Dr. Sutherland was an all-round student at the Medical School. He was keenly interested in sports and all phases of campus life. Immediately on graduation he enlisted for service overseas in the Medical Corps. Although he did not have to go into the trenches, he worked under fire. His specialty — operations on chest cases and treatment of the gas victims of that war — kept him very busy. He also became expert in reducing fractures when there was no X-ray. Both of these skills were invaluable to his Peace River practice where pneumonia and accidents were frequent [and equipment scarce].
After the war he came north to the little town of Peace River. Those were the days when a young doctor had a rough time. Nurse Richards felt a trained nurses’ indignation when she overheard the older doctors advise patients not to trust the young doctor’s “inexperience” — after years in a field hospital in wartime!
“I was indignant,” she said, “for I worked with him. I knew how cool and quiet and efficient he was, while working under the greatest difficulties. But being on duty twelve hours a day or night and “on call” for emergencies, the rest of the time, and in every spare moment making dressings or bandages, I didn’t have time to think about it.” And he never lost a baby!
Even the making of the dressings was enough to keep a nurse busy. The matron, Miss Falshaw laid down the law. “No gauze was to be cut for making the dressings unless a crosswise thread was first pulled to guide an absolutely straight cut!” Tedious and terribly time consuming when one’s eyes were almost unseeing from lack of sleep! Then, there being no sterilizer, the dressings had to be steamed over boiling water an hour a day for three days and then dried in the oven, still wrapped in cloth to keep them sterile.
Then her eyes twinkled. “I didn’t even know he liked me.”
The town folk were prepared for it however through the baker who delivered bread every day. “Dr. Sutherland is going to marry Nurse Richards”, he announced. And then Mrs. Sutherland laughed. “He hadn’t even asked me yet! We hadn’t any time to see each other, for we nurses never went out.”
Time was found for plans to go to Edmonton for the wedding, but it almost didn’t happen as expected. There were only two trains a week. On the day before they were to leave, when they were hoping that nothing would happen, something did. A very stout older woman was brought in, in labour. There should have been time, but the baby was long overdue, and long in coming. Just when the doctor decided that an operation was necessary for the mother — and a postponement of the trip — the baby arrived. She had refused to leave the case to go alone to arrange for her wedding. There were just ten minutes to catch the train. They made it together! The trainmen waited a few moments.
That train left at seven a.m. and reached the divisional point McLennan at ten. Having no place else to go, passengers sat all day in the coaches while the crew slept until eight p.m. So all that day the young bride-to-be watched her “intended” husband nodding off to sleep. “I understood”, she said simply.
When they returned, it was still hard to work up a practice in Peace River. The only patients who came were Indian’s or homesteaders who had no pay to offer except moose meat or chicken. Finally the growing settlement around the tiny hamlet of Berwyn needed more service than a district nurse could offer. The Sutherlands moved there for two and a half years, and their two children were born.
Those two and a half years, practicing without any hospital, were grim ones. Roads to the scattered cabins were — depending on the season — a series of mudholes or snowdrifts. Swarms of mosquitoes in spring and summer, stinging winds at 30, 40, or 60 below. The horses’ noses covered to keep them from freezing their lungs. Doctor and district nurse muffled like mummies answered calls delivered by relays of settlers and Indians.
On one occasion at least they got lost on the way to an emergency case. At last they saw a movement around a clearing in the distance. Hoping to get directions, they struggled on. Then they saw the signal — someone frantically waving a red petticoat. The baby was delivered.
Once when the doctor was away, a boy was brought in desperately ill with appendicitis. There was no time to lose. The nurse boiled some instruments and operated as she had seen the doctor do. Then bundled in a sleigh with hot stones around him, he was taken to Peace River’s little hospital to recover. There were many such tales.
Dr. Sutherland’s competence became known. When an opening occurred in Peace River, the young family came back. From that time on the doctor’s one ambition was to get a proper hospital and some modern equipment. It came in 1930.
Hospital routine did not absorb all of his abounding energy. With John Olson, the Norwegian butcher, they constructed the first ski run in the Peace River country. There were many other community enterprises.
There was time for some social life now. On one occasion there was a masquerade dance. Somehow the doctor got some old clothes and made himself up as a hobo, and “crashed” the dance. The disguise was too good! Not one woman danced with him! At last he went home to change.
When he returned, all of the girls greeted him excitedly. “Oh Dr. Sutherland – you should have been here before! There was the most dreadful person …. ”
From the twinkle with which the story was told, one gathers that life with him was never dull! Mrs. Sutherland is still a part of that community, for her great interest is in the fine museum they pioneered, and in preserving the history of the place that has been her home for fifty-two years.