Camp Kościuszko: The Spanish Flu Tragedy and the Women of the Camp

By Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Polish White Cross NursesNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Camp Kościuszko was the first place in Canada to report a case of the Spanish Flu. The medical staff tried to stop the spread of the disease by imposing a quarantine on drafts of new recruits, and nurses and local women worked tirelessly to assist with the outbreak in the camp.

Polish White Cross NursesNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

To help the Canadian nursing sisters, a number of Polish White Cross Nurses arrived at the camp in October 1918 to help with the pandemic. 

Polish Grey Samaritans Polish Grey Samaritans BookletNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

The Grey Samaritans, founded by Countess Laura De Turczynowicz, an opera singer from St. Catharines, was made up of young Polish women who worked with the American Relief Fund to provide basic necessities to dispossessed Poles during and after the war. They too worked at Camp Kościuszko during the pandemic.

The "Flu Germ"Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

On October 19, 1918, the troops participated in “Cook’s Parade”. Approximately 1,000 men participated and they created small ‘floats’ of the flu germ (pictured).

Polish Women's Army CorpsNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

They were also allowed to dress up how they like, with some even cross dressing.

Elizabeth Caroline AscherNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Elizabeth Ascher

Elizabeth Ascher became an advocate for the Polish Relief Fund, raising money, clothing, and hospital supplies for the Polish soldiers in Europe and the civilians living in war-torn Poland. During the influenza outbreak, Elizabeth risked her own safety to care for the soldiers. For her attentive nature, she was nicknamed the “Angel of Mercy” by the ailing men. In 1922, Elizabeth became the first Canadian civilian decorated with the Chevalier’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta in recognition of her kindness towards the soldiers and her devotion to the Polish cause. She also received several other Polish medals and distinctions

Polish Medal for Long Service - Ten Years Polish Medal for Long Service - Ten YearsNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Polish Medal for Long Service (Ten Years) awarded to Elizabeth Ascher

The Polonia Restituta The Polonia RestitutaNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

The Polonia Restituta medal is highest honour that could be bestowed upon a foreigner, and it was awarded to Elizabeth Ascher.

Burying the DeceasedNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

In the end, the Poles and their Canadian instructors were struck hard, with hundreds hospitalized. A total of 33 Poles succumbed to the virus. Here the men are digging graves for those buried at the Polish Cemetery in town.

The Polish Military Cemetery

During the duration of the camp, 41 Polish volunteers died of various causes. Twenty-five of them were buried with full military honours in a special plot in St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery, which has since been designated as a part of sovereign Poland.

Polish Women’s Army CorpsNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Women at Camp Kościuszko

Besides the women already mentioned, there were several other women’s units at the camp, including the Polish Women's Army Corps (pictured).

Brotherhood of St. Andrews Tent, Niagara Camp, 1915Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Local women volunteered in the large tents of the YMCA, St. Andrews Brotherhood (pictured) and Salvation Army, working in the canteens or in the ‘writing corners’ helping the men write letters and postcards.

Polish Army Dance CardNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

The women at the local churches provided various social activities and the local Women’s Institute gathered clothes, knitted socks, and prepared ‘comfort packages’ for the men in camp and emergency packages for the soldiers overseas.

Credits: Story

From November 11, 2017 until November 15, 2018, Camp Kosciuszko: The Polish Army at Niagara Camp, 1917-1919 was on display at the Niagara Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum. This exhibition could not have been possible without the co-curators: Shawna Butts, Dr. Richard Merritt, and members of the Polonia Canadian Institute for Historical Studies, Andazej Kawka and Roman Baraniecki.

Images are courtesy of: The Polish Amy Veterans Association of America, Inc. Archives, New York; Carol Baggot-Forte; Andazej Kawka; The University of Toronto Archives; the Polish Falcons of America; the Polish Kashub Heritage Museum; the Polonia Canadian Institute for Historical Studies; and the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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