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A large group of uniformed soldiers pose facing the camera

Soldiers from the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force, ca. 1918.

The railroad continued its importance to the city of Port Coquitlam during the war. It assisted in the movement of troops. But the railway link to the wider world also brought with it something more dangerous. In October of 1918, the railway brought the Siberian Expeditionary Force through Port Coquitlam on their way to Vladivostok. Also along for the ride were the first cases of Spanish Flu.

Illustration of nurses and stretchers between two rows of tents outside Aggie HallAt first the flu appeared to be confined to the military with cases among the expeditionary force and returning soldiers. Military authorities commandeered the Agricultural Hall as an emergency hospital, soon running out of room. Tents were set up as temporary wards around Aggie Hall and the vacant Terminal Hotel was also commandeered to deal with flu cases.

Illustrated scene of men carrying a person on a stretcher from a trainThose in authority were still concentrating on the war effort, and people gathering to raise funds for the war effort or to make supplies for the troops, helped to spread the flu among an unsuspecting public. News about the new medical threat wasn’t widely reported until it was already an epidemic. Warring countries did not want to disclose their vulnerability and so kept quiet about all their soldiers that were ill and incapacitated. Dr. G.A. Sutherland, Port Coquitlam’s Medical Officer, only cautioned the city at first, believing that the risk to civilians was minimal. With the first death, that of Private Johns on October 12, 1918, Dr. Sutherland issued a general quarantine, which led to closures of public gathering places and schools.

A newspaper notice discussing the Spanish flu epidemic and restrictions

Spanish Flu bulletin in a 1918 Port Coquitlam newspaper.