Vernon museum set to reopen with exhibit on previous Okanagan pandemics and diseases | Kelowna News | iNFOnews

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Vernon museum set to reopen with exhibit on previous Okanagan pandemics and diseases

Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Greater Vernon Museum and Archives
September 26, 2020 - 6:00 PM

Once upon a time, a virus was brought to B.C. and other parts of North America from overseas, sometimes arriving with people who did not know they were carrying it.

The virus was smallpox. It moved through the province and was particularly dangerous for Indigenous populations, who had little immunity to a virus as their communities had never been exposed, according to the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives press release.

It is estimated smallpox killed up to 60 per cent of British Columbia’s Indigenous people, more than 30,000 people, including three outbreaks that significantly impacted the Okanagan's Syilx people.

This is just one of the epidemics and outbreaks explored through the museum's feature exhibit, Pandemic, which will be open the week of Oct. 6-9, The exhibit includes typhoid fever, the 1918 flu, polio, diphtheria, and H1N1, all affecting residents of the North Okanagan.

“With each outbreak, there was a public health response, including different versions of isolation, quarantine, and vaccination,” said Gwyneth Evans, museum community engagement coordinator. “For example, this area’s response to the 1918 flu pandemic will seem eerily familiar to what we’re going through now.”

READ MORE: Kelowna made it through a pandemic before and can learn from past mistakes

The 1918 Flu Pandemic saw 500 million people around the world fall sick and it is estimated between 20 to 50 million people eventually died.

In October of 1918, with nine cases confirmed in Vernon, the district responded by closing schools, theatres, and churches, and prohibiting public gatherings. People were encouraged to stay at home, keep their distance from each other while out in public, and isolate if showing any symptoms, according to the museum. By November, the number of cases had increased to 225, with five deaths.

However, as the month progressed, the rate of growth in new cases began to decrease, and the public gathering ban was lifted, according to the press release.

In 1927, after two boys at the Vernon Preparatory School developed symptoms associated with polio, all of the boys were quarantined in a ravine in Coldstream, not far from the school.

Tents were pitched 50 feet apart, and 22 latrines were constructed, one for every two boys. In total, 45 tents were erected. Eventually, the necessary quarantine time of 21 days had passed and the boys were sent home.

“At the museum, we think it’s important to look back at local history, not only to connect us with past experiences, but to better understand our shared present,” said Evans, in the press release.

The Pandemic exhibit marks the re-opening of the museum, under new public health guidelines.

The museum will be open for individuals, families and small groups who will need to register ahead to visit two mornings and one afternoon each week. As well, the archives will be open by appointment each afternoon, Monday through Friday. For more information, and to book a visit, visit the museum's website.


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