I found myself posted in Pouce Coupe, B.C. At that time the only contact that the Peace River Block had with the rest of B.C. was through Alberta, and it was the Alberta Branch of the Red Cross which had established the Outpost Hospital in Pouce Coupe.
In late October of 1926 I arrived in Pouce Coupe to start work on November 1st. I received a warm welcome from the Matron, Miss Crook, and the staff of two Nurses (one of whom I was replacing), a cook who also did the laundry, and a janitor. About a year later arrangements were made to have a woman come in twice weekly to do the laundry and scrub the floors.
The hospital was a wooden building located on [actually well above] the bank of Bissette Creek. On the ground floor were a men’s ward and a woman’s ward. Each normally held five beds and one or two cribs for children. Sometimes an extra bed would be crowded into one or the other of the two wards. There was an extra room which held two beds, a delivery room, small operating room, bath and utility room, a small office which also served as a dining room for the nurses, and a kitchen and laundry. The Nurses’ quarters were on the second floor. The hospital had running water, pumped from Bissette Creek, it’s own electric light plant, and was heated by wood burning furnace and stoves.
There was one Doctor in the District — the late Dr. W. A. Watson, who not only had the Hospital under his care, but also would answer calls from Hudson Hope, Ft. St. John, Sunset Prairie and beyond.
Life in the Outpost was more informal than in a large Hospital. Miss Crook was intensely interested in all the people throughout the area, and all were encouraged to visit the Hospital. All were welcomed and usually served a cup of tea in the Hospital kitchen. One old trapper, who had been a patient three or four years previously, was slightly offended because Miss Crook did not remember how he took his tea. Many visitors brought such gifts as their farm or homestead produced — a piece of meat, eggs, cream or butter, a few garden vegetables or a jar of homemade preserves or jam. All were graciously accepted, the donor suitably thanked.
Any visitors to the District were also brought to the hospital. Among them I remember the Governor-General of Canada, Lord Willingdon and Lady Willingdon, with their staff. Other distinguished visitors included Dr. Chipman, Chief Gynecologist of the Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal, and Mr. E. A. Corbett, District Commissioner of the Alberta Red Cross. Many political leaders and members of trade delegations also visited the little hospital.
I liked the interest shown in each patient, not always found in larger hospitals. I found the people all very interesting. They had come from so many different places and backgrounds, and were all adapting to a pioneer life.
I was surprised at the children. So little evidence of shyness, even among those who lived miles from neighbors. Then I realized that wherever the parents went, the children went along. No leaving them at home in those days. Baby-sitters were unheard of.
At that time most of the homes were one storey, and the stairway leading to the 2nd floor of the hospital was fascinating to most of the children. Not so to one young miss. When Miss Crook found her playing on the steps and said to her ” I suppose you are not used to stairs”, she drew herself up to her full five-year old height, and said, “You forget that I have been to England.”
The two nurses took turns on night-duty, and when a baby was born at night, Miss Crook got up for the delivery. A fair proportion of the patients were maternity cases, but all medical and surgical cases were treated as well. The first patient that I admitted was a girl of twelve years, with a fractured leg. Today, she is not only a Grandmother, but a Great Grandmother. Several of the babies born while I was working in Pouce Coupe are now grandparents.
Operations were not numerous, and meant a change in routine, when they occurred. The night-nurse would stay up, to assist in the operating room. The housekeeper would keep an eye on the wards. Sometimes when a major operation was scheduled, Dr. O’Brien — a Surgeon from the Grande Prairie and father of Dr. Hugh O’Brien of Dawson Creek — would be called to perform it. Dr. O’Brien usually brought an operating-room nurse with him, which eased the work for our small staff.
Many incidents stand out in my mind. One woman came from “outside” to act as Cook, and was quite disgusted to find that she would be expected to bake bread. She did not stay long, but while she was here, the nurses were making bread.
I remember quiet nights on night duty, watching car-lights coming over the hill, from either the north or the south, and wondering if the car would be bringing us a patient. Traffic was not as heavy in the late ‘20s, as it is now.
The strange feeling went over me one night as I went to investigate a noise in the darkened front hall and the weird shape met my eyes. It turned out to be an old, bent Russian lady with her feather bed on her back. The only thing that I could understand was “Mr. Duncan” (the Policeman). I phoned him and he can over. He knew her and explained that when she became angry with her family she would leave home. He took her to the police station and would contact her family the next day.
Or, answering the door-bell early one summer morning to find a huge man — graying, care-worn and with anxious eyes — carrying a pallid, wasted little girl in his arms. They had driven many miles. Unfortunately, we were not able to save the child and she lived only a few hours. These were new settlers who had been here a very short while. Dysentery had stuck the children of the neighborhood. I think one other child died, but with earlier treatment others survived.
Along with the nursing duties, the night-nurse had to do the babies’ washing, sometimes for as many as five babies. Also she had to keep the fires stoked. On cold winter nights, this meant the furnace in the basement, the kitchen range, a heater in the laundry, one in the front ward and one on the second floor. I had been used to the eastern hardwoods and the local poplar burned away so quickly that it seemed an endless task.
One winter, during an extremely cold spell, the creek froze to the bottom, putting the pump out of commission. For a few weeks, our water supply was hauled in, in the form of huge blocks of ice, which were stacked on trestles in the yard. This ice had to be carried inside and melted in barrels and boilers. A busy time for the Janitor!
One incident will illustrate the universal good will and neighborliness, always present in the early days. A farmer had occasion to come into town in the spring. Finding the road breaking up badly, and likely to be impassable in 24 hours and knowing his neighbor’s wife was in hospital with a new baby, he came to see if he could take her home that day, even though it meant some miles out of his way, to reach her home.
I worked at the Outpost for two and half years. I left to be married and to make my home a few miles from Dawson Creek. Later my three children were all born in this same Red Cross Outpost Hospital.