SOOKE HISTORY: When the Spanish flu hit Sooke

Two kindly grandmothers provided both herbal remedies and comfort

Lady Emily

Elida Peers | Contributed

The biggest headlines today circle around the COVID-19 pandemic.

Long before our time, it was the Spanish flu, born in the trenches of the First World War in 1918, that hit the world – and Sooke.

Our photos today highlight the efforts of two kindly grandmothers who tried to provide both herbal remedies and comfort, as this scourge took its toll on stricken sufferers in our community.

Grannie Caffery, born Mary Ann McFadden of First Nations heritage, married sea captain Thomas William Caffery on Prevost Island in 1873.

After her husband was lost at sea in 1888, Mary Ann Caffery moved to East Sooke with her seven children, living close to her sister Susan, who was married to Charles Brown. Longtime residents will recall that Caffery Bay (officially Anderson Cove) earned that name through her family and their connection to the oyster industry.

Right across the road from the Cafferys was Ragley, home of Lady Emily Walker, her husband Rev. Reginald Walker and their children.

Arriving here from their parish of Frant in Britain in 1912, the aristocratic family, listed in Burke’s Peerage, was the subject of considerable gossip as Lady Emily was rumoured to have been the mistress of King George V.

Lady Emily, a descendant of Britain’s famous Seymour family, while accustomed to satin ball gowns, a tiara and being addressed as “Your Ladyship,” had readily taken to her new Canadian life, and of necessity, even worked in the fields.

Grannie Caffery had grown up with the knowledge of local traditional treatments for illnesses, with considerable knowledge of herbs.

While Grannie searched for the treasured plants and gathered her herbs, it was neighbor Lady Emily, owner of a touring car, who was able to drive her to the various locations where folks were ill with the flu. In a community with very limited medical resources, the succor provided by the two grandmothers was much appreciated.

It is believed that there was not a great loss of life in our community, but worldwide was another story. The worst pandemic in modern history, records indicate that from 1918 to 1920 possibly 500 million people became infected with the Spanish flu, with many millions succumbing to the disease.

Thankfully, medical resources are much more advanced today.


Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.

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