Pandemic 1918-1920

It was January 2nd, 1919. A seven-year-old boy approached the room where his mother lay in bed glistening with sweat and shivering. “She has been stricken with the Influenza,” his father, Dr. Malcolm MacKay, had whispered to him. The word had only recently turned into a common term.

Left Euphima MacKay (MacInnis) and husband Dr. Malcolm MacKay

He walked a little closer and she turned her head on the pillow to face her son. “Johnny, can you bring me my green sweater?” she asked, her voice raspy and barely audible. Johnny ran off to collect his mother’s sweater and quickly returned to the room and tried to drape it around her shoulders. He sat on the chair beside the bed with arms folded and feet tucked up on the rungs. Within moments his mother took her last breath and was gone. Just 38 years old, she would leave seven children behind; Robert, Catherine, John, Mary, Ainsle, Anne. Her youngest son, Frederick, was a baby of 8 months.

I would often sit at the table and listen to my father tell me this story and many others. He was born in June 9, 1911, a year before the Titanic sank, so there was nothing he recalled of it, but he could tell me about the Halifax explosion, how the windows in the house shook; the roaring twenties and the dirty thirties; the stock market crash and the Great Depression that followed. I am sure there were embellishments – he was a good storyteller – but he always kept me entertained. However the Influenza pandemic tale affect him differently. When he finshed telling me of his mother’s death he would stare off out the window, his cigarette would lay burning, untouched, in the ashtray, a stream of smoke wafting upward. Sometimes a tear would well up in his eye.

He had told me about joining his father on house calls. Dr. MacKay would wake him in the middle of the night and ask him to harness the horse. Sometimes he would stay outside holding the horse in the carriage, other times his father would ask him to help with a birthing, or suturing cuts but during the pandemic, which lasted from 1918-1920, he had not been allowed to join his father as often even though family and neighbours were ill.

He would recall to me to how Clairabee, the family horse, was called upon to pull the funeral carriage. Bodies would be loaded on a wagon covered in a cloth and taken away. He was too young to know what the impact of it meant, but social distancing, as we call it today, was the norm. He had not been allowed to visit his grandmother and grandfathers for months even though they lived just across the road. The Influenza had been there too and had taken his grandfather, his mother’s father, Captain John MacInnis, in 1918 and her brother- his uncle, Robert MacInnis as well.

The chaos and fear. “It all seems like something that should of happened in 1718 not in 1918,” he would say. But here it is 2020, and it is back again. Take heed.

Kelly MacKay


43 thoughts on “Pandemic 1918-1920

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  1. My grandfather contracted the 1918 flu in Holland, but survived. My dad told me his lungs were never the same again, and he could not do much physical labour after the attack. Eventually he died of lung issues (in the early 1960s). Apparently it was cancer, but who knows, the 1918 flu might have been a factor too.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I am 52. I was born when my dad was 57. I was his youngest child of his second family. My oldest half brother is 75. Half sister 72, an adopted sister that is 70, and my full sister 55.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. 😮. Even my grandmothers were born later and I am 58. But it does happen. I followed one blogger whose father was born in the 1870s. That was really astonishing. She was born when he was 72, I think.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi. I just received this from Averill. The western cousins were most interested in your article. Thinking about you re the Peru trip. Sure hope it comes off in the future. So glad that you are not there now. Take care of yourself. Cheers, Ken

    Sent from my iPad

    Begin forwarded message:

    > From: Janet MacInnis > Date: March 22, 2020 at 9:27:50 AM ADT > To: Ken MacInnis > Subject: Re: [New post] Pandemic 1918-1920 > > Thanks Ken, so well written, so real. If you are InTouch with Kelly she may want to add Robert MacInnis, Euphemia’s brother. My understanding is that he also died during that pandemic. I believe he had tuberculosis. Kelly may know more. Av > >>

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank I was initially very upset about my peru trip and I guess I still have a glimmer of hope May will bring better news, but I have now resigned to the fact it wouldn’t happen but I will just postpone it. Will give me more time to practice my Spainish. MP will still be there.
      Glad cousins liked the story. It’s been 33 years since hearing his stories, and over 65 years for him to have recall them, I do my best to honour what he recalled in my own words. Xx


    2. Oh, I knew he did but I couldn’t find my photos to confirm it and I asked Mary to go down to the graveyard and get pictures to confirm he did but she didn’t get it and in the spirit of true journalism, I didn’t want to add a retraction thanks Avril xx


  3. Thank you for sharing!.. hope all is well with you and your family, friends, etc, each and every day is filled with love and happiness and life is all that you wish for it to be!.. 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May flowers always line your path
    and sunshine light your way,
    May songbirds serenade your
    every step along the way,
    May a rainbow run beside you
    in a sky that’s always blue,
    And may happiness fill your heart
    each day your whole life through.
    May the sun shine all day long
    Everything go right, nothing go wrong
    May those you love bring love back to you
    And may all the wishes you wish come true
    (Irish Saying)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A home grown account of the last pandemic. If a person need me clarify the point. The statement. Feel like something that hapens a hundred years ago, not now, and the title, last pandemic lasted 2 years, postpone, or cancelling school or events for 2 weeks, is a waste of time. Wuhan has been in lockdown since December still not through it completely. Stay well all.


    1. Thank you for asking, I am doing well. Working from home, hoping I don’t get layed off. No one in my family or friends have contracted the virus, so fingers crossed. Hoping as you are,that this passes soon but I am realizing it maybe several months. Take care

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting story and it’s great you have memorized, written it down and shared with us.
    My parents just went through second WW, dad was in Siberia, but we did not have any pandemias in family history.
    While pandemias happen, due to extensive traveling, this particluar one got around very swiftly.
    It will be over in a year or sooner if we get working vaccine sooner to prevent new cases. The news is indecisive about developed immunity.
    It would help to establish more effective or more targeted treatment, too. While every country uses something, we cannot speak of a cure yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed. I believe the 1918 pandemic was spread by solders returning from war, this one spread from the ease of travel. Lets hope 6 months from now it will be in the history books.


  6. Wow, what a story! And now it seems like this pandemic should be something that was happening in the 1800’s and not 2020. Both my grandparents (maternal) were born in 1908. My mom was the youngest of 5 with her oldest sibling 20 years older. My oldest aunt had 7 children and all but 3 of them were older than my mom. So my mom grew up with her 1st cousins like they were sisters. They lived through pandemics and I don’t recall any cases in the immediate family but they struggled through the depression and were poor their whole lives, but rich in love.

    Liked by 1 person

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