Gatineau River horror story 40 years ago bears repeating


by admin on May 4, 2011

Hello, friends of the Gatineau. And we mean all of you who live along our beloved Gatineau River, not just the members of the organization of the same name.

Communities are growing along the Gatineau and sewage treatment plants outflowing into the river are being planned. The Gatineau is being considered as a vehicle for sewage plant overload.

Consider this a warning from the past.

Forty years ago come May 13, the residents of tiny Bouchette, some 65 kilometres north of Chelsea on Hwy 105, were startled to find out that their riverside hamlet was in the grip of a typhoid epidemic.

Mayor Florient Lariviere, flanked by Dr. Jean Guy Houle, told shocked residents that 30 villagers were down with typhoid symptoms

and the two doctors treating victims had run out of vaccine after tending to 20 patients. It seemed sewage was being dumped upstream from where the community got its drinking water.

The typhoid outbreak story ran in the Ottawa Citizen and was picked up by Canadian Press, the national news wire, and broadcast nationally. (The Low Down didn’t carry this story because it wasn’t around until two years later). The story even appeared in at least one Florida publication.

Typhoid is a highly contagious disease that is picked up when one drinks water that has been contaminated by human feces. It results in constant fever, vomiting, diarrhea and lots of aches and pain.

The symptoms usually last four weeks or so. Certain individuals are immune to typhus and become carriers, capable of spreading the disease for up to for five years. Containing such carriers becomes a health authority nightmare.

One of the historically famous carriers was the notorious “Typhoid Mary,” who was hunted by New York health authorities at the turn of the past century, a time when water contamination was common and hygiene a newly conceived solution.

Back in 1971. the treatment for typhoid was a series of three needles in the gut. The typhoid panic swept down the Gatineau and clinics sprang up to treat potential carriers and prevent further outbreaks. The treatment today is generally oral vaccines, but back in the seventies it was the needle.

One who remembers the treatment then was Kitty Mantell, this writer’s wife. Shuddering, she recalls the first two shots were so painful she refused to take the third. Shades of the good old days, eh?

Consider this a historical flashback to be recalled whenever you hear of plans to dump sewage, however treated, into what is undoubtedly the greatest natural resource in the region. Let it not be forgotten because as the old saying goes: Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.