Another Story of the Spanish Flu

Since moving to Owen Sound in the fall of 2006, I’ve done most of my work from home. And when I haven’t had a ton of actual paying work (freelancing can be pretty boom or bust), I often manage to keep myself busy reading and noodling away on my computer. So, I guess I’ve been better equipped than many to handle what’s become day-to-day life these days.

This story may read like the efforts of someone who’s got too much time on his hands (which I do right now), but, really, it’s not very different from what my “real” life was like before. It’s also a pretty good example of why I always try my best to help anyone who contacts me with a question as quickly as possible … because I often have to rely on similar help myself. And when I do, I like to get my answers NOW!

In my Spanish Flu story last week, I said that I was limiting myself to how the pandemic affected pro hockey players. Still, the story of one amateur player that popped up in my research stuck in my mind. His name was Frank Montgomery.

The Globe, Toronto. November 2, 1918.

Montgomery was not someone I’d heard of before, so I started doing a little digging. I began with the web site of the Society for International Hockey Research. No one by the name of Frank Montgomery showed up in the statistical database. However, there were eight players with the last name Montgomery and no first name. Only two of them had stats ranges that made sense, and only one of those two had an entry showing that he’d played in Sarnia in 1917–18. There was no other information. No first name; no date of birth or death; no statistics; no other seasons.

Montgomery’s death was apparently national news. This item is from the Victoria Daily Times. I also found stories in newspapers from Vancouver and Edmonton.

A little more searching through old issues of the Globe online determined that a Montgomery did play in Sarnia in 1917–18, and that he was a defenseman. Better than the nothing that was there for him before, so I sent along what I’d found to my friend and fellow SIHR member Aubrey Ferguson.

Sarnia’s Junior team played only three games in the OHA in January of 1918. Montgomery (no first name) was highlighted as a star in two of them.

The short obituary in the Globe had already told us that Frank Montgomery was from Peterborough, Ontario, so Aubrey passed along the information to a Peterborough SIHR colleague, Peter Pearson:

Hi Peter
Thought you would find this interesting, if only to put a Ptbo hockey twist on the Spanish Flu. Also thought you might have something from local sources on him.
Cheers, Aubrey

Following the email chain that would soon make its way back to me, Peter contacted Sylvia Best, who found a much more detailed obituary from the Peterborough Evening Examiner on October 28, 1918. There was plenty more information on Frank Montgomery in there, as well as the sad fact that not only had the family suffered his death from the Spanish Flu, but they had also learned at almost the exact same time that another family member had been seriously wounded fighting in World War I:

Frank Montgomery Died This Morning
- The Deceased Was Well Known in Local Athletic Circles -
Word was received late this after noon that Mr. Frank Montgomery had succumbed to pneumonia in Oshawa this morning. Mr. Montgomery had been ill with pneumonia for 12 days which succeeded Spanish influenza. Mr. Montgomery played on the Peterboro Junior O.H.A hockey team for Peterboro in the season of 1916-17. Last winter he played for the Sarnia team. He left for Oshawa in the latter part of July where he intended playing hockey this winter. The deceased also played for the Matthews-Blackwell team in the Twilight league.

The body will be brought to the city and the funeral will take place from the residence of his sister, Mrs. Thomas H. Skinner, 354 Stewart Street to Little Lake Cemetery. Rev. Mr. MacKenzie of Knox Presbyterian Church will officiate.

Mrs. Skinner received word on Saturday night that her husband Pte. Thomas Skinner of the 21st Canadians, had been badly wounded.

A big thank you to Peter and to Sylvia (neither of whom I know) and to Aubrey for their efforts … but I was still curious.

A Google street image of 354 Stewart Street. (Left half of the semi seen here.)

For one thing, I went to Trent University in Peterborough from 1982 to 1985. In my last year there, I shared a house with a few friends. It was on Stewart Street in the same part of town! What were the chances that I’d actually lived in that house? (Turns out, I didn’t. We were about two blocks away, at 264 Stewart.)

The house on the right is 264 Stewart Street. The balconies have
been enlarged since I lived there, and the ramp has been added.

Really, what I hoped to find was a birth date for Frank Montgomery. The Spanish Flu was notorious for killing men and women in the prime of life, with a huge percentage of deaths occurring in people between the ages of 20 and 40. As a junior hockey player, Montgomery was likely to be under 21. So — though I know they can be notoriously unreliable — I turned to the records of the Canadian census for 1901 and 1911.

In 1901, I found a Montgomery family from Peterborough. (A later search through city directories showed the family lived at 33 Louis Street then … not too far from Stewart Street.) There was a father named John and a mother named Jane, plus four daughters … and then another daughter named Francis J.

The area of Peterborough where the Montgomery/Skinner familes (and I) lived.

Francis J. would actually turn out to be our guy Frank. (The J. stands for John.) The birth date in 1901 is listed as January 7, 1899. By the 1911 Census, father John is no longer there. (I would later discover that he’d driven a team of horses for the fire department, and that he passed away around 1907. NOTE: Daniel Doyon found the death certificate confirming that John Montgomery died of pneumonia on Jan. 19, 1907.) Jane is now the head of the household and youngest daughter Geraldine is still at home. (The much smaller family by then was living at 262 Dalhousie, in the same neighbourhood.) Frank is now a boy, at least, but his birth is listed as July of 1899, not January.

As I said, those old Censuses can be unreliable

However, in both 1901 and 1911, the family also has boarders in their home. In 1911, two of those boarders are T.H. Skinner and Edith Skinner. I assumed that Edith (there had been an Edith Montgomery in 1901) must be the sister from the obituary who was married to Thomas Skinner, and he must be the T.H. from the Census.

I knew I’d be able to confirm all this if I still had a membership to Ancestry.com but I’d cancelled that a while back. So, friends to the rescue once again! I called on Lynda Chiotti to ask if she could hunt down a birth record for Frank Montgomery, his death certificate, and anything on the marriage of Thomas and Edith when she had some time.

The official record of the birth of Frank Montgomery. (See the last line.)

Meanwhile, as I waited to hear back from Lynda, I was also curious as to whether or not Thomas Skinner had survived the war wounds mentioned in Frank’s obituary. I was able to find his complete military record through Library and Archives Canada. Turns out, Thomas Skinner suffered gun shot wounds in his arms and legs on October 24, 1918, but survived and returned safely to Canada in 1919. (Thomas and Edith were still living with Jane Montgomery, and Frank, at 262 Dalhousie Street when Thomas enlisted in 1915, but both Thomas’s war records and the Peterborough city directory show their address as 354 Stewart by 1917.)

Lynda did find the marriage record for me. Skinner, Thomas Henry, was a carpenter who married Edith Maud Montgomery, daughter of John and Jane, on November 9, 1909. She also found a family tree showing that Thomas lived until September 19, 1960 and that Edith died on March 5, 1974, when she would have been nearing 100 years old. (City directories help to confirm this.)

As for Frank Montgomery, the birth records show that he was actually born on January 5, 1899, in Peterborough, to John and Martha Jane Montgomery. The death certificate confirms that he was only 19 years of age when he died in Oshawa on October 28, 1918. The cause of death is listed as “Pneumonia following flu.” The body was turned over to Mrs. Jane Montgomery, 354 Stewart, Peterborough.

The official death record for Frank Montgomery. (Middle column.)

All the pieces of this sad story fit. Still, it was satisfying to put them all together.

Well, maybe not all the pieces. The family tree that Lynda found actually shows Frank Montgomery listed as the son of his sister Edith! Edith Montgomery would have been about 22 (and unmarried) when Frank was born, while Jane would have been about 42. So, it’s certainly possible that grandmother Jane raised Frank as her own … but it might just have been an error in the listing. As of now, there’s been no way to know for sure. Family histories can certainly be mysteries.

14 thoughts on “Another Story of the Spanish Flu

  1. “Family histories can certainly be mysteries”….. that’s what makes them so fascinating – British Newspaper Archive is a great source – a “product” of the British Library – even if one doesn’t have family connections it’s fun to read first hand accounts of the the Battle of Waterloo.

    cheers

    Bill Humber

  2. Funny coincidence, a man name J. Grannary died of influenza in Sarnia in 1920, and the newspapers told that it was the famous hockey player from Quebec, making a big splash in the news in Quebec City. 2 days later, Jimmy Grannary wrote the newspapers that he was still alive. Yes, the hockey man was working in Sarnia and yes, he did played for the Quebec Bulldogs…

  3. Eric, This was very interesting. I vaguely remember my mom telling me of how she and her family survived the Spanish Flu. Mom would have been 14 at the time, only in Canada, from Romania, since 1911. She had several older siblings, much older, and two sisters closer in age to her. Her oldest brother was married and living in Chicago, (not certain when he arrived in North America, but he was settled and in business when Mom arrived); the next brother was living in Buffalo, probably married as well. The oldest sister was in Toronto, married and then there was a big space, until the next members of the family arrived. I am not certain if these old siblings were born to a first wife, and then my grandfather remarried. No one talked about those things in those days. My mother, the middle of the trio of girls, and so she was 8 years younger than Ray, and 2 years older than Anne.
    I do remember she said that schools were closed and when they opened it was sad to see all the empty desks of kids that didn’t survive (or their parent didn’t) and now the children were with their younger siblings. It was not unusual to find 13 year girls and boys raising the babies that were left orphaned.
    My mother’s best friend, also 14, raised her brother and sister, and both completed school and went to university. She finally married in the mid 20’s, and entered UofT as an adult and received her degree the same time as her brother! That was always told to me to be inspirational!!!
    Dad arrived about the same time as the flu. His older brother had been here since 1900 or so, and he was established in a “dry goods” store on Queen Street E. Dad worked hard to learn the language and he also started a business on the Danforth. That is another story.
    This brother married Ray, and in 1927, my dad married my mom. In other words, two sister married to two brothers!!!! Thankfully, they all survived the Spanish Flu!
    And we WILL SURVIVE COVID-19!! Stay well, stay safe, and keep writing. Your research skills are amazing!!

  4. Kol Ha-Kavod Eric. This is just a great story and your research skills are so impressive. I love the look and feel of this as well. It is great to see the old newspaper clippings and hand written documents that have so much visual impact. Also nice to remember someone who, under different circumstances, may have been an NHLer. Hope the Peterboro media folks pick up the story!

    It is interesting to read other people’s posts as well (like Judith’s) and how their families managed in 1918-19.

    Only a short while ago, I discovered that one of my mother’s cousins, an Issac Betcherman, had immigrated to Boston, while the rest of his immediate family settled in Pembroke and then Ottawa. While researching my mother’s father, who I am named after, I discovered that there were 2 Isaac Betchermans buried in Ottawa’s Jewish Community Cemetery. My family knew nothing of this in 2020 — I took a rubbing from the weathered 1919 stone, and translated the inscription. This fellow died of the Spanish Flu in Boston and his family had his remains returned to Ottawa.

  5. Great research Eric!!! My great granddad, Samuel Biggs Sweezey, died Dec.16, 1921 from pneumonia following a prolonged illness, however he contracted the Spanish Influenza in March of 1918. It must have been brutal suffering with that for more than 3 years.

    DIED OF PNEUMONIA FOLLOWING FUNERAL

    And Two Others Are Ill of Same Cause
    One dead and two others ill of pneumonia among relatives and friends, who attended the funeral of the late Frank Edwards, which took place in Cobden on March 28th, has resulted. Word was received in Ottawa yesterday that Mr. Roy McGillis of North Bay, had died there at noon yesterday (April 4, 1918), from pneumonia, contracted while attending the funeral of his uncle a week ago in Cobden.
    On his way back from the funeral, Mr. Samuel Biggs Sweezey, a relative, and also superintendent of tracks for the Canadian Copper Cliff Co., at Copper Cliff, had to be taken from the train at Sudbury, and now lying in the hospital there. Word was sent to Ottawa to have a trained nurse sent to Sudbury to nurse him.
    The third person to fall prey to the disease was Mr. Harvey Edwards, a son of the late Frank Edwards. He is now at his home in Cobden very seriously ill.
    Friends state that the contracting of the disease is somewhat of a mystery, as the day on which the funeral was held, was a fine day. It is probable, however, that in driving three miles to the cemetery, some took cold from which the pneumonia developed. The funeral took place at 2:30 in the afternoon.

    1. Thanks for sharing your family story. From other thing I’ve seen, I think there must have been some other strain of flu making the rounds in North America in March of 1918. Or maybe it really was the early strain of what would become known as the Spanish Flu later that year. Whatever the case, this is quite the story!

  6. Well, Eric, with a lot of my increased free-time spent right here, in front of my computer, reading story after story from all my multitude of varied ‘feeds’, my first ‘blush’, upon seeing your title, was along the lines of ‘Meh…here we go again…’ but then I came to my senses and thought, “But it’s Eric! He hasn’t disappointed me yet,” so I continued, as I almost always do, and once again I wasn’t disappointed.
    It DID read like a good mystery with my want to continue reading increasing from line to line. Like all good mysteries, it had numerous twists and turns and even had my mind creating its own red herrings and possible paths as I read. I did a double-take when I read the name ‘Edith Maud Montgomery’!
    Your slightly mischievous denouement was almost perfect and could only have been better had Frank ultimately turned out to be related to Lucy Maud!

    CHEERS!

  7. In the early 20th century sports figures, especially in Canada, were just regular guys (or women like Bobby Rosenfeld) who were athletes. Not millionaires or people who felt they could comment on all issues even ones they are totally ignorant about. It is sad that you had to dig to learn about a man who, today, might warrant a full column in the Star.
    Keep writing!

  8. Only 19?? Poor Frank Montgomery…..& his family…..From what I know of Spanish Flu there were 3 waves of it: Spring 1918 & it was ‘mild’. Then it came back with a vengeance the Autumn of 1918!! It then receded until late Winter of 1918 & into the Spring of 1919 before it finally burned itself totally by Summer of 1919….
    There were anywhere from 40-100 million deaths worldwide from Spanish Influenza…Stats seem to vary about the numbers.
    Reading alot of old newpaper articles many of the people in power did what they could to close businesses & keep people at home (hhmm I hear a recurring theme here…)
    Today is Sunday, May 17th & I am in 7th Heaven: PBR Bull Riding was on earlier & NASCAR is back @ Darlington!!! I hope we will have football & hockey & all your favorite sports soon Eric.
    Great post again!
    Sherri-Ellen 🙂

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