Medicine Hat General
Hospital: the first regular hospital in "The Territories"
The first regularly equipped
hospital in what was then known as The Territories was built in Medicine
Hat in 1889 and four years later it opened the first school of nursing west
of Winnipeg. One of the major rules for the new nurses was: "Every nurse
will be expected to perform any duty assigned to her either as a nurse in
the hospital, or when sent to private cases among the rich or poor, in any
part of the Territories." "Any part of the Territories", covered
the area from the forty-ninth parallel to the Arctic and from Winnipeg to the
Rocky Mountains. The President of the hospital board pointed out that the nurses
were doing a lot of the work that Lady Aberdeen was supporting with the new
Victorian Order of Nurses.
building was of cut stone and was two full storeys. The mansard roof covered
a third level that housed an isolation ward and the nurses. It opened in January
of 1890, just in time for a flu epidemic. There were two nurses for the entire
hospital--the Matron was Grace Louise Reynolds and her assistant was Mary Ellen
Grace Reynolds was Alberta's direct nursing connection to Florence Nightingale.
She had been trained in Britain by a Miss Gordon who had been a student of
Miss Birtles described
the scene: "Miss Reynolds and I managed the work between
us. She prepared the meals and looked after the downstairs work; I attended
to the furnace and did the upstairs work, sweeping, dusting, etc. besides attending
to the patients. When any surgical work was to be done, we had to arrange the
work accordingly. Miss Reynolds gave the anaesthetic and I looked after the
instruments and waited on the doctors. There was no sterilizer, so we had to
resort to boiling the instruments in a large saucepan with a steamer on it
for towels and dressings."
hit hard in 1891 and every bed in the hospital had a typhoid patient in it.
Mary Birtles came down with the disease herself, leaving Miss Reynolds to cope
with her colleague's illness and all the patients in the hospital. Both Miss
Reynolds and Miss Birtles survived the ordeal.
of most early hospitals are inextricably linked with the stories of their nursing
schools. The Medicine Hat school that was opened in 1895 provided a good deal
of the nursing care that was actually given on the wards for many years. The
young women tended to be thrown in at the deep end and left to sink or swim on
their own. Sometimes they were "instructed" by other young women who had been
in the same position only two or three months earlier, sometimes they were more
fortunate and did a sort of apprenticeship with a more senior nurse. Keeping
up with studies after a twelve hour shift (sometimes longer) was only one of