Haliburton doctor worked during 1918 influenza pandemic
By Sue Tiffin
On Nov. 9, in 1918, The Globe newspaper ran an obituary for Dr. E. K. Henderson, a well-known Toronto physician who had died in Haliburton.
Henderson, an eye, ear, nose and throat specialist, was only 31 when he died.
“It is believed by the Toronto doctor who went down to Haliburton to attend him, that he caught cold while out all night one night attending a patient,” reads the news item.
“Officially the death certificate said pneumonia, but it’s generally thought that it was really influenza,” said Kate Butler, director of the Haliburton Highlands Museum.
Henderson, said Butler, “was by all accounts, a remarkable man, who was completely dedicated to his patients.”
He was born in Barrie in 1886, and graduated from University of Toronto’s school of medicine in 1909. The Globe said he “had wide experience, considering his years,” noting Henderson had been a house surgeon at the old General Hospital, and an assistant to a doctor on Grenville Street, before gathering experience abroad in London, Paris and Vienna.
“He settled in Haliburton some time ago, after marrying a Haliburton woman named Miss Emma Anderson,” reads the Globe article. “He was well-known throughout the county of Haliburton, and was medical officer for the county battalion raised there some time ago for active service.”
Henderson set up a practice after moving to the area in 1915.
“During the epidemic, he continued to look after his patients, with the likely minimal supplies he had available, until he himself became ill,” said Butler. “It was said that he worked even as ‘his fingernails turned black.’”
Butler said little is known about how the 1918 influenza pandemic, which globally killed tens of millions of people, affected Haliburton County, noting that it wasn’t oft en talked about by those who lived through it.
“In 1918/19, everyone was just coming out of years of a world war and it was likely just more than people could process when they looked back on that era,” said Butler. “It seemed like in Canada people preferred to recall the war, perhaps because they felt it was easier to see the victory there, even with all the trauma that had also ensued in that conflict.”
While around 80 people in the county died each year in 1916, 1917 and 1919, local historian Adele Espina notes almost 100 people died in 1918 – about a 25 per cent increase from other years. Though deaths increased at that time, Espina said the cause of death hasn’t been tabulated. After this story was published, Espina posted on the Echo Facebook page, saying: "I've done some digging. In late 1918, these were the people in Haliburton County who died of influenza and pneumonia: Alice Mumford, Nelson Barnum, Olive Thomas, Eliza Jane Sawyer, Vera Watson, John Anderson, Dr Edward Kennedy Henderson, Lola Evelyn Pritchard, Ella Sherman, Frederick Warren, Corbin Lake, Daniel Austin, Edith Watt, John Padfield, Elsie May Barry, Herbert Thayer, Joseph Harrison, Emma Madill, Edward Cameron, Elizabeth Austin, Evelyn Monroe, Joseph Brohm, Emma Selena Gibbs. Prior to late October that year, only three people had died of pneumonia."
“In truth, we don’t know how many people in the county were affected,” said Butler. “The relative isolation of the communities here may have helped to keep numbers down. Also, deaths that had something to do with the influenza virus may have also been labelled in other ways on death certificates.”