It became obvious that a treatment centre was needed along with a doctor to operate it. In May 1920 there were urgent calls to Grande Prairie for medical services, but few people could afford to have a doctor make the trip. A car and driver cost $90 with meals and lodgings to boot. However, one courageous and dedicated doctor made the trip.
Dr. Wallace Archibald Watson arrived and stayed for a week, visiting the sick throughout the district. Miss Hastie told Dr. Watson that Mrs. Waagan, First Vice-President of the National Red Cross, was expected to visit the district and asked him if he would meet her and discuss means of getting a hospital. Dr. Watson agreed and became the first resident doctor in the Peace River Block.
Mrs. Waagan came to Grande Prairie and asked Mrs. Watson to make the trip to the district with her. Mr. Al Brick drove these ladies to Pouce Coupe and from there the late Mr. Norman Dow drove them in a democrat to Sunset Prairie, Progress, Arras, and Rolla. Needless to say it was a rough trip over the worst tracks! The trip convinced Mrs. Waagan of the great need for an Outpost Hospital. On returning to Pouce Coupe a meeting was held and it was unanimously decided that if the Red Cross would build and equip the Outpost, the local people would help with voluntary labour and money where possible.
The people did help. A committee was formed with Dr. Watson as Chairman, and with Mr. Haskins, Mr. Duthie and Mr. Tom Jamieson as members. This committee, with the help of many others in the area, began the construction of the new Outpost Hospital. Mr. Joe Rogers was the contractor for the construction of a building that provided a five-bed men’s ward, a five-bed women’s ward, an operating room, case room, office, full basement for furnace, and a kitchen. The second floor had three bedrooms, for nursing staff and one housekeeper. The building was beautifully situated overlooking Bissette Creek, on land belonging to Tom Jamieson
The Hospital was opened on October 21, 1921. The first board consisted of Dr. Watson (President), Mr. W.A. Duncan (Secretary), Mr. Clifford McWha, Mr. Tom Jamieson, Mr. Frank Bergham, Mr. Norman Dow, Mr. Aubrey Fisher, with Mr. Moore as Government Representative and Harry Carlin as County Representative.
The first Women’s Auxiliary was formed at this time to assist in many ways. Its members were Mrs. George Barber, Mrs. W.A. Watson, Mrs. Frank Bergham, Mrs. Duthie, Mrs. Fynn, Mrs. Baxter, Mrs. Carlin, Mrs. Goodman, Miss Cora Wallace, and Mrs. McCartney with Mrs. Carling joining later.
At the time the hospital opened it was heated by a wood furnace and lighted by kerosene lamps. Water was supplied by a large cistern in the basement and augmented by water hauled from the creek in tank-loads. Chemical closets provided the washroom facilities.
Miss Josephine Collins was the first matron, with Miss MacDougal on the nursing staff and Miss Cora Wallace as housekeeper. Miss Wallace worked as cook and laundress and took care of whatever problems arose, while the nurses did twelve hours shifts – sometimes even longer. Mrs. Watson very often did night duty and Mrs. Kathleen Mixer did a lot of relief nursing. It soon became apparent that these ladies could not keep up to the amount of work required and a night nurse was employed. Miss Painter, a very dedicated nurse, did twelve-hour night shifts for two years, with only one night a week off! The hospital did not have a janitor. Mr. Duncan, Mr. McWha, Mr. John Gordon and other young men were quite happy to help with the work.
Mrs. Thomas Jamieson was the first patient and by the end of the first month all beds were filled and there were seldom any empty ones thereafter.
In 1923 Miss Collins left as matron and was replaced by Miss Ida Cook, an Australian. She spent many years at the hospital and was loved by all who knew her. This great humanitarian had the ability to make each patient feel “special”. She gave of herself, her talents, and her great nursing ability continually through her 12 years of service to the hospital. Others who served the Hospital as Matrons were Miss Serena Gray, Miss Molly Day, and Mrs. Cobb [?]
Among the faithful nurses to serve were Miss Jane Pringle, Miss Murphy, Miss Nelly Muldoon and later Miss Goertz, Miss Ling, Miss Eberhardt, and Miss Palsson.
Throughout the years of hospital operation the Women’s Auxiliary did a tremendous amount of work. This group supplied all linens and never refused to tackle anything the matron requested. They were always there to make things run smoothly and undertook many projects to raise money for improvements. Perhaps the largest single project was the Hope Chest, which netted over $500. Another project was the production of plays, which besides raising a lot of money for the hospital provided fun for all. Some of the early players were Mrs. Lester Harper, Mr. Wellinney, Robert Mooney, Olive Fynn, Dr. and Mrs. Watson, Jimmie Clark and Miss Crook. Dances were a good source of revenue and were held frequently with the Lester Harpers providing piano players and Miss Crook on the violin.
Among the many people who generously donated their time and talents were the early hospital housekeepers. After Mrs. Wallace left, the hospital was well served by Mrs. Blackstock, Mrs. Keeling, Mrs. Green, Mrs. Buchan and Mrs. Cormack.
The Canadian Red Cross, through the Alberta division, provided most of the furnishings and equipment for the new hospital. All the necessary instruments and the operating room were provided as well as a maternity room and X-ray machine. The X-ray machine could not be used at first as there wasn’t a power supply, but the hospital soon had its own power unit which produced a steady volume of current, needed for such apparatus. The hospital was equipped to handle almost anything that arose and it had the most modern and up-to-date facilities once it was underway. The Red Cross also paid all staff salaries.
Only by everyone doing his or her bit was it possible to bring to the pioneer area the Hospital that was so badly needed. This was truly a community service, made possible by the early settlers who knew that self-help was their only help.
About the year 1933 the Red Cross withdrew their association with the hospital because they considered the district was settled enough to support its own hospital. Also, they had other obligations and soon opened such a hospital at Fort St. John. The old Red Cross outpost functioned as the Pouce Community Hospital.
The Women’s Auxiliary to P.C.C.A. met in Murphy’s hall on Oct. 19, 1936 to reorganize, the original auxiliary having ceased to function some time previously.
The election was as follows:
President: Mrs. S. Tuck
Vice-President: Mrs. R.L. Harper
Secretary – Mrs. W.A.S. Duncan
Treasurer – Mrs. Bert Roddis
Later, a second vice-president was added — Mrs. J.T. Callahan. The first representative to the hospital board was Mrs. J.O. Beaulne. A complete set of bylaws was drawn up and it was moved and seconded that money raised by the auxiliary be used to purchase linens and nursery requirements. To this end, a buying committee of two members was elected — Mrs. Callahan and Mrs. Beaulne.
In 1940 the first mention of the Women’s Auxiliary Committee of the BC Hospitals Association in Vancouver, appears in the records.
As the hospital progressed and patient numbers increased, it was expanded. In June 1932 two new wards were opened providing 8 extra beds, for a total of 18. It also had 2 cots and 9 bassinets. Sometime during its development the Women’s Auxiliary gave the hospital linoleum for the women’s ward at a cost of $84. Later the wood floor in the men’s ward was also covered.
Gradually the Pouce Coupe Hospital building began to show the wear and tear of time, and it was proving to be most inadequate. A wing had been built on the southeast corner, a kitchen and a nurse’s room had been built in the basement, with the original kitchen on the first floor becoming another ward. The sun porch was often in need of repair. There were troubles with the plumbing and the village had not yet installed its water and sewage systems.
Heating the large sprawling building was another problem. The board worked against tremendous odds, until finally in August 1948 the decision was made to close the old hospital, which had become most uneconomical to operate.
Meantime the auxiliary continued to function as usual, raising money for supplies and equipment. In 1946 the purchase of a baby incubator had been proposed with great response in the way of donations.
In December 1947, the first mention of a new hospital appeared in the records.
From 1948 to 1954 Pouce Coupe was without a hospital, although Dr. Hollies was still around and by this time Dawson Creek had a hospital — St. Joseph’s — which had opened in 1933.
By June 1953 it was reported that the actual work on the new Pouce Coupe Hospital was complete. But the opening date was dependent on when it would be furnished. In September a tentative opening date was set for Oct. 1, but had to be postponed due to difficulties in obtaining equipment. There were other postponements, but the opening date was within reach. The Auxiliary membership picked up again and plans were made for the opening. The hospital was officially opened on Jan. 31, 1954.
A Brief History of Pouce Coupe Village & District, British Columbia, Canada, by Esme Tuck.
History of the Ladies’ Auxiliary to the Pouce Coupe Hospital, by Auxiliary members.
3. Mrs. Rosa Watson.