A FRONTIER MEDICAL HERITAGE: CHRONICLES OF PINCHER CREEK’S MEMORIAL HOSPITAL
by Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
One of Pincher Creek’s firsts was the old Memorial Hospital, an impressive structure that housed the settlement’s original formal hospital.
Although the arrival of doctors, midwives and some medical services dated as early as the 1880s, most of these endeavours were handled out of peoples’ homes or cramped offices set up by the doctors themselves.
The Memorial Hospital, established circa 1902, answered an increasing demand for full hospital services, after nearly twenty-five years of settlement geographically far removed from any equivalent medical care. Emergency trips to Fort Macleod or Lethbridge, the sites of already established hospitals, were labourious at best and in most cases, downright dangerous given the lengths of the journeys and the lack of medical technology of the pioneer era. Locals often had to avail themselves upon the generosity of others for medical accommodations. Mrs. Amy Saunders adeptly provided this service in her log dwelling on Main Street. Making house calls was not the most efficient way to use a doctor’s time and the need for round the clock qualified nursing care was apparent.
A Pincher Creek Hospital which offered doctor and nursing care, surgeries, quarantines, deliveries, emergency care and access to the latest in medicines was badly needed. The Memorial Hospital answered that need.
The point was brought home by the local impact of the South African War of 1899 to 1902 whose battlefields were half a world away. Far removed as those may have been, close to thirty district men enlisted in the conflict, and three – Fred Morden, Robert Kerr, and Ovide Smith – were killed in action. Capitalizing on the sense of immense loss coupled with that frontier community spirit for which Pincher Creek has been famous and the area’s need for a functional hospital, local pioneers seized the opportunity and organized a campaign to build their much-needed medical facility. The result was the Memorial Hospital.
LOCATION AND STRUCTURE IMPORTANT
The facility was located in the northeastern corner of town, north of the Creek and just below the North Hill at a point east of what was popularly known as the Mill Hill. The site, now along the east side of the 1100 block of John Avenue, was just below the industrial workings of the Pincher Creek Electrical Company. It was within reasonable walking or horse and buggy/sleigh distance of most points in the settlement’s south side, an important consideration in the pre-mechanized era. That accessibility was enhanced by the 1898 wooden traffic bridge and the two subsequently constructed footbridges spanning the Creek immediately upstream of the Hospital and much further west, near Morden’s Grove.
The hospital’s physical structure was both functional and eye-catching. The original part was a two-storey rectangular building whose main entrance faced to the west. Eventually an enclosed porch protected the public access from those prevalent westerly winds. A wrap around second floor verandah was attached, prior to December 1913, to its north and east sides with an exterior staircase leading down to the ground level at the building’s southwest corner. Traditional vertical windows could be seen on most sides with the need for storm windows being discussed by the Board in October 1914. An addition, also two-stories in height, was added on the east or rear portion of the structure. It is believed that this took place between 1907 when the issue of requiring a larger facility was first raised and 1915 when a photo was taken depicting the larger facility. The building was highly visible on the pioneer Pincher Creek landscape for close to a generation.
Although the specifics in regards to the physical arrangement of the hospital’s interior have been lost to history, it is understood that there were a number of common wards and private rooms on the first and second floors. A surgery, primitive as though it may have been given the frontier understanding of medicine, was located on the lower level where access was the easiest. A dispensary and doctors’ office was situated nearby. Dormitory style staff accommodations, mostly for the nurses, would have been located upstairs. The need for the installation of 14’ x 14’ addition with a main level water closet and an upstairs ward was discussed by the Hospital Board at their September 17th, 1907 meeting.
COMMENDABLE EFFORTS TO RAISE HOSPITAL FUNDS SAW MIXED RESULTS
Fundraising campaigns and events were an administrative mainstay throughout the Memorial Hospital’s history. It was only through these efforts that the Hospital was able to remain financially afloat and keep its doors open to the public. Patients had to pay the bulk of their own medical costs and delinquent accounts were a Hospital Board issue of concern as early as August 1907. Hospital Secretary W. A. Ross, who worked extensively as a bookkeeper, noted however some six years later that no patient would be turned away due to a lack of funds.
The Hospital Board in 1913 launched a “Whirlwind Campaign” designed to eliminate the accumulated deficits incurred during the previous seven or eight years and to pay for badly needed building and grounds improvements. The autumn campaign, pegged at 2500 dollars, received much appreciated boost by Lord Strathcona who made an early pledge of one-thousand dollars. Strathcona’s promise was received on the thirteenth anniversary of the 1900 battle at Honing Spruit, South Africa. Under the auspices of Manager H. W. Rudd of the Pincher Creek Hudson’s Bay Company Store, the soon-to-be-departed department store made an unspecified donation plus a five per cent of all sales there on Saturday, October 18th, 1913.
Donations to the Hospital often were in goods and services rather than cash. This barter type system was gratefully accepted. The autumn of 1907, for instance, saw much needed perishables come in: vegetables were brought in by Mrs. Mary (Martin) Macleod, vegetables and buns by Mrs. Mickie Reardon, a pair of chickens by Mrs. Matilda Wilson, grapes by John Redpath, cream from Mrs. Katherine (Pete) Herron, vegetables, eggs and preserves by Mrs. Catherine Scott, and Mrs. Levasseur brough a cake. Mrs. Faithorn brought in a set of books which was much appreciated reading material.
By the third quarter of 1914, the hospital budget showed that revenues, which totaled $2081.73, exceeded expenditures by over one hundred and fifty dollars. The concept of implementing a hospital tax based upon property holdings, similar to what was in place in Manitoba, was discussed by the Hospital Board. Local officials though that the Government of Alberta should be lobbied for a similar system within this province.
Rural localities chipped in regularly with fundraising events in support of the Hospital. The Fishburn community hosted a well organized and highly patronized dance at its community hall, the local school house constructed back in 1894, the evening of Friday, June 24th, 1910. Funds totaling $49.50 were raised with only sixteen dollars going towards expenses (payment for the band, hall rental and printing), the profits going directly to the Memorial Hospital. Music was supplied by Mr. Derritt on the violin and Mrs. A. L. Saunders accompanying on the piano. Mr. H. McGlenning served as the event’s secretary-treasurer.
The final week of April 1916 saw a Hospital Ball being hosted as a Memorial fundraiser. Although attendance was down from previous years due to Easter being late that time around, the effort still raised close to seventy-five dollars profit. A large crowd showed up early the following February for a well-orchestrated concert that raised an impressive 128 dollars. Entertaining musical contributions came from such locals as Charlie Taysum, Laura Freebairn, “Mac” McMurdo and Mabel Jackson. A masquerade ball, hosted in February 1918, raised another $142.65.
One of the last fundraising efforts of the Memorial was its spring and summer 1919 Hospital Drive. Similar to that of a subscription drive, it went after both town and rural donations. Although more than three hundred dollars was raised, the Hospital was facing serious financial issues, perhaps a victim of the post-World War One economic recession.
Local merchants were owed nearly one-thousand dollars in outstanding invoices, and a further debt of six-hundred dollars was owed to the Union Bank. This was in terms of a note for which the Hospital Board of Directors was personally responsible. An old account of one hundred dollars, due the firm of Chaudler & Fisher of Winnipeg, was outstanding. Back wages for the staff accumulated a further three-hundred dollars. The total indebtedness came to over two thousand dollars.
Donations the following spring, primarily coming from town and rural businesses and citizens, came to within a few cents of three hundred dollars. Financial times were tough for the Memorial Hospital.
PIONEERS WITH A VISION
Throughout its history, the Memorial Hospital was served by a dedicated team of Board members, volunteers and staff who worked hard at offering the best pioneer medical services possible and in keeping the facility financially afloat. When the decision was made to launch the idea of the hospital, a large committee whose members represented the various districts was formed to collect funds for the effort. The fundraising committee launched a valiant effort to raise monies following the end of the Great War included ranchers Thomas Hammond and Robert Lang, businessmen R. O. Allison and W. R. Laidlaw, and community members J. J. Cameron and C. G. Thomas.
Three local fellows, Canon Havelock Smith of the Anglican Church, Constable G. N. (Jay) Gould of the N.W.M.P., and the Reverend H. R. Grant of the Presbyterian Church, formed the Building Committee. The Board of Directors also reflected dedicated community people. Some of those serving in the autumn of 1907 included businessmen E. J. Mitchell and Lynch, ex-Mountie turned rancher A. H. Lynch-Staunton, and veterinarian Dr. David Warnock. Seven years later, the Board President was Thomas Morden. Other Board members that year included businessmen S. A. Fraser, Wm. McKerricher and J. E. Upton as well as community members G. E. Saville and the Reverend Gretton.
The Town’s Secretary-Treasurer, George D. Plunkett, adeptly served as the Board’s Secretary. He was succeeded by W. A. Ross who served in 1913-14, resigning to make way for the new Manager.
The Ladies Hospital Auxiliary assisted with its overall operations including fundraising, volunteer recruitment and visiting with the patients. Mrs. A. N. Mouat was its 1910 President, Mrs. F. Hinton its Vice President, Mrs. A. C. Kemmis its Secretary-Treasurer, and its Corresponding Secretary was Miss Mary Bull. Committee members that year included Mrs. William Maxwell and Mrs. Margaret (W. H.) Jackson who looked after sewing and purchasing, and Miss Bull accompanied by Mrs. Catherine Scott who looked after supplies. During the Great War, Mrs. S. M. Hinton served as the Auxiliary’s President, retiring in late March 1916. She was succeeded by Miss Mary Bull who was a long-time Public School teacher. The Auxiliary boasted a list of over one-hundred local ladies who would visit patients in the Memorial Hospital on a regular, often weekly basis. These dedicated volunteers brought much-appreciated socialization to the sick. Hospital visiting hours prior to the outbreak of the Great War were daily, afternoons from 2 to 4:30 p.m. and evenings for the hour and a half starting at 7 p.m.
Staff included a Manager, G. S. Deslandes, who was hired for the position in early October 1914. He was chosen by the Board over rival applicants S. Watson, Thomas S. Hoare and Harvey Bossenberry. The Manager was responsible for “raising subscriptions and to attend to the general financing of the institution.” His monthly salary was set at sixty-five dollars plus room and board. Previously, four hundred dollars had been spent annually for the Secretary to do the same work.
The medical staff at the Memorial Hospital served as the front line workers, dealing with a variety of emergencies, injuries, illnesses which often were contagious, and child birthing. Dr. J. J. Gillespie was one of the hard-working doctors to serve there. His efforts were supplemented by such nurses as Natalia Duval Michell, R.N., who served as the Hospital’s Matron. She passed away in 1920. Rose Husband served as one of the very capable nurses and business managers for three years during the War. She married Bruce Parker in 1921.
Memorial Hospital employees enumerated in 1910 included Maud Edgar who worked as a nurse. Her wages that year came to 480 dollars. She was born in March 1882. Louise Gibb also worked as a nurse that year, pulling in the same wages. Gibb was born in April 1881 in England, immigrating to Canada at the age of twenty-four years. Mary Bell, who was born on the Canadian Prairies in June 1883, also nursed and earned the same wages. The Hospital’s cook that year was Sarah Simpson – her annual wages came to 360 dollars. Born in England in May 1881, she immigrated to Canada in 1902. Lillian Lans, whose job title was that of domestic, meant that she helped with housekeeping, laundry and cleaning duties. Her 1910 wages came to three hundred dollars. The youngest of the crew, she was born in January 1891.
The Memorial Hospital permanently closed in the early 1920s.