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Family History : Pandemics, Wars And Natural Disasters (Part 1)

MARCH 2020: Sad anniversary indeed: last year, at this time of the year, the government of Canada declared Coronavirus a national emergency and issued special measures to deal with the spread of the virus within our land. Today, I’ll invite you to join in a simple exercise that may help alleviate your frustrations of confinement, your depressed mood knowing that there are still ??? months to go and your legitimate questions about how life is going to be ‘after’. Maybe when you are done, you will have cheered up a little or agreed to tolerate the situation with another grain of salt. As an old French-language saying says: ‘Quand on se compare, on se console…’

The exercise will deal with your family history: no need to go back ten generations to your original Canadian ancestor, we will concentrate on the last five generations (or one hundred years): great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, yourself, your children.  Let’s roll time back to 1914; it can be taking place in any Canadian city, municipality, village, in any province or territory; imagine a child born that year, happy to join the world, healthy, the pride and joy of his newly-wed parents; happiness in the air, a great family life and a bright future ahead; in fact, with all the unending progresses made in medicine, this child will probably live to become a centenarian! Lucky him/her! Really? Unfortunately, soon after his birth, ‘things’ started to happen…

1914-1918: WORLD WAR I, in which 61,000 Canadians died, 22 million worldwide. (Only a few days old, this child may have never met his father, his uncles, his grandfathers who enrolled in the Canadian Forces and never came back home).

1918-1919: SPANISH FLU EPIDEMIC, infected one third of world population, killing 50 million people worldwide; it appeared during the First World War and was brought into Canada by returning troops; it made its way even in the most remote communities and some entire villages were wiped out; Labrador and Quebec were particularly hit hard. The epidemic not only brought death, but significant social and economic disruption as well; children were left parentless and many families found themselves without their main wage earner and fell into a deep state of poverty. In Canada, 30,000 to 50,000 casualties; in Ontario, 300,000 cases with 8700 recorded deaths (Now four years old, child may have lost his mother or a dear one to the Spanish flu and became orphaned; his father may have become unemployed and unable to deal with his parenthood, the child may have been placed in a boarding school to be educated by a religious order until his majority.) Events that would impact this young life would keep coming, and coming, relentlessly…

1927: TYPHOID FLU, 500,000+ deaths (Now 13 years old)

1929: WALL STREET FINANCIAL CRISIS AND GREAT DEPRESSION: resulted in bankruptcies, unemployment, welfare, poverty, suicide. (Now 15 years old)

1937-1970: POLIO:  Nicknamed ‘The 20th Century Plague’, it spread sneakily from its first appearance in 1910 to its peak in 1937 when 4000+ cases were reported in Canada among which 2500 were in Ontario with 119 deaths reported; public health departments quarantined the sick, closed schools and restricted such locations as theatres, dance halls, etc.; the ‘iron lung’, an ancestor to modern respirators, was patented to facilitate breathing; a ‘miracle’ nasal spray was tested on 5000 Toronto children but was soon abandoned because it caused a permanent loss of the sense of smell. Canada reached another peak in 1953 with 9000 cases and 500 deaths. Only with the widespread use of the new Salk vaccine in 1955 and the Sabine vaccine in 1962 did the situation come under control. Canada was certified polio-free in 1994 only. (23 years old at the start of this pandemic, lucky to avoid being infected, although a few of his close friends might have been).

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