This well-researched account by Kathy Hoskin tells of one of the first hospitals to be built in the area, at Peace River Landing, now the town of Peace River. The account presented, courtesy of the Peace River – Record – Gazette 1973.
By Kathy Hoskin
Community awareness and concern for one’s fellowman was intensely exemplified in the early days of Peace River. It was vital for one’s own well being as well as that of others for everyone to “put their shoulder to the grind-stone” and help out with the development of their new home. This was especially so in the establishment of the first hospital in the village of Peace River Crossing.
It was in the year 1913 that a group of enterprising men were gathered together around a pool table in the old Peace Hotel discussing means of financing a hospital. H.A. George decided to call for a subscription then and there. The first man to lay his money $5 down was “Dad” Pringle. Another man then put down $10. This caused “Dad” to raise his to ten as well. Then the game was on and within minutes there was over $400 on the table with the promise of more.
By September of 1914 a crude building was completed, being made of green shiplap lumber inside and out. It cost $1,650 to construct this rough building on the two lots donated by the railway company. It was decided that the hospital would be named the Irene Cottage after H.A. George’s young daughter who had died because of the lack of medical attention. Also, Irene means peace in Greek, so the name was especially appropriate.
So, on November 1, 1914 the Irene Cottage Hospital opened its doors for business starting with a gala affair at the Peace Hotel. The whole village had a right to feel proud as most people had chipped in one way or another — labour, money, or donations of blankets, dishes, paint, linen, and other necessities. Even their first nurse Miss J. McEwan helped out by refusing to accept any salary for the first two months. This brave young woman was in complete charge of the day to day operation of this 15-bed hospital. She had to do all the cooking and washing as well as take care of the patients’ medical needs.
By 1916 the hospital was well on its feet and still being supported fully by the town. This is demonstrated in a newspaper report of the January Annual Meeting of the Hospital Board. Despite a storm and the extreme cold, enough people gathered together to elect a thirteen man Board for the ensuing year. This list is head by H.A. George and W.J. Doherty, who later became Chairman of the Board. Their report of the previous year’s operation is interesting as since the Irene Cottage opened it had treated 70 patients — 40 male adults, 22 female adults and 8 children. Ten operations had been successfully performed and the patients in each case left the hospital in good condition. Apparently, two deaths had occurred during the year — a child from dysentery and a man from tuberculosis. But in both cases the patients were admitted in a dying condition. So, the hospital was acquiring a good name for itself and was serving people from as far west as Hudson’s Hope, north from Fort Vermilion, and south from Lesser Slave Lake. As H.A. George says in his article, Milestones in the History of Peace River, “it was in a class by itself.”
By 1919, the hospital board was able to employ two nurses at $80 a month. Miss Falshaw came out from Fort William to be Matron, and later in the summer, Miss Richards who had trained with her joined the ranks for supposedly seven months. Both of them had worked in the same Fort William hospital, and had left earlier for the green pastures of the new frontier.