Ladner nurse Winnie Fisher’s recollections of the 1918 flu pandemic.

This is Winnifred Fisher’s recollections of Ladner during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and setting up nursing for WWII, transcribed from her hand written letter dated February 16, 1971. From the Delta Archives collection.

I arrived in Ladner with my parents, and four sisters and one brother in March 1911. My brother Fred and sister May came 9 months before us. Father was a wheelwright and carburetor maker and went to work for Mr. George Baker. I think I went to school at King George High for a little while and left and went to Mrs. E. T. Calvert’s to help with the children. I worked around at various places, as Dad got sick and I wanted to earn enough money to go into nurses training and help mother. I was accepted at St Paul’s Hospital and my training started. I wanted to be a war nurse but the war was over before I had finished my training, which was a blessing as so many had lost their lives. 

In 1918 the dreadful flu epidemic was with us. In November it was very bad. We had 16 Sisters very ill and 25 nurses. And every bed was full even in the halls. We only had 2 volunteers that came to take their place. So you can see what the staff of nurses were doing. The day staff were really crazy. So the night staff decided to come on at 6 instead of 7 and the following morning [it was] mostly 10am before we left to go to bed. We often worked 16 or 17 hours a night. And we were running most of the night. So many patients were going insane. It was so bad the Sisters closed the doors against new patients as some nurses were dying and Sisters also. In my wards I had some empty beds. Many got better and went home. But of course some passed away. 

We had about a week of not so much work and my Mother phoned and said Ladner was so full of flu and they could not get nurses, could I come? I said no, I am only in training. But Dr. King phoned the Superior next days and said it was so drastic could I come till they could get nurses. And Superior told me to go to Ladner. Really, I was supposed to help with Roy Benson and some others. His sister Elsie was nursing him. I slept at Mrs Wilson’s and we had a makeshift hospital in the old McNeely rooming house. I will never forget it. Twenty five patients came in and we had nothing to work with. 

Mrs. John McKee, regent of IODE came in and said what can I do for you Winnie? I said get us a cook and girls who are not afraid to come and mop the floors and take drinks and help to bathe patients. Most of them did very well after being shown. We need bedpans and we need serving trays. I think some of the things came from the old community hall. Mr Berry the town baker came and said, what can I do Winnie? Get more toilets and make things more comfortable. We were using the beds that were there. Some of the walls were knocked down so we could make bigger wards.

The help we got from some of the Ladner merchants and people was wonderful. All sorts of things were brought in. Towels, pillow slips and a thousand other things. But the patients just flocked in. Some coming in with a temperature of 104 and had been eating meat. Some came in with mustard plasters put next to the skin and burnt right down to the ribs. Oh it was a sad and busy time as I had known nearly all the patients. 

I asked Dr King when were they going to get a graduate nurse to take the responsibility. He said they were trying but I was doing well and was still in charge till they could get more help. Jim Jarvis was our orderly and a mighty good one too. We at last had a lovely nurse come. A Mrs. Frank Smith who is buried out in Boundary Bay. I always feel she gave her life for the Delta people. Another graduate came and took charge while Mrs. Smith was there. 

After working all day I used to go in to see sick people in Ladner. Gave baths and mustard plaster and enimas at night. And then go to Mrs. Wilson’s to bed. She always gave me a good breakfast before I went back to the hall or hospital as we called it. Mr. Fisher the druggist was over there a lot bringing medicine, serums and pills. 

After 3 weeks the Sisters Superior said I must come back as I had enough flu nursing. The doctors said I could go now. We had about 4 nurses all RNs to take over. 

This is why when the 2nd world war came that I said to a group of nurses, don’t let us get caught again with nothing. We were offered the hospital at Boundary Bay Airport. We all thought this grand. Mr. Hugh Reynolds and the council were in on this. Mrs. Hugh Reynalds was chairman of the group and we had meeting and meeting to no avail. So in the group my sister, Mrs. Charles, was head of the nurses and Slim Cameron was head of all. He worked so hard with the fire hoses and I think he was responsible for starting the new fire department. 

We started home nursing classes in Ladner and down at Westham Island. Dr. Anderson joined in and helped with first aid. Mrs. Bingham was our secretary treasurer and was wonderful. Mrs. Will Hippisly, Mrs. Wallace, Mrs. WH Cameron, Mrs. Dean and myself. The council helped us with some money and we bought things. And then we had our grand opening and to get in everyone had to bring something. I remember Reeve Patterson was on the stage, Slim Cameron, and Mrs. Charles also Mr. Mainwaring and Mr. George Derby. This all took place in the United Church Hall and what a grand ward it made. This is where we held our classes and everyone was so anxious to learn.

If you have a family story to share about the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic that you would like to share please go to the Delta Heritage Society Facebook site and tell us your story, no matter how short it may be!

Appreciation. Preservation. Interpretation. Celebration.