A socialist funeral for ‘Mrs Kavanagh’

Published by BC Labour Heritage Centre on

Hilda Harvey Kavanagh died in second wave of 1919 Spanish Flu

by Donna Sacuta, BCLHC Executive Director

British Columbia experienced three waves of the “Spanish Flu” epidemic in 1918-19. As many as 1,000 people died in Vancouver alone over 15 months of the influenza. Health officials were baffled by the randomness of the disease’s impact. Pregnant women and coal miners had high mortality rates. The spread was blamed on large public gatherings that welcomed soldiers returning from the First World War in Europe.

On 31 January 1919, labour’s newspaper The British Columbia Federationist, eulogized one of the flu’s second wave victims simply as “Mrs. Kavanagh, wife of Jack Kavanagh,  Vice-President of Vancouver Trades and Labor Council”.

Praised at her funeral as an active socialist since she was a teenager, Hilda Harvey Kavanagh was 23 years old with an infant daughter when she died. She was married on 15 September  1917 to fiery Irish Vancouver Trades and Labor Council Vice President and longshoreman Jack Kavanagh.

Hilda’s mother Wilhelmina was a strong-minded suffragette in the late 1890s and early 1900s, having grown up in the UK and later in Philadelphia in the 1890’s. In 1908 Wilhelmina, Hilda and brother Percy travelled to Leipzig, Germany and the Royal Music Conservatory. Hilda was a promising pianist and Percy was a violinist/conductor.

While in Europe, Wilhelmina continued to be influenced heavily by the socialist and suffragette movement in the UK. Upon returning to Vancouver Wilhelmina continued her labour and suffragette activism, no doubt influencing her daughter.

Hilda Harvey Kavanagh’s daughter – Aileen Mary — was born at St Paul’s Hospital on 3 January 1919 and Hilda died on 27 January. Her family speculates she may have contracted the flu while in hospital to give birth. Baby Aileen was adopted by Hilda’s brother Percy – after her mother’s death.

Hilda’s occupation was “Shoe Operator”. She was likely employed at her father’s Harvey Boot Factory at 51 West Cordova Street in Vancouver. Harvey Logging Boots were made “strictly under union conditions” for the province’s lumberjacks under membership in the Boot & Shoe Workers Union.

Harvey Boot Factory in 1938, unemployed sit-down strikers marching past. The Relief Project Workers’ Union office was on the second floor. The partial sign can be seen in upper left corner. Vancouver Public Library 1297.

Socialist and working class organizations attended the January 1919 funeral with speeches delivered by leaders Jack Harrington and Ernest Winch. One hundred and fifty mourners heard tributes to their comrade Hilda, and asserted that the world was in the “final stage of capitalistic anarchy”.

Within six months the Winnipeg General Strike spread across the Dominion, with Jack Kavanagh an active agitator and proponent of the One Big Union in British Columbia. In March 1919 Kavanagh was elected President of the BC Federation of Labour.

In 1925, Jack Kavanagh sailed for Australia, accompanied by Jack’s elder daughter; arriving in Sydney on May Day. Kavanagh died in Australia in 1964.

Hilda Harvey Kavanagh is buried at Mountainview Cemetary in Vancouver. Aileen Mary Finlay died in 1981 in North Vancouver.


Public health notice 1918, BC Archives I-61504


Kathie Cornes provided genealogical research.

Descendants of Hilda Harvey Kavanagh provided biographical details not elsewhere available.

Margaret W Andrews, Epidemic and Public Health: Influenza in Vancouver, 1918-1919. BC Studies, (No. 34, Summer 1977): 27.

“Mrs Kavanagh is Victim of the Flu”. The British Columbia Federationist, (31 January 1919): 1.

“Boot and Shoe Workers”. The British Columbia Federationist, (5 April 1918): 1.

Australian Dictionary of Biography http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kavanagh-john-patrick-marcus-10658

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