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Manitoba Historical Society
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Mosquito Control in Winnipeg

by Dr. Ross Mitchell

Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1967, Volume 12, Number 2

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Since creation began man has had to wage war with insects. Of these the greatest foe was the mosquito, not only as a destroyer of rest and sleep, but because it was a deadly carrier of infection. Malaria, yellow fever, poliomyelitis, equine encephalitis or 'staggers' in horses, all are carried by mosquitoes. Malaria caused the downfall of ancient Greece and ruined the attempt of the French engineer, de Lesseps to build a Panama Canal. Yellow fever brought epidemics of ghastly death until Walter Reed traced its cause to the mosquito.

Fortunately Canada is free from these two diseases but mosquitoes are at least a nuisance to man and beast. The first attempt on a scientific basis to control this nuisance was in 1923 when the Canadian Pacific Railway sought advice on how to prevent mosquitoes from driving away tourists from Banff. The Dominion Department of Entomology recommended that Eric Heale, of Alberta, undertake a plan of control. The method which he suggested was to spread oil over stagnant pools of water in which mosquitoes breed.

Dr. H. M. Speechly of Winnipeg heard of this and had also read of the success of the American Army Medical Corps in fighting mosquitoes during the building of the Panama Canal in 1914.

In February 1927, Dr. Speechly invited the Natural History Society of Manitoba to appoint a committee headed by Dr. Charles O’Donoghue, Professor of Zoology, University of Manitoba, to examine the possibility of an Anti-Mosquito Campaign in the Winnipeg area. This committee consisted of representatives from the Natural History Society, the City of Winnipeg Parks Board, the YMCA and the Young Men's Section of the Board of Trade. The committee reported that a campaign was feasible. With generous publicity through press and radio an educational campaign was effected in March and April 1927 and the first Anti-Mosquito Campaign was launched.

The area selected for the test lay between Assiniboine and Kildonan Parks in Greater Winnipeg. Two University science students, Jack Tully and Jim Richards, were hired to apply oil to mosquito-hatching areas. The City of Winnipeg Parks Board, the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways and the golf clubs assisted by oiling their respective properties. Old crankcase oil collected from filling stations was used. In the first year the public donated $750.85 of which $435.56 was spent.

Results were apparent in lesser infestation but drainage was found to be essential. The area to be treated was widened to include Sturgeon Creek, Fort Garry, St. Vital, Elmwood, St. Boniface, Norwood, East and North Kildonan. A budget of $4,000 was set for 1928.

The Anti-Mosquito Campaign had to battle apathy as well as mosquitoes. Education overcame apathy but there were many setbacks. The depression years of the 1930s caused lessening of financial support but unemployed men dug many miles of useful ditches. The Annual Tag Day, the main source of funds, was suspended in 1935. However the Free Press opened its columns to a subscription list and with the sales of a special mosquito issue sufficient funds were raised to carry on the work. After the intense heat of May 1936, had produced an overwhelming horde of mosquitoes the Tag Day was reinstated. In August 1937, a heavy infestation caused the question to be raised: “Is mosquito control of value in Greater Winnipeg?” The fact that outside these two years Winnipeg had not been subjected to any intense plague of mosquitoes was evidence of its value. The conclusion reached was that parks, gardens and play areas must be protected.

In 1940 the Winnipeg City Council agreed to support the campaign. The Young Men’s Section of the Board of Trade organized a meeting of municipal representatives. Two recommendations were approved (1) that effective mosquito control was feasible and possible, (2) that councillors of municipalities recommend to their councils that financial support for mosquito control be made available on a 0.3 cent per capita basis.

Ten of eleven municipalities contributed toward mosquito control in 1946. In the next year Winnipeg was represented at the American Mosquito Control Association convention held in New Jersey. The newly introduced insecticide, commonly known as DDT was found to be successful and the Greater Winnipeg Anti-Mosquito Campaign purchased its first power sprayer. Since 1949 the banks of the Red and the Assiniboine have been sprayed with DDT. Following the 1950 flood two more sprayers were purchased to make it possible tp fog all streets and lanes continually through the summer. The spraying was also done from an airplane and the 1950 campaign was acknowledged to be a great success.

From 1927 to 1942 the Chairman of the campaign was Dr. Speechly, but he continued his interest until his death on 17 March 1951. His son-in-law, Mr. E. J. Stansfield, was an able field manager from 1949 until his death ten years later.

An act to incorporate the Greater Winnipeg Mosquito Abatement District was passed by the Manitoba Legislature and received Royal Assent on 25 March 1954. Oiling was superseded by DDT spraying. A boat the “Harry M.” was purchased to fog the river banks. In 1960 an office and a garage building at 3 Grey Street, were completed. Thus the recommendation of Dr. Speechly made in 1929 was finally carried out.

Equipment of the Mosquito Abatement Branch of the Metropolitan Corporation of Greater Winnipeg on 1 September 1965, was as follows: ten trucks (two radio-equipped), eleven foggers, ten sprayers, one portable sprayer and duster, four air mists, and two boats: the “Harry M.” and the “Dr. Thor.” The latter is named for Dr. Thorsteinson, Department of Entomology, University of Manitoba, who directs the scientific work on which Metropolitan Mosquito Abatement is based. Methods used are under the direction of qualified scientists.

Today the people of Metropolitan Winnipeg may sit outdoors in the evenings or enjoy picnics or walks without hearing the shrill trumpeting of the female mosquito or enduring her sting. Throughout North America Winnipeg has become known for its efficient mosquito control.

The man chiefly responsible for this happy state was Dr. Henry Martindale Speechly. Born in Cochin, India, son of the first Bishop of Travancore and Cochin, his whole upbringing fitted him for public service. He entered the London Hospital Medical School in White chapel and graduated in 1889. Among his classmates were Bertie Dawson, who for his services to King George V was made Lord Dawson of Penn, and Wilfred Grenfell, founder of the Grenfell Mission in Labrador. After two years practice at Parkdale, Lancashire, he came to Pilot Mound, Manitoba in 1901. He practised there until 1916 when he returned to England to serve during the war. In 1919 he settled in Winnipeg where he remained until his death. He was Provincial Coroner from 1929 to 1942. He was a leader in the Manitoba Natural History Society, the Manitoba Museum, the Boy Scouts, the Brotherhood of Saint Andrew, the Manitoba Horticultural Society and the Winnipeg Health League. For 55 years he was a lay reader in the Anglican Church and for several years he arranged St. Luke’s Day services for the Winnipeg Medical Society. In 1941 he was made a Senior Member of the Canadian Medical Association and in 1943 the University of Manitoba conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD). As coroner he presided with dignity and kindliness and he was on excellent terms with the police. Something of the serenity of the comfortable, unhurried pre-war world clung to him and communicated itself to others.

Page revised: 2 May 2020

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