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The Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918–1919

The images that have been made available as part of this Co-Lab challenge make up a complete file created by federal public health authorities in response to the outbreak in 1918. At the time, public health was primarily the responsibility of provincial and local authorities, with the federal government coordinating quarantine services as a branch within other larger departments (i.e., the Department of Agriculture, and later the Department of Immigration and Colonization).

The federal government was widely criticized for failing to provide supplies and coordinate a response to the pandemic. With no vaccine or effective treatment for the Spanish flu, medical practitioners attempting to assist patients and contain the disease looked to the federal government for help. The file demonstrates a lack of coordination by government authorities and a growing sense of urgency amongst medical officials working in quarantine stations across Canada, as the mortality rate rose. This illustrates the need for the creation of a federal department of health, which was established in 1919 as a direct result of this devastating pandemic.