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Heroism and tragedy of 1918 Spanish flu remembered in N.L.

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Ethel Dickinson was one of hundreds of people who died when the Spanish flu ripped through Newfoundland in 1918.

The virulent influenza pandemic is estimated to have killed between 20 to 50 million people worldwide. 

The names of many people who died have been forgotten, but Dickinson’s sacrifice has been immortalized. 

This is a woman who basically gave up her life to work with the sick influenza patients.– Larry Dohey, archivist 

She contracted the flu and died at the age of 38 in October 1918 while volunteering to help the growing number of influenza patients in the city.

She’s named on a monument in St. John’s that celebrates her sacrifice. It’s deep in the east end of the city, in Cavendish Square, behind parking meters and obscured by trees and shrubs.

Most people don’t know it’s there, but local archivist Larry Dohey says people should seek it out.

Larry Dohey is an archivist at The Rooms. He recommends people seek out the monument to Dickinson to learn more about the Spanish flu. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

« This is a woman who basically gave up her life to work with influenza patients. She didn’t have to do it, » said Dohey, the director of programming and public engagement at The Rooms cultural facility.

« She had already given her service over at the hospitals in Europe. She’d seen the suffering over there, but she came home and volunteered again. » 

Dohey said almost 1,600 people on the island of Newfoundland were infected with the Spanish flu and it’s estimated that more than 200 of them died.

But the flu hit Labrador even harder.

A disaster for the Inuit

More than 500 Inuit, about a third of the Indigenous group’s population in Labrador, died after passengers infected with Spanish flu arrived in coastal communities by boat.

The Rooms Museum and Archives has many photographs of Labrador Inuit in its collection. (The Rooms)

Angus Andersen, who is Inuk, grew up in coastal Labrador hearing stories from his grandparents about what they saw when the flu hit.

When you lose a third of your population that’s a big impact. We lost culture, heritage and language.– Angus Andersen

Andersen paints a vivid picture of the apocalyptic event in Labrador. Sled dogs that were used to hunt and travel were abandoned as their owners died. They became feral and dangerous.

« When I hear the stories of the people who survived, it’s like a horror movie, » Andersen said.

Angus Andersen’s grandparents, who were Inuit, survived the Spanish flu in Labrador and told him what they witnessed. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

« Wild dogs — starving husky dogs — actually breaking in and jumping though windows of houses to eat the dead bodies. Survivors had to hunt them down and kill them. They killed hundreds and hundreds of starving dogs. »

Many Inuit communities, like Hebron and Nutak, lost a great number of residents, but no community suffered a deeper blow than Okak. 

It’s reported that before the flu arrived, 263 people lived in Okak — after the pandemic hit, fewer than 60 people were left. 

Sled dogs were used for travel and hunting by Labrador Inuit. Many starving dogs had to be killed during the Spanish flu pandemic. (The Rooms)

Andersen says his grandparents recounted that dealing with all the corpses in Labrador called for extraordinary measures.

« After they collected all the bodies. It was impossible to bury them one at a time. My grandma said they dug a giant hole and to do that they had to light a big fire to thaw the permafrost. They dug a big hole and put all the bodies in there and covered them up, » he said.

No one lives in Okak now.

Tragic as it was, Andersen says the 1918 Spanish flu should be remembered to underscore the importance of preventative medicine, such as vaccinations.

Andersen says the pandemic has left a deep scar on the Labrador Inuit culture

« We lost a lot of history. When you lose a third of your population that’s a big impact. We lost culture, heritage and language. »

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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