Guests enjoy cake at the centennial ceremony of the laying of the cornerstone of the original Queen Victoria Hospital.

Guests enjoy cake at the centennial ceremony of the laying of the cornerstone of the original Queen Victoria Hospital.

Revelstoke’s hospital history focus of Queen Victoria Hospital centennial celebration

Cathy English from Revelstoke Museum tells story of health care in Revelstoke at hospital's centennial celebration.

Revelstoke’s first doctor showed up in town almost the moment it was founded. Dr. Dugald Leitch McAlpine must have seen a good business opportunity in the burgeoning frontier town because it seems like he wasn’t much a fan of Revelstoke itself.

While he kept an office on Front Street – then Revelstoke’s main street – he built himself a home on an island on the west bank of the Columbia River, where his children would be away from the influence of the wild, wild west trappings in town.

That was one of the anecdotes Cathy English, the curator of the Revelstoke Museum & Archives shared during a talk on the history of health care in Revelstoke that was part of the 100th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of Queen Victoria Hospital on Tuesday.

Construction started on Queen Victoria Hospital 100 years ago with the laying of the cornerstone where Cooper’s grocery store is now located on August 21, 1912. About 50 people gathered at the hospital Tuesday evening for tea and cake, and to hear English give her talk.

Revelstoke’s first hospital opened on Douglas Street in June 1897. The first patient was a man named Charles Holten, who had a piece of one finger removed, English said.

In 1901 a hospital society was formed (a ladies auxiliary followed not long after) and they worked to build a new hospital. The approached the Victorian Order of Nurses, who agreed to support the building of a hospital. As such, the Queen Victoria Cottage Hospital was built and opened in August 1902.

The new hospital was four storeys high, but it still wasn’t big enough for the growing community of Revelstoke. At the time, Revelstoke was a major centre in the B.C. Interior, rivalling Kamloops and bigger than Kelowna and Vernon.

In 1912, the cornerstone for Queen Victoria Hospital was laid. That same year construction started on the courthouse and on the Mount Revelstoke Auto Road. The cornerstone was filled with mementoes from the era – coins, stamps, a bird’s-eye-view pictures of Revelstoke, a copy of the local newspaper and more.

The hospital opened on June 18, 1913. It was a large brick building with a circular central structure flanked by two wings. The ladies auxiliary held a pantry shower and people were encouraged to bring items for the kitchen or linen for the rooms. Dr. Hamilton was the first doctor and he and nurse Matheson played a leading role in healthcare across the region.

The hospital was the site of a nursing school starting in 1914, with the first class graduating in 1918. The hospital was considered a great place to find a wife, so joked Cathy English.

In the mid-1930s a bit of history was made when Jean Kwong became the first Chinese-Canadian nurse in Canada. She graduated at the top of her class but was denied her reward due to her Chinese heritage.

Cathy English presented a number of pictures of the hospital, as well as photos of nurses and doctors – many of whom garnered gasps of recognition from the people in attendance at the talk.

By the 1960s the hospital was proving to be too small and outdated and on Oct. 3, 1968, construction began on the current hospital in Arrow Heights. It opened two years later, on Dec. 19, 1970.

After English’s presentation I approached Helen Grace, who worked at the old hospital, to see if she had any stories. She told me that when she first started in 1949 the men’s ward had 10 beds in it and could only be separated by low screens. When the nurses had to deliver an enema, the other patients could see them raise up the needle, so everyone knew what was happening.

When the nurses embarked on their first fundraiser in 1951 they invested in some proper curtains so the men could have more privacy.