July 5, 2021

Public Golf Courses, Vancouver & The White Plague

No, it’s not what you think.

It’s April, 1920 in Vancouver. It is the end of the Spanish Flu epidemic, but there is another epidemic still present, one that is silent and one that is deadly: tuberculosis.

No one is quite sure what causes tuberculosis or how to cure it. The early Vancouver newspapers are full of excited stories of potential cures. Tuberculosis is still a major cause of disease in the world, and the tuberculosis  bacteria is  spread through the air from one person to another.  People who are nearby can breathe in the bacteria and become infected.

This was also the time when people with tuberculosis were sent to sanatoriums to become healthy. Sadly, the recovery rate for patients treated this way was exactly the same as if they had remained at home. In British Columbia there was a sanitorium at Tranquille British Columbia. The son in the postcard I found of the house on 2025 Clark Street, Willie Millachip, died there of tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis was called the “white plague” for the way it attacked the lungs. It was known that exercise and being outside, away from pollution and crowded dwellings was a good way to be healthy and ward off tuberculosis. In the 1920’s a major movement across North America saw public golf courses as a way to wipe out tuberculosis, by offering children and families a way to be out in nature and walking.

An article written in the Vancouver Sun April 12, 1920 states “ there is a crying need for more public links-every city should have them in every one of their parks. Every town and village should have their municipal course. Every school boy and girl should be encouraged to take up the game, then we would not have to fear the white plague, that terrible bugbear of civilization.

Bring the public out in the open air under nature’s blue canopy and this will be a much better and healthier world to live in….Both old and young, lean and stout, can play and receive the benefits to be derived from breathing nature’s pure ozone and the muscle building, although strenuous, is just enough to gain material benefit”.

In the post Spanish flu winter of 1919 there had been a run on ice skates to get children out and active, and it was thought that golf was the great equalizer, a “sure prescription for the indisposition”.

Public golf courses would be discussed in Vancouver, with the CPR proposing to cede 160 acres along Oak Street between 49th and 59th Avenues for such a course in February 1926. South Vancouver city council said that other western Canadian cities had taken the lead, and that there “was not enough accommodation on Saturdays and sundays to handle the swarm of men, women and youths who want to get out in the air and chase the little white pill”.

Today the City of Vancouver has three public golf courses, McCleery, Fraserview and Langara. Golf course lands are classified as parks, and are under the management of the Vancouver Parks Board.

And for tuberculosis, the discovery of Streptomycin  in 1946 became the first effective antibiotic that killed the bacterium. Tuberculosis hospital beds dropped by half from 1953 to 1963  from nearly 19,000 to 10,000 in Canada. Few beds are necessary for treatment today.

Tuberculosis, the “white plague” is still classified as a deadly disease in countries without robust drug therapies.





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