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The 1918-1920 Influenza Pandemic in the Yukon

Northern History

Highlights of History from The Whitehorse Star

The Weekly Star, Friday, March 7, 1919

    The Dawson Daily News in its issue of Feb. 20, in an editorial article headed "Flu Versus Trade," takes the people of Whitehorse and Skagway to task for the efforts being made by them at that time to have the influenza quarantine at Skagway abolished or the regulations so modified they would interfere to the least possible extent compatible with public safety to travel to the interior of Yukon, Nortjern British Columbia and the lower Yukon river country. The News says:

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    "The claim coming from Whitehorse and Skagway that the influenza quarantine should be lifted because it may hurt tourist and other travel and injure the hotel and other lines of business is the weakest excuse yet advanced. If the disease be permitted to enter this territory, it likely will sweep broadcast over the now unharvested field, and while in the state of pestilence everyone outside then would be sure to avoid the place. How would the hotels at Skagway and Whitehorse then fare? Much better to have the territory clean, and healthy and free continuously. Then it will be an attraction rather than a matter to repulse the stranger.

    "Many cities in Canada and the States lifted the precautions against the influenza during the Christmas holidays simply for the sordid purpose of stimulating trade. Not only the shops, but theaters and even some of the churches wanted to increase their patronage by lifting the ban. The restrictions were relaxed. What happened? Instead of making more patrons those shops, showhouses and churches saw many of their best patrons placed under the sod - a fine economic stroke of business. People who would have continued customers for many years under proper precautions are now lost to that shortsighted management forever. Does Yukon want to follow in the same tracks?"

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    In his hysterical and unreasoning fear of what at one time was a very real menace to the interior the writer of the article from which the above extract was taken apparently failed to realize, that the hour of danger of an epidemic of influenza in the north had practically passed, and that his course in prophesying a state of evil where no evil really existed was both a short-sighted and narrow-minded policy indeed, and one likely to prove far more detrimental to the material interests of the terrritory at its most critical stage of advancement than could possibly be even the throwing wide the doors of travel to the purely imaginary dangers of the introduction of the germs of influenza.

    Speaking for the people of Southern Yukon, and also taking the liberty to speak for those of Skagway, with whom we believe we are in full accord in regard to the modification of the strict quarantine regulations that have existed since the middle of last November, we beg to point out to the writer in the Dawson News, first, that every port of call of the steamships plying on, the Southeastern Alaska run between Vaneouver and Skagway, is free from influenza, or at least, no new cases are being developed; second, that the five days' run between the ports named is in itself sufficient isolation from the disease and of long enough duration for any incipient case of influenza to develop in any person before arriving at their destination; and third, the most potent argument of all, that never, since the quarantine was first put in force in November, has there been a single case of influenza in either the quarantine detention house at Skagway or in the town itself.

    To one unacquainted with the flu situation as it really exists in this section a perusal of the article in the Dawson News would convey the impression that the disease is rampantly knocking at the door of the interior for admission, and being held in subjection only by the enforcement of the most stringent measures; whereas, the real facts are that the dangers of infection, if such at any time really existed, had been almost totally eliminated in the past by the five days detention in quarantine at Skagway, and since the quarantine was lifted a few days ago have been thoroughly minimized by the precautionary measures adopted by the health officers of Skagway and Southern Yukon, and which are now in operation.

    Our boys in the four years they were "over there" did not crouch down in the trenches when they believed the enemy was coming: on the contrary, at the first inkling they had of such an occurrence, they were the first "over the top" and always met the Boche more than half way between the lines of No Man's Land; and so it is with us. We would much rather be ranked as a "sordid" live one than a "hypochondriacal" dead one.