Missionaries and Misery
When smallpox reached Victoria, Reverend Alexander Charles Garrett immediately began vaccinating1 Native people. However, he found the task was not an easy one. In his memoirs, Garret remembered that, "[the Native people] refused with very few exceptions to be vaccinated nor was there vaccine enough within seven hundred miles to go around."2
Garrett arranged for a smallpox hospital to be built for the Native people3 and hired the only person he could find that would help with the nursing of the sick, "an old [French] Canadian sailor badly marked from the disease."4 The hospital was really just a place to die in relative comfort. Once a person contracted the disease there was little that could be done.
Garrett commented that, during the smallpox epidemic, "the missionary and his helper were little more than grave diggers, placing beneath the sod an average of four a day."5 In spite of Garrett’s heroic efforts, in Victoria it is estimated that approximately 1000 - 1200 Native people died from the dreaded disease.6 This 40% - 60% mortality rate is much higher that the 25% - 30% average mortality rate for unvaccinated European societies.7 Cole Harris asserts that "If, As is now widely held, the characteristic rate of hemispheric depopulation during the contact century [for coastal BC approximately 1770 - 1870] was in the order of 90 per cent, then there is no reason to assume that figure was substantially different in British Columbia."8 The smallpox epidemic of 1862 contributed greatly to this depopulation.