The story of hospitals in Edmonton

In 1895, a group of physicians in Edmonton asked Bishop Grandin to find a religious organization that would take on the building and operation of a hospital. Bishop Grandin immediately got in touch with the Grey Nuns in the little community of St. Albert and suggested that they take it on. He assured the physicians that she was an excellent manager and would pay off the money he would arrange to borrow for the building of the facility.

Land was purchased from the Hudson's Bay Company and one thousand dollars was also pledged by the city council and the Edmonton General was on its way. The Grey Nuns were determined to treat all the sick who needed help whether they could pay or not. This resulted in a dispute with the physicians as they believed they should have the final say in who was admitted. The dispute escalated and had a lot to do with the fact that a second hospital was planned for Edmonton.

Boyle Street Hospital, later known as the Royal Alexandra, and, to confuse the issue, also known as the Edmonton Public Hospital, began in an old frame house. But before it actually got going, a second Edmonton hospital was opened under the auspices of the Sisters of the Misericorde and thus the Misericordia Hospital. This again was at the request of the good bishop and began work in 1906. It was originally planned as a small maternity hospital for unwed mothers but became a general maternity hospital, away from the infectious diseases that were such a big part of the Edmonton General's cases. Then, quite quickly because the need was there, it began taking patients for general medical care.

These early nurses didn't just nurse. They took in boarders to help make ends meet, they planted a large garden for fresh food, and cared for domestic animals for milk and meat. They also gratefully accepted gifts of food from private citizens as well as a tax break from the city.

An isolation hospital was the fourth hospital in Edmonton, opening in a separate building on the grounds of the Edmonton Public (i.e. the original Boyle Street). The isolation hospital had an interesting early history as the nurses actually marched on city hall in 1913 in an uproar over wages, job descriptions, and working conditions. The Superintendent of Nurses was fired and the responsibility for the hospital was transferred from the Medical Officer of Health to a local board.

Strathcona Hospital was built south of the river in 1906, with some funding from the Canadian Pacific Railway, in return for the medical care of its employees. Two years later the University of Alberta was started and it was decided that the medical school desired by Dr. Henry Marshall Tory should be built on the new campus.

In all these early hospitals, attempts were made to equip them properly and to use the most up-to-date methods of treatment; but for the nurses, it was their position on the frontier that shaped their jobs. Besides growing food, dealing with epidemics and working long hours, they also learned to improvise and to be inventive in their care. They came to be widely respected for the work that they did and the dedication that they showed.
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