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Canadian Quarantine


In early June of 1892, the Canadian Pacific steamer Empress of Japan sailed up the Portage Inlet and into the harbor of Victoria, British Columbia.  The ship had sailed east from Japan, transporting mail and cargo.  Once docked, around 150 Chinese and Japanese crew members disembarked, anxious to explore the city.  One of the main attractions Victoria held for the sailors was Dupont Street, where the city’s prostitutes plied their trade.  Two weeks later, after the Empress had departed, Victorians began to drop.  Smallpox had come to their city.

Despite the discovery of smallpox vaccination by Edward Jenner in 1796, smallpox remained a terrifying and constant global threat at the end of the 19thcentury.  Although many governments initiated widespread vaccination programs, less developed areas of the world continued to harbor the disease.

With the increasing speed of globalization and international travel during the 19thcentury, the dangers of spreading the contagion became even more acute.  Port facilities were set up on the coasts of many countries to intercept and quarantine the ill.  The problem, however, remained in the lengthy incubation period of smallpox. For 12-14 days, most people displayed few symptoms, and the disease was so contagious, that even clothing, paper, and blankets could spread it between people.

With a 30% fatality rate, reported cases in Victoria led to widespread panic.  While the city attempted to contain the disease, its neighbors issued quarantines against Victoria.  However, cases were soon reported in Vancouver as well.  By July 29th, cases were reported in Manitoba, and on July 31st, North Dakota Governor Andrew Burke issued a quarantine against all Canadian shipping and travel.  Trains and traffic were stopped at the North Dakota border and refused admittance.

Manitoba Premiere Thomas Greenway scoffed at the quarantine, calling it ridiculous and unnecessary.  Governor Burke held his ground, however, until the disease was reported to be “under control” by the U.S. Attorney General in mid-August.

Despite the fact that Canadians poked fun at the “celebrated Dakota quarantine,” Manitobans took the outbreak seriously, and the following spring, many Canadian cities, including Winnipeg, issued mandatory smallpox vaccination orders for all residents.

Dakota Datebook by Jayme L. Job


Gessler, J. E. and S. L. Kotar.  2013.  Smallpox: A History : pp. 262-263.  McFarland and Company:             Jefferson, NC.

Hennessy, W. B.  1910  History of North Dakota: Embracing a Relation of the History of the State from             the Earliest Times Down to the Present Day : p. 214.  The Bismarck Tribune:  Bismarck.

The Warren Sheaf .  “Home and County News,” August 11, 1892: p. 1.  Warren, Marshall County, MN.




"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smallpox" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smallpox