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October 29, 2018 / Jim Fenton

In memory of my grandfather and the Great Influenza

Today is the 100th anniversary of the death of my grandfather, Findlay Robson, at the age of 37. Findlay (sometimes spelled Finlay) and his wife Anna (Crandell) Robson lived in Cranbrook, British Columbia, where he was the manager of Cranbrook Jobbers, a wholesale grocer. They had three children, Fremont (age 5), Pat (2), and my mother, Mary (15 months).

Findlay grew up in Fenelon Falls, Ontario, about 100 miles northeast of Toronto. His father, William Lithgow Robson, ran the local grocery and Findlay got his start in the grocery business there. Findlay and Anna were married in 1910, and in about 1913 they moved west to British Columbia.

Findlay died of pneumonia that was caused by the great influenza pandemic that year. Newspaper reports said that Cranbrook was hit hard by that flu outbreak; the papers were operating with a reduced staff because of the number of people down with the flu.

Findlay Robson obituary
Findlay Robson obituary, The Cranbrook Herald, October 31, 1918

Only two days before, Findlay’s brother Neil died in Toronto of influenza. According to a newspaper report, his brother’s death “took away the fighting chance he had for his life.”

100 years later, we have the benefit of a much better understanding of what causes influenza and the availability of flu vaccines that, even if not 100% effective, can make the difference between a severe case of the flu and a mild one. I make a point of getting a flu shot every year, both to keep myself from being down with the flu, but also to honor my grandparents’ memory. I recommend the same to everyone.

Spoiler alert: Anna died of the flu a few days later. I will post another article about her on that anniversary.

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