The History of Long and Brier Islands

Diseases That Came to Our Islands

by | Sep 12, 2021 | doctors, people | 0 comments

Diseases is a subject that historian’s seam to avoid. I have looked for information on early diseases that came to our Islands at the beginning of settlement, I could not find any. I can only assume they had some of the diseases that we know about today.

Right from the early days when these Islands were first inhabited by the first settlers in 1783, diseases were introduced here and have been reintroduced here over and over again. These diseases that we fight today are the same ones that the earlier settlers had to deal with so many years ago. Only today they have mutated to become stronger and harder to get rid of.

Our health care in the early part of our settlement of these islands was non-existent with only the Indigenous Indians and the Granny Doctors being here to treat the sick, injured, and infected.

There were no medical doctors till 1839 when Dr. Thomas White came to these Islands to help us.

Not a whole lot was known of some of these diseases then, and resulted in a lot of deaths.

These diseases today, some have been eradicated with vaccines, lessened with treatments, and isolated to a point some have disappeared but come back over and over again.

Many old remedies were born of necessity when people were dependent upon the herbs provided by nature for their survival. So wise were the old people that some of these are accepted in use by medical authorities today. On the other hand, many are no more than traditional superstitions beliefs.

Helen Creighton traveled throughout Nova Scotia collecting these remedies in 1929. Some of these dates back to when the first settlers came to Nova Scotia. There were hundreds of these beliefs and remedies, here is a few of them.


We carry a potato for arthritis to this day; it will decay, but will dry up like a piece of stone.


 For diphtheria use cow manure poultice and put on neck.

Frozen feet;

  Soak in rum, an Indian was told to do this but instead of soaking his feet he drank the rum. When the doctor protested he looked up happily and said, “soon reach toes.”


Salt herring, split in two and put in a pie plate in the stove with vinegar and pepper over it. Get it hot. Put one half on throat and other half on feet to take the fever out.


 Put a piece of cut onion in a room where there is a cold and it will absorb the germs.


 (a)Two or three drops of turpentine on sugar for flu, and cold water.

(b) White yarrow made into tea is the best thing for summer flu. Steep and strain and put new milk with it and steep again.

(c) Turpentine for flu, taken internally; 15 or 20 drops in spoon on sugar or molasses. This about half a teaspoon.

Some of the diseases that can cause us problems today.

Tuberculosis: – Respiratory Diseases

Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by germs that are spread from person to person through the air. TB usually affects the lungs, but it can also affect other parts of the body, such as the brain, the kidneys, or the spine. A person with TB can die if they do not get treatment.

Bacilli Calmette-Guerin (BCG) is a live, attenuated vaccine for tuberculosis (TB). It was first used in 1921 and continues to be used in European and developing countries. It was discontinued in Canada as a routine vaccination in the early 1970s

Meningococcal Meningitis: Meningococcal vaccine is given to protect people from becoming infected with bacteria that cause meningitis. 

Meningococcal Meningitis is an infection that is spread by direct contact with secretions from the nose and mouth of an infected person. The infection can be in the blood (meningococcemia) or in the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis)

Measles: – Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Measles, also known as Red Measles or Rubeola, is a serious disease caused by a virus.  It is spread very easily through the air when someone with measles coughs or sneezes and by direct contact with infected nose or throat secretions.

There is no treatment for measles. Sometimes the measles vaccine is given to people who have been in contact with a person with measles. If the vaccine is given early enough, it may prevent the person from getting the disease. If you have been in contact with someone you know has measles, call your doctor

Mumps: – Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Mumps is caused by a virus. It can cause fever, headache, and swollen painful cheeks and neck. It can also cause deafness, infections of the lining around the spinal cord and brain (meningitis), and sterility. Mumps is spread like a cold, by coughing and sneezing.

There is no treatment for mumps

Getting vaccinated is your best protection against mumps. All children should receive mumps vaccine twice: at one year of age and again before they start school.  The vaccine is given with the measles, rubella and chicken pox vaccine. 

If you have not had mumps or not received the mumps vaccine, avoid close contact with anyone who has mumps.

Rubella: (German measles) – Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Rubella is also known as German measles. Rubella is caused by a virus that is spread by contact with discharges from the nose or throat of someone who has the disease.

Rubella can be prevented by immunization. Children should have a rubella immunization at 12 months of age and again when they reach school age. This vaccine is given at the same time as the measles and mumps vaccine.  Adults can get rubella vaccine if they do not have protection against the disease. Women should not get the vaccine if they are already pregnant or if they plan to get pregnant within one month of the immunization.

Chickenpox: (Varicella) – Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Chickenpox (Varicella) is caused by a virus. It can cause a low fever and an itchy rash. The rash starts as small red bumps that become fluid-filled, break and form scabs. It usually takes 7-10 days from the beginning of chickenpox until the last of the rash crusts over.

Chickenpox is spread like a cold, by coughing and sneezing and also by contact with fluid from the chickenpox blisters. Chickenpox is usually mild, but it can be more serious. It can lead to severe skin infection, scars, pneumonia, brain damage or death.

Most people do not need treatment for chickenpox. People at high risk and pregnant women can get varicella zoster immune globulin or antiviral medication.

DO NOT give any ASA or aspirin to children or adolescents with chickenpox. ASA may increase the chance that a child gets Reye’s syndrome.  Children with chickenpox will be kept out of childcare until 5 days after the rash has appeared or until the blisters have crusted over.

There is a vaccine that can prevent chickenpox. You can obtain this vaccine for your child from your doctor.

Hepatitis A: – Food and Water Borne Diseases

Hepatitis A is a virus that causes an infection of the liver. 

Infectious Mononucleosis:

Infectious mononucleosis, also called “mono,” is a contagious disease. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is the most common cause of infectious mononucleosis, but other viruses can also cause this disease. It is common among teenagers and young adults, especially college students. At least one out of four teenagers and young adults who get infected with EBV will develop infectious mononucleosis.

There is no vaccine to protect against infectious mononucleosis. You can help protect yourself by not kissing or sharing drinks, food, or personal items, like toothbrushes, with people who have infectious mononucleosis.


In 1924, there were 9,000 diphtheria cases reported in Canada, the highest ever, and it remained the number one cause of death of children under 14 until the mid-1920s, killing some 2,000 each year despite the availability of diphtheria antitoxin.

 Scarlet Fever: (antibiotic treatments have made it less threatening)

Scarlet fever is a bacterial illness that develops in some people who have strep throat. Also known as scarlatina, scarlet fever features a bright red rash that covers most of the body. Scarlet fever is almost always accompanied by a sore throat and a high fever.

Polio: Immunizations were the great turning point in the battle against polio. First came the Salk vaccine in the 1950s, which was developed with the help of Connaught Laboratories (then part of the University of Toronto), followed by the Sabin vaccine in the 1960s.

Polio is a contagious viral illness that in its most severe form causes nerve injury leading to paralysis, difficulty breathing and sometimes death. Polio epidemics hit parts of the country in waves from the 1920s to the 1950s, peaking with a particularly bad year in 1953 with 9,000 cases and 500 deaths nationally.

Typhoid Fever: Two types of vaccine are available: injectable and oral. One dose of the killed bacterial injectable vaccine protects for 2-3 years. Four doses of the live oral bacterial vaccine (given on days 0, 2, 4, and 6) provide up to 5 years of protection.

Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection that can spread throughout the body, affecting many organs. Without prompt treatment, it can cause serious complications and can be fatal. It’s caused by a bacterium called Salmonella typhi, which is related to the bacteria that cause salmonella food poisoning.

Whooping Cough: Whooping Cough (Pertussis) Vaccination

Whooping cough is very serious, especially for babies and young kids. Whooping cough can cause pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, and death.


Tetanus is an infection caused by bacteria called Clostridium tetani. When the bacteria invade the body, they produce a poison (toxin) that causes painful muscle contractions. Another name for tetanus is “lockjaw”. It often causes a person’s neck and jaw muscles to lock, making it hard to open the mouth or swallow. Tetanus is different from other vaccine-preventable diseases because it does not spread from person to person. The bacteria are usually found in soil, dust, and manure and enter the body through breaks in the skin — usually cuts or puncture wounds caused by contaminated object

 Tetanus is a medical emergency requiring:

  • Care in the hospital
  • Immediate treatment with medicine called human tetanus immune globulin (TIG)
  • Aggressive wound care
  • Drugs to control muscle spasms
  • Antibiotics

Smallpox: Vaccine is made from a virus called vaccinia, which is a poxvirus similar to smallpox, but less harmful. Routine smallpox immunization ended in Canada in 1972.

Serious infectious disease caused by the variola virus. It was contagious—meaning, it spread from one person to another. People who had smallpox had a fever and a distinctive, progressive skin rash.

Most people with smallpox recovered, but about 3 out of every 10 people with the disease died.

Spanish Flu: The search for an influenza vaccine continued after 1918, but not until 1933 did scientists isolate the influenza A virus in ferrets. Other work in 1936 revealed that the virus could be grown inside embryonated chicken eggs, another important step. In 1938, Jonas Salk and Thomas Francis developed a vaccine using a fertilized chicken egg and successfully inactivated influenza A.

The 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe pandemic in recent history. It was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin. Although there is not universal consensus regarding where the virus originated, it spread worldwide during 1918-1919. There were 1984 deaths in Nova Scotia in 1919.

Coronavirus disease: (Covid-19)

 Is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The virus can spread from an infected person’s mouth or nose in small liquid particles when they cough, sneeze, speak, sing or breathe. 

COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Canada currently include:
• Pfizer-BioNTech
• Moderna
• AstraZeneca
• COVISHIELD (a version of the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India
and sponsored in Canada by Verity Pharmaceuticals Inc.)
• Janssen (Johnson and Johnson)

Digby Weekly Courier; Feb. 8th 1889

Westport Notes

This clipping from the newspaper of the time tells us Scarlet Fever and Diphtheria were both at Westport in 1889, and that six or seven lives had been lost. If they had these diseases at Westport at this time it is more than likely the other villages of our Island would probably having the same issues. These diseases were not put in the newspapers for what ever the reason.


In 1904, in response to the rising number of tuberculosis patients, the provincial government built the first provincially owned and operated sanatorium in Canada to treat tuberculosis. In the beginning, the Nova Scotia Sanatorium had no resident physician, There was a number of Islanders that was sent here for treatment.

The Sanatorium in Kentville 1904

Halifax (N.S.). Tuberculosis Hospital

Halifax’s Tuberculosis Hospital operated from 1921 until about 1959. Opened to treat the increasing numbers of T.B. patients post World War I. This is another hospital Islanders went to for treatments for TB.

Digby Courier; Oct. 11th 1918

This was at the start of “The Spanish Flu”

Digby Courier; Nov. 29th 1918

Digby Courier Aug. 8th 1919

Smallpox Here

Digby Courier; Sept 12th 1919

Compulsory Vaccination for Smallpox

This is the amount of deaths for a little over the year 1919 for Nova Scotia. There was deaths on our Islands that year due to the “Spanish Flu”.

Digby Courier; Aug. 6th 1920

There were numerous Remedies and Vaccinations tried to stop this Spanish Flu but the search for an influenza vaccine continued after 1918, but not until 1933 did scientists isolate the influenza A virus in ferrets. Other work in 1936 revealed that the virus could be grown inside embryonated chicken eggs, another important step. In 1938, Jonas Salk and Thomas Francis developed a vaccine using a fertilized chicken egg and successfully inactivated influenza A.

Frederick Banting, Charles Best July 27th 1921

On July 27, 1921, Canadian surgeon Frederick Banting and University of Toronto medical student Charles Best successfully isolated the hormone insulin for the first time. It marked one of the most important breakthroughs in the history of diabetic treatment. Within a year, people suffering from diabetes were being treated with insulin for a disease that had been considered fatal. This was a big help for people suffering from diabetes. Without this insulation I would probably not be here today as I have had diabetes for twenty five years now.

The Toronto Daily Star; March 27th 1934


Digby Courier; Dec. 7th 1934

Freeport News

Scarlet Fever

Digby Courier; Oct. 1st 1937

Outbreak of Typhoid Fever


Digby Courier; Oct. 29th 1937

Digby Courier; Oct. 8th ,1942

Polio in Tiverton

Digby Courier; Aug 17th 1944

(First of the drug Penicillin)

Lawrence and Doris Outhouse

Digby Courier; Oct. 4th 1945

Lawrence Outhouse did research on cancer in the Dr. Banting laboratories in Toronto and was Professor of Biology in the US. Who knows what Lawrence’s research may have led to.


History of Polio

Few diseases frightened parents more in the early part of the 20th century than polio did. Polio struck in the warm summer months, sweeping through towns in epidemics every few years. Though most people recovered quickly from polio, some suffered temporary or permanent paralysis and even death. Many polio survivors were disabled for life. They were a visible, painful reminder to society of the enormous toll this disease took on young lives.

An estimated 11,000 people in Canada were left paralyzed by polio between 1949 and 1954. The disease peaked in 1953 with nearly 9,000 cases and 500 deaths — the most serious national epidemic since the 1918 influenza pandemic. The last major polio epidemic in Canada occurred in 1959, with nearly 2,000 paralytic cases. Polio hit Canada in waves

Polio epidemics hit parts of the country in waves from the 1920s to the 1950s, peaking with a particularly bad year in 1953 with 9,000 cases and 500 deaths nationally. The treatment used to keep the sickest patients alive was extreme. They were placed inside a device called an “iron lung” that created a vacuum around their body, with only their head showing. A device called a bellow sucked air in and out, forcing the chest up and down to help them breathe.

Sadly, some people who recovered from paralytic polio in the past may later experience post-polio syndrome (PPS). This nervous system disorder can appear 15 to 40 years after the original illness, bringing progressive muscle weakness, severe fatigue, and muscle and joint pain.

Digby Courier; Oct 18, 1951

Harry Titus with Polio

Digby Courier; Oct. 1st 1953

(Sheila (Outhouse)Dixon Taken ill)

Digby Courier; Oct 8th 1953

Digby Courier; Oct 22nd 1953

In 1953 I was going to school at Central Grove School and Mrs. Florrie Tibert was our teacher. There was 12 grades in this one class room. The children at that time knew about the dreaded disease Polio and soon after Sheila was taken to Halifax for treatments for polio our teacher Mrs. Tibert would keep us informed on what was going on with Sheila. When the school year had finished in June of 1954 the Central Grove School was closed for good. In September of that year us students were transferred  to Tiverton School where Sheila had returned home from her stay in the Children’s Hospital in Halifax and she was in my class. I have thought about Sheila and having to go in the hospital and about all the different treatments that she had to go through, being away from home for almost a year, how difficult this must have been. While doing this project I see in the newspapers that her family traveled to Halifax to see her just about every week. It surely must of made the difference.

Digby Courier; March 18th 1954

This is Sheila cutting the ribbon for the new wing of the Children’s Hospital Halifax. The Children’s Hospital  has been rebuilt and is called IWK Hospital today.

Digby Courier; June 10th 1954

Sheila arrives Home

How many can remember these giant needles? Anyone born after 1972 probably has not, as the smallpox needle was stopped then. Us older people still carry the big round scar on our arm from when it used to be compulsory to be inoculated before you went to school.

In the late 70’s I was working on the Ambulance with W. A. MacIntyre and we had a call to go to this persons home and pick up a teenage patient and take her to the IWK Hospital in Halifax. The doctor had been there to evaluate her, and we were told to mask-up and glove-up, that we were transporting a very contagious patient. They also said that we may have to go in quarantine before we could leave the hospital. They said it was suspected ” Meningococcal Meningitis”. After we arrived at the hospital we had to stay for four hours till they done the tests, and the tests came back negative for that disease.


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