Visit this blog for regular posts about records at the Archives of Manitoba that date from the time of the First World War. Visit the Archives of Manitoba to see the records in person.

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15 October 2018

Spanish Influenza in Labrador: One fur trade post's story

The Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 caused a worldwide health emergency in a world already suffering from a long war. Between March 1918 and Summer 1919, the flu infected around 500 million people worldwide and killed between 20 and 40 million of these, including around 30,000 Canadians. Labrador was particularly hard hit, with 10 per cent of its population wiped out from the flu, including one third of the region’s Inuit population. In some cases, entire communities vanished.

The 1916-1919 journal kept at Cartwright, an HBC post on the Labrador coast, provides an intimate glimpse into life during the worst months of the flu epidemic, particularly November and December 1918.

Post journals generally document weather, daily activities, occurrences of note, arrivals and departures of visitors, and trading activities. However, they also report on extraordinary events that affected the life and work at the posts. This journal mixes the routine reporting on post activities with daily updates on the toll the flu was taking on Cartwright and the surrounding area – tallies of the sick, as well as those who had passed away. It also notes the HBC employees who were off work to tend to sick loved ones, were attending funerals, or had travelled to other stricken communities to help.

The first mention of Spanish Influenza is in the entry dated October 31, 1918:

“Owing to sickness and irregularities of servants duties this log has not been written up since September 23rd.”


Cartwright post journal, 1916-1919, HBCA B.259/a/22

Here are some other select excerpts from the Cartwright post journal, November and December, 1918:

Nov 7:

“By phone from Muddy Bay we hear that all the people are down with La Grippe (if it may be defined as such).”

Nov 13:

“Clear and fine to-day with strong breeze from North West at a.m. moderating a little during p.m. Again – Again – When will it end? We are still at odd jobs around the post. Three of our servants are still ill with the Flu; But as there are three trusty servants, we will come off – yea – more than conquerors.”


Cartwright post journal, 1916-1919, HBCA B.259/a/22

Nov 21:

“William Learning arrived from North River to-day and reported that ten persons had died at that place from the Flu and that none were buried, accordingly S.H. Parsons, Rev’d Gordon, E.P. Clarke, E. Doan and Roland McDonald left here in motor boat about four P.M. to try and cope with the difficulties.”

Dec 1:

“Owing to the Epedimic [sic] which has prevailed here for some time the church services have not been continued.”

Dec 9:

“E.P. Clarke from Porters Post left for Paradise to-day. Robert Mesher & John Lethbridge arrive from the above mentioned place to-day and from them we learn that twenty persons have passed away with Spanish Influenza. Which makes as far as we know to present a total of forty six persons for Cartwright District, but up to the present time we have not heard from the north side of the Bay, but are expecting to hear news of more deaths very shortly.”

Dec 16:

“To day also we learn that seven other persons have died from Spanish Influenza on the North side of Sandwich Bay.”

Dec 24:

“Snow storms during A.M. Colder and Fine during P.M. Servants to-day giving the Post a cleaning up. Preparatory to Christmas. Owing to the usual Post Work being behind hand, owing to sickness of the staff the usual week of holidays will be limited to three: ie. Dec. 25th & 26th and January 1st 1919.”

Dec 25:

“At six P.M. to-day Rev’d Gordon held the annual Xmas Tree celebration, for the children, which proved a great success. Owing to so many deaths occuring this fall and winter no sports were held by any of the older people to-day.”

After Christmas 1918, the flu is rarely mentioned in the Cartwright post journal. The daily entries return to their usual reporting on the business of the fur trade.

Search Tip: For more records related to HBC’s posts in Labrador, search “Labrador” or by individual posts’ names in Keystone.

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9 October 2018

Edith Rogers and the war effort on the home front

In 1920, Edith Rogers became the first woman to be elected to the Manitoba Legislature. Like many Manitoba women, during the First World War she was involved in a number of organizations aimed at supporting the war effort including the Central Auxiliary for War Relief Work, the Convalescent Hospital, and the Ladies' Auxiliary of the Winnipeg Great War Veterans’ Association. She was an advocate for soldiers' dependents and was active in the Manitoba Patriotic Fund, which assisted families of soldiers serving overseas and became known as the Soldiers’ Deserted Wives Fund following the war.

Rogers was also a trustee for the Women’s Tribute to Veterans of the Great War, which was organized in 1917. According to the organization’s constitution, its aim was “To unite all the women of Manitoba in an effort for the raising of a Tribute to all the Veterans of the Great War who have returned, and a fitting Memorial for those who have not returned.”

Page 1 of 4 of Constitutuion of Women's Tribute Association to the Veterans of the Great War
Page 2 of 4
Page 3 of 4
Page 4 of 4
Archives of Manitoba, Edith Rogers fonds, Women’s Tribute Association: correspondence, 1917-1930, P185/6.

The Women’s Tribute Memorial Lodge was opened in 1931 at 200 Woodlawn Avenue after several years of fundraising. The building served as a clubhouse for veterans of the First World War.

Rogers’ effort on behalf of soldiers and their families was cited as one of several examples of her commitment to public service in a circular produced by the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Great War Veterans’ Association to promote Rogers’ re-election in 1922.

back of flyer for Mrs. Edith Rogers

“We have been closely associated with her during the past eight years and we know how keen is her devotion to the public interest. She has been more active, and more effective, in good works than any other woman in Winnipeg, and her zeal has never faltered even in the most trying circumstances. Her principal concern, of course, has been for the soldiers and their families. She has recognized the obligation the community owes to the men who served overseas, and has been ready to assist and encourage them in every way.”

front of flyer for Mrs. Edith Rogers
Archives of Manitoba, Edith Rogers fonds, Item 15, election postcard, 1922, P188A/1.

Edith Rogers was re-elected in 1922 and held her seat until she retired in 1932. Following her retirement from politics, Rogers spent time travelling. When the Second World War broke out, she returned to Winnipeg where she was elected chair of the provincial war council of the Red Cross and provincial organizer of voluntary registration of Canadian women. In 1942, Rogers returned to Ontario. She died in Colborne, Ontario in 1947.

Search Tip: Search “Edith Rogers” in Keystone to find a description and listing of these records.

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1 October 2018

Shooting Straight: The Winnipeg Civilian Rifle Association and the First World War

The Winnipeg Civilian Rifle Association (WCRA) was founded in 1900. It held shooting competitions and provided firearms training in Winnipeg.

At the outbreak of the First World War, the military preferred enlistees to have experience handling firearms before they volunteered. To fulfill this need, organizations such as the WCRA decided, with permission from the military, to provide basic firearms training for civilians before they enlisted.

In a 1915 letter to Colonel H.N. Ruttan of Fort Osborne Barracks, the WCRA (then known the Winnipeg Rifle Association) described their training methods:

page in letter from Winnipeg Rifle Association
Archives of Manitoba, Winnipeg Civilian Rifle Association fonds, Winnipeg Civilian Rifle Association - correspondence and papers, 1913-1915, February 1915, P8130/1.

The plan which we followed in order to avoid accidents, save time and give efficient instruction was to take all the rifles to the range in one conveyance, under guard, to place one of our instructors on the mound before each target and to give him three rifles to look after. Three men were called upon and sent to each instructor who handled all the ammunition, watched that no accidents occurred and gave personal instruction to each man.

The letter goes on to request more rifles and ammunition for the association so that they can “give some rudimentary drilling under instruction by some of our members, who are qualified, but who are not at present attached to the active militia.”  The WCRA continued to provide firearms training to civilians throughout the First World War and beyond.

Search Tip: Search “Winnipeg Civilian Rifle Association” in Keystone to find a description and listing of these records.

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24 September 2018

Our 20 November 2017 blog introduced the Hudson’s Bay Company’s ship S.S. Pelican. On 26 August 1918, the Pelican became engaged in combat. That day, the ship steamed towards Cardiff. The transatlantic trip had been smooth since leaving Montreal two weeks earlier. However, this all changed at 2:57 PM when a German submarine fired 21 rounds at the Pelican.

Chief Officer, Fred Coe, recorded the events in the ship’s log book.

page in the chief officer's log
Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba, Ship’s Logs, Ship Log: Pelican (steamship), 25 Aug. – 7 Sept. 1918, HBCA C.1/637

“2.5 PM Sighted Submarine and opened fire. Continued firing till 3.30 PM, when sub: fell astern apparently damaged by our gun fire. Vessel steaming at utmost speed and all hands standing by and on lookout. No damage done to ship”

The Pelican, miraculously undamaged, arrived safely in Cardiff and news of the ship’s encounter quickly travelled to the Admiralty. On 28 Sept. 1918, the Admiralty informed the Hudson’s Bay Company that Captain Arthur Borras and gunner James Henry Hill (Acting Lance Corporal for the Royal Marines Light Infantry) were to be “commended” in the London Gazette.

letter from Charles Walker
Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba, Governor and Committee general inward correspondence, general inward correspondence, HBCA A.10/189a, file 3
letter from D.B. Proctor, Secretary of M.S.G.C
Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba, Governor and Committee general inward correspondence, general inward correspondence, HBCA A.10/189a, file 3

Recognition for the crew of the Pelican continued to come in. On 24 October 1918, the Merchant Ships Gratuities Committee recommended that the Ministry of Shipping give an award to the Pelican’s officers and crew. Captain Borras received 100 pounds and the officers and crew were awarded one month’s salary.

Search Tip: Search “Pelican” in Keystone to find more records about the ship.

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