Month: May 2020

It’s Just Inconvenient Not a Punishment

So, you’re feeling a twinge of cabin fever? A little frustrated that you can’t get up and wander where you want when you want, hold hands, hug a friend, sip a pint of tea, coffee or whatever, and solve personal and world problems better than using Twitter or a Facebook post.

Not to worry, you’ll find yourself back to what your normal was before the world spins off the rails. It shouldn’t take more than a year or two – and that’s less than a teardrop in the large bucket called “time.” Ah, yes, dear souls, it isn’t anguish we are going through in 2020 – it’s inconvenience. And inconvenience becomes downright discomfiting when it disturbs the comfortable pew of life we treasured and called normal.

Quite amazing, really. We have grown up from our earliest days learning about nations that became countries – prosperous, strong, and selfishly all-powerful, only to implode at the height of their power – and collapse. Never believing it could ever happen to the place where we live.

From the pyramids of the Egyptians and the Aztecs; from the amphitheatres of Rome and multitude of shrines to Greek gods, we read in wonderment of their achievements. And, if we have been fortunate enough to travel and witness those towering monuments to the greatest of empires, we have always wondered, and still do: What happened?

But do we ever wonder what the citizens were thinking as their nation world turned upside down? I read somewhere recently – and apologize for failing to note the author’s name: “Many generations have thought the world was dying, but it was only THEIR world which was dying.”

Greek, Aztec, Egyptian, Roman – all conquerors of the world they knew; Empires that flourished then died. In my lifetime, I have witnessed the creation and collapse of the Soviet Socialist Republics (Russia) and the break-up of the British Empire.

Both remain recognized on the world stage and are treated with respect, but their right to world empire status died long ago. And the world keeps turning even as China – an old Empire that seemed to die centuries ago – has emerged to challenge the USA’s world leadership role.

For the past four years. Canadians have been watching with fidgeting discomfort the antics of President Donald Trump as he theatrically degraded the U.S. from class act to bad vaudeville.

And, while we sat watching and hoping to see Humpty Dumpty fall off the wall, along came COVID-19 and lock-down, shut-down, face masks, virus checks, social distancing and a myriad of other annoying rules and regulations to set normally placid Canadians mumbling in their beer.

Just damned inconvenient, that’s what it is. Having to sit and watch – not even able to hold hands – while a plague runs rampant just across the border and Pied Piper Trump leads his nation into chaos.

The medical experts, who so far have served us well, tell us it could be this fall before the world has a medicine powerful enough to stop COVID-19, and maybe a year after that to be sure we have a winner. 

That’s a long time. Time enough to adjust and correct some of the bad living habits we have acquired. Time to accept and adapt to inconvenience. It is not the end of the world.

Ancient Traditions; New Dreams

The native war canoes swept across Victoria’s Harbour, synchronized paddles flashing as they moved through the narrows now spanned by the Johnson Street Bridge, across the Inner Harbour and then through “the Gorge” to the calm of its inland Gorge Waterway and a picnic end to the day.

Leading this First Nations procession and providing the perfect paddle-beat was a slow-speed launch carrying a military band dressed in the costume of early traders and explorers of the 1700s.

In the lead Canoe were the Nitinaht, the paddlers dressed in white. Then came the Clo-oose in light blue; the Malahat wearing pink; then West Saanich and Quamichan – each wearing yellow. Close behind came the Khenipsen in green then Kuper Island, dark blue. The Tsawout of South Saanich sporting blue and yellow were followed by Nanaimo in red and white.

Also included were three canoes billed simply as two “Americans” – one wearing green and white, the other pink and yellow and a “Clam-Clam-A-Litz” in red and green.

Following the war canoes was a motor launch carrying Sir Robert Kindersley, Governor of the Hudson Bay Company; his wife; and a gaggle of HBC head office types out west to celebrate the company’s 250th founding anniversary – and taking a look at its latest western Canada development, a brand-new department store.

It was May 1920, and for Victoria, a visit from HBC’s head honcho, who was also a Knight of the Realm, was as close as local toffs could get to royal celebrations without having to say “Your Majesty.”

The First World War and Canada’s military record in France, at sea and in the air, had done much to move Canada from the role of remote country cousin to solid, loyal member of the British Commonwealth family. And no province cherished that growing up more than Canada’s far western outpost which, despite frequent cries for change, clung to the British in its provincial name and its Queen’s name – Victoria – for the capital city.

When Sir Robert and Lady Kindersley were later welcomed to Government House for a private dinner with 40 guests, I’m sure Sir Robert and his wife would have felt right at home. With his grand, new, company store looking for a fair slice of a growing city’s prosperity, all the stops would have been pulled.

In addition to the war canoe procession – a grand spectacle in its own right –the traditional Victoria Day parade stretching “more than two miles” and jammed with marching bands, floats – and new-fangled motor vehicles – had jammed city streets.

It was during Sir Robert’s visit that the Vancouver Island Automobile Club organized an adventurous “motor excursion” from Victoria City Hall to Elk Lake. There had been talk afoot about taxpayers buying Elk and Beaver lakes and preserving the area in perpetuity.

The Colonist newspaper reported that 40 residents signed up for “the excursion” but didn’t specify whether that meant 40 cars and drivers or 10 cars with a driver and three passengers. Whatever, it was by all accounts a great success leaving city hall at 2:30 p.m. precisely and traversing “the seven miles to Elk Lake in little over 20 minutes.”

The dream was never wholly fulfilled, but the primary goal of preserving Elk and Beaver lakes for future generations was. And, when urban families are again able to swarm their beaches for summer’s traditional activities, they might whisper a thank you to the folks who, 100 years ago, thought of the future.

What part of the original Elk -Beaver Lake park plan never made the final cut? The original plan saw Elk Lake developed for recreation; great beaches, a bit of fishing and boating, with Beaver Lake proposed as the ideal site for a swimming pool complex.

The swimming pool complex for Beaver never made the map when the property became the fantastic park it is today. I wonder how many, if any, residents or visitors swimming at the modern Commonwealth Pools out Royal Oak way know they are but a hefty stones throw from Beaver Lake where the original dreamers had hoped to see them. Not on the original plan – but close enough to claim a credit.

Final thoughts: That must have been a spectacular sight 100 years ago to watch a dozen or more 40-foot war canoes driving through the ocean, keeping the pride and traditions of their ancestors alive.

It all happened three years before I was born. But I feel quite privileged to have been allowed to wander half a world away from my birth-home and be invited to witness the survival of thousand year old native legends, and the birth of dreams a hundred years ago.

And I wonder what the writers of 2120 will have to say about my generations “gifts” to their way of life?

Still Searching For Answers

It was 1869 when two sisters described as “middle-class school teachers” were declared insane and by court order, removed from Victoria’s 10-year-old hospital – The Royal – better known as “the Asylum,” a health care facility with accommodation for a handful of patients suffering what the doctors of the day called “routine” afflictions.

The “hospital” was a two-storey building, and administrators were stressed to the limit trying to provide separate accommodation for male and female patients, “different” accommodation for patients of Chinese descent, and meeting what they regarded as the impossible demand to provide beds and care for “maniacs.”

We should spend a sentence or two with the Chinese problem because it is so difficult to believe. Affluent citizens in the 1800s and well into the 1900s hired servants of Chinese descent to clean their homes and do their laundry, their cooking, and everything else that contributed to good health practices – but couldn’t share a hospital ward with them because, well, they were not white.

The white people felt themselves to be cleaner, morally superior and deserving of softer pillows and better care than the Chinese.

Amazing but true. 

The Chinese and “the whites” did agree on one thing: That maniacs, the crazy people, should not expect, or get, the same care and hospital attention as the “normal” sick.

And, that brings me back to the sisters mentioned in my opening paragraph, “teachers of the middle class and deemed insane.” They were ordered to be transferred from Victoria’s hospital, certified as “insane,” and incarcerated in the Victoria City jail – with the key presumably thrown away. 

The charge against them? “These insane ladies were noisy and physically violent, and one refused to wear any clothing (so) they were kept locked in a bare brick cell in the Victoria City jail (and here’s a key phrase) with only male staff supervision.”

But there was a third sister who took up the battle on behalf of her siblings, challenged the touted “respectability” of Victoria citizens and drew commanding attention to the almost total lack of care for mentally impaired citizens. She mounted a letter-writing campaign to the press appealing for common decency and the need for women to be looking after her afflicted sisters.

Public hearings followed with resignations of old hospital officials, and, in 1873, the passing of the BC Insane Asylum Act as a shocked public forced subsequent governments to seek solutions for the care of the mentally ill. It has never been a pleasant battleground. As recently as 1901, psychiatric literature in BC still listed the causes of insanity as “hereditary, intemperance, syphilis and masturbation.”

How to handle the mentally sick among us would continue to be a significant problem. In 1904, the government thought it was on the way to a solution when it purchased 405 hectares of land in New Westminster-Coquitlam (including Colony Farm) for the construction of a new therapeutic centre for the mentally ill. In 1913, it opened its first ward – the Male Chronic Building. It is not a record to boast about, but within a month, it was filled with 900 patients, double its planned capacity.

Colony Farm was part of what was now known as Riverview, a central model of psychiatric health care quickly named internationally as one of the most progressive asylums in North America. Its patients worked the grounds, and at its peak produced up to 700 tonnes of crops and 20,000 gallons of milk a year.

But the idea of big hospitals and institutions was losing favour as various regions of the province sought solutions “closer to home” populations. In 1998, the government announced plans to close Riverview, but two years later said a new 20-bed unit would be built to house patients who found it difficult to obtain treatment in home area residential centres.

In 2000, Riverview and the provincial government were attacked for the hospital’s use of controversial electroshock therapy. The dispute led to the resignation of the president of the medical staff who had fought against the practice. The same year a group of former patients launched a lawsuit claiming male and female patients had been illegally sterilized between 1933 and 1968. Evidence revealed 200 patients had been sterilized. Nine women received settlement totalling $450,000.

Most of the land today is included in a land claim by the Kwikwetlem Nation and is recognized provincially as a botanical garden and architectural heritage site. Some old buildings are still in use by private companies, others stand empty like acid tears shed for a worthy cause that went awry.

And the problems of how to best handle the mentally fragile among us remains unanswered. If a fully modern care facility staffed with the finest mental health advice and backed by a working food-producing farm isn’t the answer – what could be? Not unsanitary instant – hovel tent shambles disgracing boulevards and parks. And surely not the unused rooms of basic motels built primarily for overnight stays not for extended stays.

(The Internet is jammed with stories pre-Riverview and the Colony Farm; stories of enlightenment and ignorance, hope and regret, fear of the mentally ill, and the discomfort many of us still feel in its presence. The history of Psychiatric Nursing in BC provides a useful timeline on the long battle for a better way in BC. So does Riverview Hospital a brief history/CBC News. And with “Society, Place, Work –The BC Public Hospital for the Insane” BC Studies, autumn 2011, provides its usual excellence research.)

I have no suggestions, but welcome yours.

Who Will Win Patent and Distribution Rights?

So begins the next great arms race with the superpowers, and some less than superpowers, jockeying for the top spot in the world of international medical power-brokering.

The last time, only two nations were left standing at the end of a global race, when each had military arsenals jammed with nuclear missiles capable of destroying, with the touch of a button, the world.

We called it the “Cold War” at the time. The superpowers, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the USSR – Russia) and the United States of America, were challenging each other, and each seemed ready to destroy their rival and the world.

The only thing delaying the final act was the fact that any cataclysm started by one would destroy all.

And so, the world moved on. The mighty Soviet Union disintegrated. Russia remained on the world stage respected but not as powerful or as feared as it once was. Old Europe tried to re-group as the European Union joining forces for economic clout, but in recent months that shaky union has been travelling a bumpy road threatening EU survival.

Now, seemingly overnight, China has stepped from the global shadows into the world spotlight. In fact, China began its transition decades ago from the instability of revolution to an internationally powerful military and economic force capable of facing down the threatening bluster of the United States and President Donald Trump.

Now, China is positioned to challenge the USA for the best weaponry in the field of public health care. 

China has become a favourite Trump target since he ignored warnings in late 2019 that an outbreak of COVID-19, a disease caused by the novel coronavirus, was being reported. The president chose to ignore the early warnings that with no vaccine or treatment known for the disease, it would become a global pandemic.

China attempted to confine the COVID-19 outbreak by isolating the communities in which it was reported, banning new visitors and confining all citizens until further notice.

But it was too late. The first carriers of COVID-19 had unknowingly spread the disease to Europe and other corners of the globe.

President Trump was quick to blame his political rivals for running a vendetta against him and for supporting Chinese government attempts to cover up laboratory work that had gone astray and permitted the release of the disease.

The World Health Organization cleared the Chinese government of wrongdoing. Trump has held back WHO funding pending review.

In the next few weeks or months, the WHO will be expected to play a lead role if a vaccine is discovered to defeat COVID-19. For many years now, it has coordinated significant research and discussion in the realm of international public health policy, helping determine what standards should be set and met. But it lacks the power of binding decision making.

So, the great race begins for new, more powerful weapons, new armour to protect citizens against invading forces, new strike forces to move anywhere in the world to defeat the invisible alien virus.

And, every country in the world can bid to deliver those weapons. It should be a great war rooted in high ideals, healing and happiness. But, can that happen with Trump muscling to get his “America First” thumb on the decision scales? Can China overcome inherent distrust on the part of western nations and agree to coordinated research and delivery of the product?

It should be possible – but it’s hard to ignore the warning message from Melinda Gates, wife of Bill Gates. Talking about vaccines and cures a few days ago, she feared a final decision on a vaccine or cure would go to the highest bidder. “The worst situation would be if, when these tools are available, they go to the highest bidder – that would be a terrible end for the world. COVID-19 anywhere is COVID-19 everywhere. And that’s why it’s got to take global cooperation.”

Oxford University scientists have a head start in the race for a cure. They had been researching inoculations for viruses similar to COVID-19, and figure by September they will be ready to release their vaccine.

They could stay ahead in the race for rights, but they will not be alone. The competition will be fierce. We can only watch and hope that world leaders listen to Melinda Gates when they decide on resolution. Covid-19 is a world problem not an “America First”” election slogan.

When a Great Plague Ran Rampant In The West

“Death pervaded the outskirts of Victoria. Shallow graves covered the ground, and a putrid smell hovered over them. In late June 1862, because there were too many bodies to bury, heavy rocks had been tied to corpses and thrown into two nearby bays. But it wasn’t until the following year that a sense of the enormity of the destruction in Victoria was reported on …” 

That was June 28, 1863, when The Daily British Colonist reported on Page 3 that (near the town) “the bodies of from 1,000 to 1,200 northern Indians who have fallen victim to smallpox lie unburied in the space of about an acre of land.” The site is never explicitly identified, but shallow graves for the dead in places other than official cemeteries became a repeated editorial complaint of the local press.

Readers who have already decided that this is unpleasant reading are correct; it is unpleasant. But, it is nowhere near as unpleasant as we would be experiencing today if our leaders had let history repeat itself when dealing with the current pandemic.

We have been fortunate to have public health officials with a high sense of duty and responsibility as well as the courage to freeze all social interactions, thus limiting the spread of contamination. As a result of the rules and regulations keeping us at home or in well-spaced social casual conversation, COVID-19 has been contained with 111 BC deaths compared to more than 50,000 dead in BC from smallpox in 1862.

There is talk now of easing those regulations sometime next week. I hope our public health people and our provincial government show great resolve when they decide which – if any – rules and regulations they need to keep in place. Their record to date is that they will use good judgement and follow medical science recommendations.

Back in 1862, doctors and government officials had three avenues available to cure or contain smallpox: A proven vaccine discovered in 1790 by Edward Jenner, but in short supply and still viewed by some with suspicion; isolation of a victim in a particular hospital; or, what was bluntly called “expulsion” with the victim expelled without assistance from the healthy community.

Most religious groups had a hand – not always merciful – in the ultimate enforced solutions as did the press but with a role that switched and changed direction as sudden as a coastal squall. The government was blamed for everything that went wrong – sometimes justly.

One fulminating editorial demanded “the prompt removal of every Indian, whether male or female, from the town and vicinity. They should be sent to some place remote from the whites and that without a moment’s delay else, we shall in all probability have to record among our white population many serious losses from the infection …”

When the government finally made a decision to return all natives – healthy or infected and dying – to their home tribe territory, they moved them out in a convoy of native dugout canoes roped together and towed by two navy vessels.

It is estimated between 2,000 and 2,500 natives were living in small villages along the coast north of Victoria. As they vacated their home sites, the military escort burned their old homes and barns and any remaining property to discourage any thoughts of return.

Historian Robert Boyd has estimated the indigenous coastal population between Victoria and southern Alaska at around 30,000 before the 1862 smallpox epidemic. A year after the terror struck, only 15,000 survived. Haida Gwaii lost 75 per cent of its population, and the history books tell us the number of Haida villages dropped from 13 to seven.

A final note for us moderns, especially those among us who feel that the spectre of COVID-19 is the greatest threat to health our world has ever faced. Make room for smallpox in the standings.

Wikipedia tells me smallpox was around when Cleopatra was doing her thing with Mark Anthony 3,000 years ago; that during the 18th Century, it killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans a year, including five reigning monarchs and was responsible for a third of all blindness. Between 29 and 60 per cent of those infected – and over 80 per cent of infected children – died from the disease.

During the 20th Century, smallpox was responsible for more than 300 million deaths. As recently as 1967, the World Health Organization estimated the disease claimed two million lives that year. In 1979, the WHO certified smallpox as eradicated.

Now, follow the rules as our leaders try to find us safe haven beyond Covid 19. Stay calm. Always lean toward stringent safety precautions; and don’t ever think it brave, or even cute, to make it easy for a fatal infection to find a home.