Saturday, April 06, 2019

Valley of Flowers by Veronica Eddy Brock - review - Tuberculosis in Canada

Valley of Flowers - cover - by Veronica Eddy Brock (Coteau Books, 1987)

Just this last week I read Valley of Flowers by Veronica Eddy Brock (Coteau Books, 1987). This is, as the author says, fiction, set in the 1940s, but she was in a Tuberculosis (TB) sanatorium in Saskatchewan for several years, just as her heroine Alexandra was, so it's certain her experience and her knowledge inform the story.

 It's not as bleak a read as you might think and well worth your time. Alexandra and the girls she's hospitalized with mostly are able to make the best of their situation. But strict rules, boredom, and little or no visits from family or friends take their toll. As do the inevitable deaths of patients they have come to know.

Tuberculosis is not new. Ancient Greeks wrote of 'phthisis' which likely was TB or a very similar disease. Many genealogists will see this as a cause of death on death certificates. A more modern term, often seen, was 'consumption'.

Most families will have members who died of TB as did my favourite great aunt, Diana Gilchrist, in Ontario in 1882. And I remember how worried my parents were when my Dad was told he might have TB after being tested (as we all were) in a mobile TB screening unit in Vancouver in the 1950s.
Another close family member was away from his family for a year.

In Canada, the first sanatorium opened in Muskoka, Ontario in 1897. The Tranquille sanatorium (King Edward VII tuberculosis sanatorium) was built near Kamloops in BC in 1907. This became a village of its own. By the 1960s, Canada had 61 'San's and dedicated TB units.

Treatment relied mainly on fresh air and sunshine, enforced rest, nutrition, and isolation. But there were surgical treatments too, described in the book, like the removal of ribs intended to collapse a lung, or even the removal of a lung. It was not till the 1950s that patients routinely received drug therapy.

If you would like to learn more about Tranquille, or if you are wondering if you can obtain medical records of a relative who had TB, contact me for a Canadian Medical Records - Genealogy fact sheet.

You can learn more about the history of "Canada's Role in Fighting Tuberculosis" by visiting this website, produced by the Saskatchewan Lung Association for Industry Canada. See some photographs of the Tranquille Sanatorium on Michael Kluckner's Vanishing BC website.

Today, tuberculosis is low in Canada for much of the population, but still for 2017 1,796 cases of active tuberculosis were reported. Everyone one of those cases is a person with family and friends, and for those born in Canada, TB affects indigenous people, particularly Inuit, disproportionately.

This time last year, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer issued a "Spotlight on Eliminating Tuberculosis in Canada" which she said was "largely inspired by the current momentum to eliminate TB coming from the force of leadership within Inuit communities..." which needs "sustained support from many players, including governments, academics, experts and other stakeholders. "

Last December, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami announced the Inuit Tuberculosis Elimination Framework

This is something all Canadians can support. Let your M.P. know you do.

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