Whatever Happened to Mary Janeway?: A Home Child Story




Infantile Paralysis


“The old name for the disease, infantile paralysis, recalls the time when it was primarily a disease of infants and very young children and its outcome was paralysis of the affected muscles. Both the little crippled boy who could not follow the Pied Piper of Hamelin and Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, were probably victims of infantile


August 1907


"I 'm afraid Mona’s suffering from something more serious than ague or catarrh,” Dr. Storms paused, “but I’ve ruled out scarlet fever and meningitis.”

     Mary’s heart raced as she anxiously waited for his diagnosis. She kept repeating “Please God, let my baby be alright” silently in her head as she twisted and knotted a sweaty handkerchief in her hands.

     “I believe she has infantile paralysis … polio.”

     “Polio … how can that be?” Mary shouted. “It isn’t possible. I’ve taken good care of her. She’s never been to any public places where there might be germs and disease. There must be a mistake!” It was common knowledge that “Polio was associated with the poorest, dirtiest children, not affluent adults in the prime of life, and with immigrants in slums. Nor were there iron lungs or March of Dimes

     “We don’t know much about this disease. Most respiratory illnesses occur in winter but for some strange reason polio appears in the summer months. It may be airborne, found in contaminated milk, or unclean water, or transmitted by flies but we’re not sure.” The doctor tried to reassure them that he’d do whatever he could.


Polio children were sometimes led to believe their illness was a God-given challenge. How else can we explain a disease that appeared to strike randomly, a disease that hit without warning, when you were healthy, and that you did nothing to bring it on? “God gives us only what we can handle,” the saying goes: “God gives the heaviest crosses to the ones he loves the best,” is


     Mary questioned why God would do such a thing to an innocent child. A few days later she went to the library in the public health building to learn more about polio, the disease that had many names; poliomyelitis, infantile paralysis, Heine-Medin disease and poliomyelopathy. Then she went next door to Centenary Methodist Church (Centenary United today).

     She returned to Dr. Storm’s office but this time she went without Jim. “What could I have done differently? I’ve never taken Mona to a public pool, she hardly ever plays with other children, and my home is spotless. I’ve never even let her have a drink from the fountain in the park.”

     “The idea that a clean, dust-free home prevents disease isn’t true. No one knows for sure why some people get this virus and others don’t. Sometimes it’s better not to protect children too much so they can develop their immune systems. If they don’t have strong immunities, they’re more likely to get sick,” Dr. Storm replied.

     Mary thought of Jim’s words, “Mona should be out more, stop babying her. She’ll be fine.” Perhaps this was all her fault.

     “But you mustn’t blame yourself. As I said before, we don’t really understand viruses all that well. Thankfully it didn’t attack her respiratory system or it would have left her with breathing problems.”

     By the time that it was diagnosed, Mona was over the worst. Her left side had been weakened. She had one smaller calf and foot, a shoe-size difference and walked with a “In the medical world it was referred to as a ‘foot drop’ due to a weak anterior

     She was relieved that Mona didn’t need a wheelchair. Mary had been seven when she’d first seen one and had no idea that Mrs. Jacques was confined to the chair with the large wheels because she couldn’t walk. She remembered how unhappy the woman had been and didn’t wish this fate on her daughter. She’d read about different therapies including baths, massage, blackberry brandy, castor oil, and enemas. The doctor was skeptical but never discouraged Mary from trying them. She was nervous when Mona was near the kitchen stove or the side reservoir where water constantly simmered, for fear she’d lose her balance and get burned.

     When the weather was nice she put Mona in the stroller and headed for one of the parks nearby. She often took her Bible along, a gift from the rector at St. Paul’s in Innerkip. She’d hung on to it all these years. A little card entitled “Bible Helps in Times of Difficulty” was tucked safely inside, suggesting different Bible passages when feeling discouraged, depressed, or out-of-sorts.

     That fall Mary accepted Annie’s invitation to come to Drumbo for a Christmas visit. She was anxious to show off Mona, who was doing much better. But for reasons never explained, Mary went without Jim.

     By the end of the year Jim was ready to move again. He found a little clapboard house for rent on Railway Street between Cannon and Barton. Mary was happy to leave the apartment since they’d have more room and a fenced backyard for Mona. It was handy to everything and the nearest Carroll’s was only a few blocks away.

     Shortly after moving in, Jim brought home a hand-cranked wringer washing machine. He got an incredible bargain because appliances were beginning to go electric. Mary was aware of the latest gadgets. She’d seen pictures of the electric vacuum cleaner, sewing machine, and frying kettle in magazines in the library, knowing they couldn’t afford them. She was delighted with her new washing machine, which would save time and be easier on her hands.


Annie (Jacques) Zinkan’s letter to Daniel (see insert) told him about Mary’s visit. She refers to her mother-in-law as Moma. It was common for aging parents to live with their children at that time.

Courtesy of Donna Skillings, great-granddaughter of Daniel Jacques.


The left side of a semi-detached house was 31 Railway Street, which today has been aluminium-sided. Called Railroad Street on city maps in the early 1900s, it was one block long and four blocks west of the streetcar line on James.

The Pettit Collection.


     Mary hardy ever bought anything for herself, but that winter she purchased a pair of genuine patent-leather laced boots with Goodyear welt soles at J.D. Climie. They cost $2.68 and she hoped they’d last for the next twenty years. Mary was afraid to voice her concerns about money since Jim might interpret this as criticism that he wasn’t a good provider. She realized that her life had been pretty good lately. She had a wonderful husband and a beautiful baby girl. The memory of her “home child” years was gradually fading. She smiled contentedly, glad that she hadn’t told a soul the real reason why she came to Canada.