Pandemic! A Cautionary Tale

The exhibition Pandemic!: A Cautionary Tale ran at the museum from January 22–March 24, 2019. At the time we didn’t know that we were about to see the world plunged into another fight for our lives. The original exhibition started as a commemoration of the Spanish Flu epidemic at the end of WWI, but we thought it was also important to remember the smallpox epidemic that devastated St. Albert in 1880 and bring awareness to recent and current threats to global health.

Human history bears the scars of the many epidemics and pandemics that have raged across the planet. Most people know about the Black Plague which devastated Europe from 1347–1351, killing 25 million people. We are also well aware of the annual flu viruses that knock us down from time to time. For those of us living in North America over the last few decades it is easy to forget the tragic diseases that caused human, cultural and economic disaster in the past.

A pandemic is an outbreak of a disease “occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population”.
–Merriam-Webster Dictionary

2018–19 is the 100th anniversary of the global Spanish Influenza pandemic that took place at the end of the First World War. The flu is just one of the crises that the people of St. Albert had to face. The list of potentially deadly illnesses that have touched our community is long: smallpox, tuberculosis, typhoid, diphtheria, measles, whooping cough, scarlet fever, polio, influenza (from the Spanish flu to H1N1) and HIV/AIDS.

In recent decades, we’ve had fairly good control over serious illnesses through the use of vaccines and antibiotics. It is becoming apparent though, that our confidence may be misplaced as new viruses emerge and others evolve, thwarting our best efforts to contain them. This exhibition is a look at how these diseases have shaped our community.