The Great White Plague: Canada’s War on Tuberculosis, 1939–52

Eric Story

Award: 2023 Post-Doctoral Fellowship

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Canadian officials employed X-ray screening to ensure a healthy fighting force and, later, to decrease state liability for those who might have enlisted with pre-existing tuberculosis disease. Despite these preventative measures, the Canadian government discovered that members of the Canadian armed forces suffered far greater rates of tuberculosis than their civilian counterparts. By 1953, Ottawa was distributing disability pension cheques to more than five thousand tuberculous veterans. Eric’s project seeks to explore how the Canadian state confronted one of its final major tuberculosis-related challenges before the introduction of antimicrobial treatment in the early 1950s. It investigates how surveillance and preventative medicine were employed on the battlefields of Europe to reduce disease transmission, as well as how service members politicized their tuberculous disabilities back home to ensure they received adequate care and compensation for their war-related injuries.