Influenza is one of humanity's oldest scourges and still remains our most challenging communicable disease. The disease, commonly known as the flu, is an acute respiratory illness. It occurs all over the world and causes significant morbidity and mortality each year. Over the course of the winter of 1918, an uncharacteristically virulent flu became a world wide epidemic causing huge loses of life. Canada lost as many people on the home front as it lost in four years of the bloodiest war of the century.
The origins of this influenza are not precisely known. It is thought to have originated in China. It spread rapidly through the population and continued on to Europe. There it raced through the trenches of all armies like wild fire, completely immobilizing entire units from service. The end of the war came on November 11, 1918.
"Even though the war was over, it was many months before the first troops returned." The armistice was signed in mid-November 1918, but the members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force occupying Rhineland did not return to Canada until February. Canadians in Siberia waited until April 1919 to come home. Even men who were billeted in England had to wait months for priority on ships crossing the Atlantic. "Eventually the war veterans did return, and festivities that had marked November were rekindled." But the decade of agony was far from ready to forsake its hegemony over the people of the Dominion. .
The soldiers returning from the Great War, even those returning in the early fall of 1918, didn't come back alone. They carried a strain of influenza, seemingly no different from that of previous years, but suddenly turned deadly. This new flu demonstrated a perverse tendency to kill the young and hearty, and singled out those between the ages of 15-35, sparing the old and frail. It killed quickly and inexplicably. Sometimes the time between the onset of symptoms to death was a matter of hours.