February 16, 2016
Solar Power plants in Spain

Solnova Solar Power Station, Spain/Abengoa Solar

Our new government here in the resource rich province of Alberta intends to diversify the energy sources used in the large scale generation of electricity. The primary reason is to attack the issue of climate change and associated global warming. While this is an admirable goal, it won’t be easy and it won’t be cheap.

The present energy mix is primarily coal with some natural gas. Hydro-electric contributes a small amount and wind is increasingly being used, but once again still contributes a small amount of the total energy requirements. Nuclear power is not in use in Alberta.

Alberta is rich in deposits of coal, so much so that it exports large amounts. Most of the coal found in Alberta is low in sulphur. Therefore it burns comparatively clean and doesn’t pollute to the same extent as other types of coal. The coal is found close to the plants so transportation cost is low and the mining technique is open-pit so extraction costs are low.

All newer coal-fired generating plants use what is referred to as “clean coal burning technology”. In this method the coal is pulverized into a dust before combustion which effectively increases the surface area of the fuel (coal). Combustion efficiency is increased so that close to 99% is burned making for much less pollution and green-house gases (GHG) leaving the stacks at the plants.

Coal in Alberta is the most cost-efficient fuel for the generation of electricity. The downside is that even with the cleaner technology it results in higher pollution and GHG release than other fuels.

Natural Gas
Alberta is rich in natural gas. We have an abundant supply, enough so that we export large amounts. A transportation infrastructure is in place already. Natural gas is one of the cleanest burning and most efficient fuels in the world. For example, converting a coal-fired plant to natural gas would immediately result in 50% less GHG being emitted and close to zero pollution from the combustion.

However, converting existing coal-fired plants to natural gas is difficult. In fact it will likely be necessary to build new plants and mothball or demolish the coal plants.

Alberta doesn’t have many more suitable sites to construct dams and associated generating plants. This is not an option to replace coal in my opinion. Even if sites could be found public opinion is against daming rivers and flooding land.

The sun, our star, has great promise and seemingly unlimited power for the taking. Definitely worth exploring, but it too has several downsides.

Although Alberta is know for its sunny days, the sun doesn’t shine anywhere near as often as other climates such as southern California or Africa for example. It obviously doesn’t shine at night, so the plants don’t produce power during these times. Energy has to be used when it is produced, it is difficult to store energy using present technologies. This is a problem for the grid which must furnish power on an as needed basis. The other problem is the vast tracts of land needed for a large scale solar power generating plant. I don’t see any areas here that the general population would be willing to cover with the large number of solar panels needed to replace coal or natural gas generating plants.

Once again great promise and as long as the wind blows power is generated. Downsides include the large number of wind turbines required to produce the required amounts of power for Albertans. The wind doesn’t always blow, so again power generation would be intermitant. The wind turbines we see in southern Alberta and in many places in the United States require regular and frequent maintenance. Large tracts of land are also needed to erect these wind farms. Environmentalists and others protest the appearance of these machines and also the land use required. I see wind as a viable source of power for Alberta, but only as part of the overall power production.

This is actually one of the  cleanest methods of producing large amounts of electricity. The downside is two-fold, one is the disposal of radioactive waste and two safety or the consequences of an accident. The nuclear plants of today are extremely safe to operate, but the consequences of an accident can be catastrophic. Accidents have occurred. Three-Mile Island in the States was almost of an unthinkable magnitude. The inquiry found human error and outdated equipment were the contributers. This was also true for Chernobyl in Russia which did result in a large number of fatalities and the sterilization of many square miles of the country. The nuclear plants that failed in Japan weren’t protected adequately from earthquakes and tsunamis. Nuclear power for Alberta? I think not, Too many safer alternatives and the entire issue of nuclear is just too emotional. Even the word gets some people thinking of mutants and glowing in the dark.

In summary I believe that alternative sources of energy should  developed. It’s not a bad thing to diversify the sources and methods of providing electrical power to individual Albertans and industry in the province. New technologies will be needed to perfect these methods and an orderly transition will be needed to keep up with power demand in Alberta. There is also opportunity for Alberta to be involved in the development of many of these new technologies. However, Albertans must realize this won’t happen overnight.

Note: Constructive comments are always appreciated.

Gun violence in Calgary.

November 6, 2015


Calgary has seen a epidemic of gun violence this week and over the last few months, yet Canada has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the world so what is happening. It sure isn’t the legitimate gun owners who are the problem.

For a Canadian to possess a gun they must complete a safety course and have a background check. Those with criminal records are not allowed to own guns. Having the proper approvals they must present the documentation at the time of the purchase. Guns can be sold only through licensed dealers and not at flea markets. Even private sales have to meet this criteria. Gun owners are required to notify the police of a transfer of ownership. This applies to rifles and shotguns. Military weapons, machine guns, full automatics and others are completely restricted. Handguns are totally restricted unless a person has a special permit to have one. These are extremely difficult to obtain. Gun owners are also required to keep guns properly stored under lock and key. Ammunition must be stored separately under lock and key.

Well I hate to tell you this but bad guys aren’t going to get permits to have guns. I can see it now. Joe Gangmember getting ready to do a drive-by shooting tells his boss gee I need to get a permit otherwise the hit is off. God forbid I go stick-up that bank without proper permits. Yeah right.

Simple Answer – keep the guns out of the hands of criminals. That`d be a start. Easier said than done, but we have to try. How to do that is a big question, but the police and justice system better start figuring a way. We are reverting to our wild west days and someone is going to get hurt or killed besides the bad guys. You know when it comes right down to it I don’t care if bad guys kill bad guys, that’d be a good thing, but the bullets fly in public places and hurt innocent people. So unless we can get the bad guys to kill each other in a private place away from the public we need a solution.

The bad guys get guns from two main sources. First from break-ins or thefts from homes and businesses where there are firearms. Second from other criminals who smuggle them in from the neighbouring USA where gun laws are much looser. Handguns are easy to obtain in the USA. It is illegal to bring them into Canada, but that is obviously happening and on a large scale. Every once in a while we read of a seizure of guns at the border crossings, but the authorities can`t catch them all. So here`s some suggestions for the police and justice system.

Potential solutions to these shootings in the city,
– increase scrutiny at the border crossings.
– charge gun owners who don`t store firearms and ammo properly.
– clamp down on break and enters, especially where firearms are known to have been taken.
– concentrate police resources on criminals known to use firearms.
– deny bail to those who use firearms in the commission of a crime
– increase penalties to perps who use firearms in the commission of a crime.

We need answers. Do you have any ideas? I`d love to hear them.

Prohibition Lawman – Book Launch

August 26, 2015

ProhibitionLawman-BookCover0001The evening of September 21, 1922 was a fateful one for infamous bootlegger Emperor Pic of the Crowsnest Pass in southern Alberata.

In the aftermath of an attempted illegal liquor run and an ensuing Alberta Provincial Police pursuit Picariello and associate Florence Lassandro gun down an unarmed Alberta Provincial Police officer outside his office and home in downtown Coleman. After their arrest and a sensational trial the two are hanged the following year.

Forgotten in the splash of media coverage are the victims, Steve Lawson, and his wife and five young children who witnessed his cold-blooded murder.

Read how the inadequate resources of the Provincial Police, and an unenforceable law, prohibition, resulted in Lawson’s death and the lawlessness of the Crowsnest Pass.

This book is the true story of a war hero and lawman, Steve Lawson, and the impact of his murder on his family and society. It is an untold story that will surprise and touch the reader.

Too often crimes and criminals are glamourized at the expense of their victims. This book focuses not on the story of the crime, but on the life of a victim.

Available as a paperback at,

Prohibition Lawman

Soon to be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Books and many others.

RCMP Service Dog Training Centre

August 20, 2015

Handler with his dog. photo SB Davis

My kids and I visited the RCMP Police Dog Service Training Centre yesterday. It’s located in Innisfail, Alberta just south of Red Deer along Highway #2. This is the national centre where all service dogs and their handlers are trained. The centre has been located here for 50 years. Prior to that several centres were located across Canada. For those non-Canadians reading this RCMP stands for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They are the federal police force of Canada, but also are contracted by eight provinces to do their provincial policing. The only existing provincial police forces are in Ontario and Quebec.


Some of training apparatus with teams in foreground. photo SB Davis

Every Wednesday afternoon at 2:00 pm during the summer months of July and August the centre puts on a free demo and information session open to the public. The day we were there it was very well attended, around two thousand persons. The grandstand was filled to capacity with standing and sitting room only on the grass next to the fence.

The sessions last about 45 minutes and include search and apprehension skills. There is usually a chance to meet a dog up close and sometimes there are puppies, but this isn’t guaranteed.

Training is done on site, but the majority of the training is conducted outside in the real world, nearby farmer’s fields, wooded areas, industrial areas and residential areas.


Police Service Dog Memorial. Plaques have info on each dog lost in service. photo SB Davis

Finally near the entrance and the grandstand there is a memorial (pictured) to all the dogs lost during service. Adjacent to the memorial are the graves of some of the dogs.

RCMP members occasionally used privately owned dogs to assist them from 1908 to 1935. Then in 1935 the force acquired three German shepherds. Later in 1937 satisfied with their performance a training school for dogs was established in Calgary, Alberta. The first case won with dog search evidence occurred in 1940. The present training centre was established in Innisfail in 1965. Staff consists of officer in charge, one program manager, one senior trainer, five sergeant trainers, one acquisition sergeant, two corporal pretrainers and support staff of six.

The Dogs:
German shephards and Belgian shephards (Malinois) in perfect condition are used. These are considered best for police work as they are adaptable, versatile, strong, courageous and can work in extreme conditions. We were told that a dog entering the program only has a 17 percent chance of becoming a police service dog. This is due to the high standards of the RCMP. The annual cost to maintain a police service dog is less than $1000 per year. Most police dogs retire at the age of seven which was surprising to me.

Dogs start training anywhere from 12 to 18 months of age. Basic training is 17 weeks, but training is on-going to maintain physical and mental fitness. Dogs and handlers are validated on an annual basis.

Dog Handlers:
Handlers are regular members of the force who volunteer for this duty. There is a long waiting list. Candidates are screened for selection. Obviously they must have a tolerance towards animals and appreciate dog instincts. The handlers and dogs go through the training program together and form a team.

What police service dogs do:
Police service dogs locate lost persons, track criminals, search for narcotics, explosives, crime scene evidence and lost property. In addition they provide VIP protection, crowd control, and assist with hostage situations. The dogs are great with police and community relations.

A search dog is trained for a specific skill in some cases. For instance a dog trained for sniffing out explosives only does that. Same with a dog trained for narcotics otherwise the nose get confused. The officer presenting to us said the officers need to know what’s in the package a dog finds. If a narcotic dog finds a package the officer must be assured it’s not anything else such as explosives.

Fascinating facts about police service dogs from the website,
A dog can search a car in about three minutes.
Dogs can work up to four hours with rest intervals.
At present there are 112 RCMP dog teams across Canada.
The estimated cost to train a handler and dog team is $60,000.

An interesting thing we found out is that the RCMP has its own breeding program at the centre. All the dogs are bred via artificial insemination. Private individuals nearby keep the females during their pregnancy until they’re ready to birth. At that time they are brought to the centre where the puppies are born. Once the puppies are about 8 weeks old they are given to handler candidates on the waiting list to be raised and looked after until they are ready for training at 12 to 18 months of age. Many of these member candidates in waiting have raised several puppies. I think it must be hard for them to give the puppies back I know it would be for me. By the way we were told they don’t receive any extra renumeration for doing this on behalf of the force. Dogs that are found unsuitable for training are sold and the demand is high.

We found the centre well worth the visit and went away with a new appreciation of these magnificent animals and their humans.

Further Information:
RCMP Dog Services

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