Lieutenant Leslie Peveril Sutcliffe (1892-1918)
Smithers' first victim, Leslie Peveril Sutcliffe, was a former British Army Lieutenant from England. He enlisted with the Northern Signal Company of the Royal Engineers on August 4th 1914, at the very start of the war, and went on to serve in Gallipolli, Turkey. He received the 1915 Star, British and Victory Medals. After being wounded in the foot in 1916, he spent several months suffering from dysentery, rheumatic fever, and cardiac issues. His health weakened to the point that he was invalided out of the army in 1917.
Seeking to start anew and recover his health, Sutcliffe left England in the spring of 1918. He had arrived in British Columbia by the fall. On October 15th he settled in Smithers, taking a job with the Grand Trunk Pacific railroad.
Sadly, Sutcliffe's fresh start was not to be. He fell ill with the Spanish flu only several days after arriving in town. Neighbours discovered his illness and took him to the temporary hospital at the Smithers Public School. His health severely weakened by his war experiences, Sutcliffe could not fight off the flu, which developed into pneumonia. He died on November 4th 1918 at just 26 years of age.
A service was held at St. James Anglican Church, and he was buried in the Smithers Cemetery, far away from any family connections. He is memorialized on a war memorial in the village of Ilkley, West Yorkshire, home of his parents, Henry and Kate Neale Sutcliffe. His death is perhaps best described by his obituary in a Yorkshire newspaper, which stated:
“Although…he did not die on the field of battle, his life was none the less sacrificed, like that of thousands more, for his country.”
In 2018, former students of Sedbergh School (which Sutcliffe attended in his youth) visited his grave and preformed a memorial ceremony with members of the Bulkley Valley Genealogical Society, Bulkley Valley Museum, Padre Doug Campbell of the Legion, and former MLA Dennis Mackay.
Roman Malkow (1895-1918)
Roman Malkow was a Ukrainian immigrant who had come to the Smithers area several months before the outbreak of the flu. He worked alongside his brother, Dmytro, on their ranch near Glentanna.
Malkow became ill around early November, but remained on the farm for a week before being brought into Smithers. He was admitted to the hospital about November 5th. "From the first his life was despaired of" due to his already weakened condition, according to the Interior News. After a week in hospital, Malkow died on November 12th, becoming the second and last known victim of the Spanish Flu in Smithers. He was 22 years old.
Indigenous Witsuwit'en and Gitxsan communities at Witset (Moricetown), Hagwilget, and Hazelton were also affected by the disease. Countless Indigenous deaths went ignored and unreported by settler media. For example, in the Omineca Herald of November 15th 1918, a list of influenza cases and deaths in the Bulkley Valley is followed with a mere "These figures are exclusive of Indian patients."
Historian Mary-Ellen Kelm estimates that at least 1,100 Indigenous people in the province of British Columbia died from the flu. It is unknown how many of these were in the Smithers area. There were at least 15 casualties among the Gitxsan people: 8 at Gitanmaax and 7 at Kispiox.
One possible Indigenous victim whose name is known is Sarah Alexander Baptiste, a mixed-race woman who lived with her Witsuwit'en husband Jean and their children near Tyhee Lake. The Baptiste family were in the midst of an ongoing struggle to protect their land from government confiscation. In spring or early summer 1920, Jean went to Telkwa on business related to this matter and found many sick people there. He and the rest of his family soon caught the disease as well. Sarah unfortunately succumbed, while Jean and one of his sons came very close to death. Baptiste was ultimately successful in resisting eviction, but noted in an interview with anthropologist Marius Barbeau that if the government had not attempted to seize his land, his wife would still be alive. It is possible that Sarah was a victim of the "fourth wave" of Spanish Flu which struck in early 1920.
Our lack of knowledge of the Bulkley Valley's Indigenous victims - their names, their lives, and their deaths - is one of the many tragedies of the Spanish Flu and of colonialism. More information about the impact of the Flu on Indigenous communities can be found in the links at the top right.