The Last Plague: Spanish Influenza and the Politics of Public Health in Canada

By Mark Osborne Humphries

© 2012

The ‘Spanish’ influenza of 1918 was the deadliest pandemic in history, killing as many as 50 million people worldwide. Canadian federal public health officials tried to prevent the disease from entering the country by implementing a maritime quarantine, as had been their standard practice since the cholera epidemics of 1832. But the 1918 flu was a different type of disease. In spite of the best efforts of both federal and local officials, up to fifty thousand Canadians died.

In The Last Plague, Mark Osborne Humphries examines how federal epidemic disease management strategies developed before the First World War, arguing that the deadliest epidemic in Canadian history ultimately challenged traditional ideas about disease and public health governance. Using federal, provincial, and municipal archival sources, newspapers, and newly discovered military records – as well as original epidemiological studies – Humphries' sweeping national study situates the flu within a larger social, political, and military context for the first time. His provocative conclusion is that the 1918 flu crisis had important long-term consequences at the national level, ushering in the ‘modern’ era of public health in Canada.

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  • Division: Scholarly Publishing
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 348 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.1in x 0.9in x 9.1in
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Quick Overview

In The Last Plague, Mark Osborne Humphries examines how federal epidemic disease management strategies developed before the First World War, arguing that the deadliest epidemic in Canadian history ultimately challenged traditional ideas about disease and public health governance.

The Last Plague: Spanish Influenza and the Politics of Public Health in Canada

By Mark Osborne Humphries

© 2012

The ‘Spanish’ influenza of 1918 was the deadliest pandemic in history, killing as many as 50 million people worldwide. Canadian federal public health officials tried to prevent the disease from entering the country by implementing a maritime quarantine, as had been their standard practice since the cholera epidemics of 1832. But the 1918 flu was a different type of disease. In spite of the best efforts of both federal and local officials, up to fifty thousand Canadians died.

In The Last Plague, Mark Osborne Humphries examines how federal epidemic disease management strategies developed before the First World War, arguing that the deadliest epidemic in Canadian history ultimately challenged traditional ideas about disease and public health governance. Using federal, provincial, and municipal archival sources, newspapers, and newly discovered military records – as well as original epidemiological studies – Humphries' sweeping national study situates the flu within a larger social, political, and military context for the first time. His provocative conclusion is that the 1918 flu crisis had important long-term consequences at the national level, ushering in the ‘modern’ era of public health in Canada.

Continue Reading Read Less

Product Details

  • Division: Scholarly Publishing
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 348 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.1in x 0.9in x 9.1in
  • Reviews

    ‘This fine book chillingly dissects the disease as it burned through Canada as Well as the failed attempts by authorities to stop it.’


    Tim Cook
    Canada's History, Aug-Sept 2013

    ‘A superbly written work that demonstrates the possibilities of both quantitative and qualitative research, this engaging book deserves a wide readership among those with interest in the history of the pandemic, the First World War, and the social and political history of medicine and public health.’


    Nancy Bristow
    Social History of Medicine, August 2013

    ‘Well researched and argumentatively coherent, this is one of those rare books that will please readers of disparate interests.’
    Chris Dooley
    Labour/Le Travail, vol 73 2014

    ‘Humphries makes a significant contribution to scholarship of the 1918 influenza epidemic in Canada with this book, a fine example of the masterful harnessing of primary sources and statistics to debunk old narratives and present refreshing new perspectives.’
    Jane Jenkins
    Canadian Bulletin of Medical History vol 3101:2014

    'Thorough and up-to-date, The Last Plague makes a notable contribution to Canadian medical history. Mark Osborne Humphries does a fine job tracing the evolution of public health policy in the wake of the 1919 flu epidemic, detailing the importance of many factors of this story - such as urbanization, the rise of doctors as professionals, and the impact of the Social Gospel and Progressivism - that have never before been summarized elsewhere. Humphries argues effectively for how the catastrophe prompted re-evaluations of the government's role in health care, and provides emotive descriptions of those who contracted the disease.'
    Jeff Keshen, Department of History, University of Ottawa
  • Author Information

    Mark Osborne Humphries is the Dunkley Chair in War and the Canadian Experience, Director of the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies (LCMSDS) and an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Wilfrid Laurier University.
  • Table of contents

    Table of Contents

    Acknowledgements
    I. Introduction
    II. Establishing the Grand Watch: Epidemics and Public Health, 1832-1883
    III. 'Everybody's Business is Nobody's Business': Sanitary Science, Social Reform, and Mentalities of Public Health, 1867-1914
    IV. A Pandemic Prelude: The 1889-90 Influenza Pandemic in Canada
    V. Happily Rare of Complications: The Flu's First Wave in Canada and the Official Response
    VI. A Dark and Invisible Fog Descends: The Second Wave of Flu and the Federal Response
    VII. 'A Terrible Fall for Preventative Medicine': Provincial and Municipal Responses to the Second Wave of Flu
    VIII. The Trail of Infected Armies: War, the Flu, and the Popular Response
    IX. 'The Nation's Duty': Creating a Federal Department of Health
    X. 'Success is somewhere Around the Corner': The Changing Federal Role in Public Health
    XI. Conclusion
    XII. Bibliography of Sources Consulted

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