Welcome to the family
People in North Sydney opened their doors to U.S. servicemen during Spanish flu epidemic.
he people of North Sydney had opened their doors to a number of the station personnel to alleviate their discomfort at living in tents, and being treated for the influenza (Spanish flu) in makeshift shacks, until the epidemic had passed.”
This quote comes from a small commemorative booklet called North Sydney Flight, which was produced by some of the men at Naval Air Station North Sydney, and released on Dec. 1, 1918.
Several local business establishments had agreed to sponsor this project and took out ads in the publication. Among these were: Bank of Nova Scotia; Nader Brothers Billiard Parlours; Thompson and Sutherland Hardware; Farquhar Trading Company; Frank A. Bill Hardware and Sporting Goods; and Cassidy’s Photographic Studio.
It seems that the Spanish flu hit the American servicemen particularly hard, probably due to the primitive living conditions they experienced at Indian Beach. Although the 40 army tents were raised above ground level on wooden platforms, the surrounding land flooded after each heavy rain, and it seems that there was a lot of rain that summer and fall. The unheated tents were usually cold and damp. One of the larger tents served as a sick bay, and according to this booklet, upwards of 40 sailors were off sick at any one time.
The Americans had their own doctor, Lt. Caldwell, but he fell ill shortly after the outbreak started. A relief doctor was sent down from Halifax, but he also came down with the flu. Those sailors who developed pneumonia were usually taken to Hamilton Memorial Hospital, located on the top of Goat Hill, close to the present day North Star Inn. This hospital was run by the Sisters of Charity, who also operated the Catholic schools in the town.
The air station at Indian Beach was only temporary. Modern heated buildings, including two barracks and a mess hall, were under construction at Kelly’s Beach (Munro Park), and were supposed to be ready by the first week in November. However, construction was not on schedule, and when the weather turned cold, many residents of the town offered to take the American servicemen, sick or not, into their homes.
By early November, 1918, about 200 American sailors were stationed in North Sydney. At that time Thanksgiving Day was celebrated in Canada on Nov. 6, and some local residents and church groups took it upon themselves to treat the servicemen to an old-fashioned, homestyle turkey dinner, with all the trimmings. The Thanksgiving meal was put on in a local hall and was much appreciated by the young Americans.
The editor of North Sydney Flight, a certain Lt. Smith, later had this to say about the way the American servicemen were received by the town:
“It is certain that every man in this command will carry away with him pleasing memories of his stay in this picturesque country. It is difficult to express into words our appreciation of the kind reception and hospitable treatment we have received in the homes of the people of North Sydney. Friendships have been made that will last through the peaceful years that will now follow.”