About RCH150

Posted March 14, 2012 by rch150
Categories: General

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Welcome to the RCH150 blog. Since March 2012, our aim has been to give you an insider’s view of how Royal Columbian Hospital (RCH) has grown and changed over the last 150 years. During the year we posted stories and images that you’re not likely to find in a history book.

 Many of those stories came from newspapers of the day, some from people’s scrapbooks and diaries, and a few from more traditional sources like archives. There have been stories about what it was like to be in the hospital – as a patient, doctor, nurse, or visitor – in the 1800s and how hard the community struggled to get a hospital to serve their needs. There were dramatic stories like a doctor operating on a patient being badly injured when the ether he was using exploded; heart-warming stories like a group of young people taking on the remodelling and refurnishing of the Babies’ Ward in the 1930’s; and mind-boggling stories like how many thousand trauma patients are treated, and how people who would have died if they had been that badly injured almost anywhere else in the world are saved, almost as a matter of course at RCH.

 While we will no longer be posting regularly to the blog, if you have stories or pictures about RCH that you are willing to share, we’d be thrilled to hear and see them. You can email us at RCH150@Senseofhistory.com and if they add to the hospital’s history, we’ll post them.

 We have enjoyed finding and telling the stories of RCH and reading your comments and questions. We thank the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation for the opportunity to tell the fascinating history of RCH. Check back here regularly to see if there are new posts. In the meantime, we’ll soon be publishing a new blog at Senseofhistory.wordpress.com. That blog will have similar stories, but will not be focussed on RCH alone, but on the New Westminster area more generally.

Remember, to donate to the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation and the next 150 years of medical excellence and compassionate patient care, visit http://www.rchcares.com or call 604 520 4438.


Holiday Greetings

Posted December 26, 2012 by rch150
Categories: General

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Christmas Greeting/Postcard from 1911 NWPL#3186

Christmas Greeting/Postcard from 1911 NWPL#3186

This photograph is taken from an original greeting card/postcard. New Westminster’s Columbia Street in about 1911, looking west near Church Street after paving and improvements – such as new street lights were done. At right from foreground is the Hall-Lavery Block, the building with the public Library and Firehall, and City Hall. The card was signed by Blanche and Alfred. The inside verse read: “’Neath Good Fortune’s fond perfection,/May your Christmastide be spent/To your perfect satisfaction,/And your heart’s entire content!”

We wish all our readers a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy New Year.

Please check back here in the new year for new posts. In the meantime, grab a cup of coffee and browse through back posts either by date, or by topic. Check the categories on the right to find posts in your area of interest.

Christmas Through the Years at RCH

Posted December 19, 2012 by rch150
Categories: Community Support

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This week’s New Westminster NewsLeader had a great story and photo of Santa arriving at Royal Columbian Hospital by helicopter, bringing Christmas smiles and cheer to patients and staff. It wasn’t the first time he had arrived by air ambulance (see From Buckboard to Sikorsky),

Santa arrives at RCH Heliport 2005

Santa arrives at RCH Heliport 2005

and it certainly wasn’t the first time that people in the community had worked to bring comfort and cheer to hospital patients.

From the very beginning of the hospital in 1862, individuals and groups in the immediate vicinity and throughout the colony, worked hard to assist the patients and staff in any way they could. Most often this entailed raising funds, but it also frequently entailed personal gifts and entertainment for the patients. The Vancouver Sun in 1922 tells us that “between 90 and 100 patients at the Royal Columbian Hospital will receive tasteful little boxes packed with candies and fruits Christmas morning from the women’s auxiliary to the hospital.”

The newspaper in 1912 tells of the Women’s Auxiliary gathering donations to buy presents for the patients, while the local Boy Scout troop visited the hospital, toured the wards and distributed “presents of fruit and Christmas cheer”. The following year, in 1913, the Auxiliary placed baskets in local stores so that local residents could place donations in them – “candies, fruit, magazines, books, toys” that were to be distributed on Christmas Day. Also that year, a group of 30 young ladies held a “Cinderella Dance” (a dancing party that was to end at midnight) on December 26th to raise funds for RCH.

In earlier years, we see an even more personal involvement on the part of the general population. Just before Christmas of 1882, some Board members were in the hospital “inspecting the accounts” when they heard “the melody of sweet voices that filled one of the wards. On making inquiry they discovered that two ladies, well known in the city, are in the habit of calling on the patients and soothing their sorrows with vocal music”.

In the first decade of the hospital’s operation, there was often a grand ball or soirée held at the Drill Hall just before or after Christmas to raise funds for the hospital. In 1865, according to the local newspaper, the Ball was a great success, both socially and financially. There were very elaborate decorations, chandeliers and lamps that made the Drill Hall almost unrecognizable. About 100 people attended, “the ladies’ dresses were elegant and tasteful…. while the music, under the able leadership of Mr. Bushby, lent a charm to the whole.” And, although “no regular supper was provided” because the Board wanted all proceeds to go to the Hospital, “dancing was kept up till 2 o’clock with great vigour and all appeared to enjoy the occasion.” The sum of $150 was raised and added to the hospital funds.

In 1882, the patients in Royal Columbian wrote a letter to the editor including all their names, that said, “We, the patients in the Royal Columbian Hospital, herewith return our heartfelt thanks to the kind friends who so thoughtfully provided for us the bounteous dinner on this Christmas. To Mr. Jackson, the Steward of the Hospital, and the ladies who so ably assisted him in setting it before us in so tempting a manner, is due great praise and our grateful remembrance”.

Than, as now, when help was needed, individuals responded, and all contributions, large or small, were very much appreciated.


Posted December 12, 2012 by rch150
Categories: General

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The first male nurse to graduate from a BC hospital, James Bullen, finished his training at St. Paul’s School of Nursing in 1950. Coincidentally, he was the great-grandson of BC’s first medical doctor – Dr. JS Helmcken. In New Westminster, the first male nurse graduated from RCH in 1968.

That 1968 graduating class saw two massive changes in who could be a nurse. An article in the local New Westminster paper in late 1964 foreshadowed one of these changes, saying that a man had signed up as a student nurse. That’s all it said – no details of who it was (he preferred to remain anonymous), or whether the rules had changed – just that a male had signed up. Then in May of 1968, the following article reported that the first man had graduated from the RCH School of Nursing.

This article also refers to another huge change that would profoundly affect the career decisions of thousands of students – nurses could marry and still practice nursing. Technically, this was not a first. During the Second World War, there was such a shortage of trained nurses that, in order to fill the need, temporary licences were granted, married nurses were permitted to work and student nurses were allowed to marry, though only to servicemen. However, hospital rules often remained that a student could either be a nurse, or marry, but not both.

While it is unlikely that any of the student nurses named in this article are still nursing, some of these names may be familiar.


Rosalind Guppy, Roland Wood, Marna Dueck….graduates

Rosalind Guppy, Roland Wood, Marna Dueck….graduates

“Three years ago, Roland Wood walked into a classroom at the Royal Columbian Hospital school of nursing and was asked by the teacher: “Yes sir, may I help you?” I’m Mr. Wood, and I’m a student,” he replied. Monday night, he ceased being a student and became a full-fledged nurse and the first male graduate of the school.

Wood, who was elected valedictorian of the class, was accompanied by 73 female nurses and one other male nurse, Reinhold Adolf Schmidt, of Chilliwack, at the graduation ceremony at Vincent Massey School auditorium. Schmidt started the course six months after Wood. Wood, 32, said he decided to become a registered nurse after working as a psychiatric nurse at Woodlands school for 10 years. “I decided to step up my qualifications, but the problem was finding a school which would take someone who was both male and married – and Royal Columbian did,” he said.

Wood said his fellow students were surprised but pleased with his entry into the class. “I’ve been sort of a big brother to the girls, and I’ve had a fair amount of wet shoulders during the course,” he said. In his valedictory address, Wood said the students had started out as strangers and had quickly become friends through their common study and work. “We came from many different backgrounds, in many shapes and sized, and for the first time in two sexes,” he said. He paid tribute to the girl graduates. “There are two times in your lives when you’ll look the most beautiful – once when you’re a bride, and once – right now,” he said.

Guest speaker, Eleanor S Graham, executive secretary of the Registered Nurses Association of BC, told the graduates they must make sure they still keep in touch with the patients. “The role of the nurse must change in the future, but the nurse must not be taken farther away from the patient,” she said.

The general proficiency award for the September 1968 graduating class was awarded to Mrs. Marna Dueck, 21, of New Westminster. Mrs. Dueck, who married eight months ago after regulations on marriage were relaxed, said she had always wanted to nurse. “It sort of runs in the family – four of my cousins are nurses too,” she said. Mrs. Dueck said she hopes to enter public health nursing and perhaps work overseas. Her husband, Peter, is a social worker.

Winner of the general proficiency medal for the February, 1968 class was Rosalind Guppy, 23, of New Westminster. The Dr. J Margullius Medical Nursing Award was presented to Annie Millar of Coquitlam, and the Dr. George T. Wilson Surgical Nursing Award to Carolyn M. Davies, of Vernon. The obstetric nursing award for the February class went to Judith C French, of Burnaby, and the paediatric nursing award to Sandra Yurick of Vernon. The September class obstetric award was presented to Fracya C Miller of Vancouver. Barbara Clippingdale, of North Burnaby, won the medical nursing award, and Magdalena Ruesch, of New Westminster, the surgical nursing award.”

Vancouver Sun, May 7, 1968

It All Started With A Few Test Tubes

Posted December 5, 2012 by rch150
Categories: Departments & Services, General

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There are few if any departments at any hospital that do not depend on laboratory services to be able to function safely, efficiently and effectively. But “laboratory services” have changed dramatically over a relatively short period of time.

Lab tech hand

The function of laboratory services was first provided at the Royal Columbian Hospital in 1918, but it was not done on site. Mr. Gooding, a bacteriologist, was contracted at the rate of $30 per month, and worked at his laboratory at the Public Hospital for the Insane. His lab work consisted primarily of analysing specimens using only a few test tubes, reagents and a microscope.

The lab at Royal Columbian Hospital itself began in 1920 in a vacant room in the basement of the 1912 building. Mr. Louis A Breun was appointed as Chief Bacteriologist to manage the laboratory, X-ray and pharmacy departments with the assistance of one technician – Miss Isobel Barr.

Sixteen years later, the following article appeared in The British Columbian, Royal Columbian Hospital 75th Anniversary Edition, 1937.

Fine Laboratory Built Up During 16 Year Period

One of the proudest assets of the Royal Columbian Hospital is the up-to-date laboratory, started with a few test tubes 16 years ago by L.A. Breun, chief bacteriologist and gradually built up by him into the very complete and efficient department it is today. It is the lab that diagnoses thousands of cases by testing blood, tissues or fluids taken from a sick patient.
Mr. Breun is assisted by Miss I. Barr, technician, and shortly the laboratory will be expanded and the quarters doubled. The basal metabolism department will be extended and Mr. Breun will be given additional assistants.
The laboratory may handle between 650 and 800 cases every month, some specimens requiring numerous special tests.
Since the laboratory was started, Mr. Breun has handled 32,023 pathological tests. These are not the routine tests, which run into a large number more. In the past five years, the number of monthly tests made in the lab have doubled. Besides tests for germs and tests of cultures, Mr. Breun does section work, such as studying tissues for cancer and so forth.
In addition to all sorts of pathological and routine hospital tests the department makes any tests required by the city department of health, such as tests of milk and water and for infectious diseases.
In 16 years the department has gradually acquired a fine array of microscopes, culture incubators and similar equipment. Mr. Breun has also accumulated an unusually complete range of pathological exhibits and a fine library.”

As the hospital grew, so did the need for a histological department and in 1948, Dr. P.S. Rutherford became the first permanent pathologist at RCH. He had a staff of 8, including himself, 6 technologists and 1 stenographer. Eventually, in 1952 the lab moved from the basement to the top floor of the old wing of the 1912 building, and included a training school for technologists.

The concept of a Regional Laboratory Service was introduced in the mid-50s, and the role of a lab technologist began to change with automated equipment and computers becoming a standard part of the work.

Would Adrian Breun or Isobel Barr recognize any of the equipment in a hospital laboratory today? What would they make of the partial list of procedures available from Outpatient Laboratory Services at Royal Columbian Hospital that includes “blood and urine collection for chemical analysis to determine glucose/lactose tolerance, cholesterol level, HDL/LDL and triglyceride level, and blood gas analysis; sweat chlorides, bone marrow testing, H. pylori breath tests, fine needle aspirates, coagulation testing and endocrine simulation tests?

Diane Oberg RCH Lab Technologist 1998

Diane Oberg RCH Lab Technologist 1998

They might well wish that they could have been part of the exciting and complex world of laboratory medicine of 2012, but without the groundwork they and others did in the first half of the 20th century, none of today’s services would be possible.

They would certainly have been impressed if they had seen the full double rainbow on December 4, 2012 clearly indicating that RCH really is worth its weight in gold!

Double rainbow Dec 4, 2012 over Royal Columbian Hospital. Courtesy of A Sense of History Research Services.

Double rainbow Dec 4, 2012 over Royal Columbian Hospital. Courtesy of A Sense of History Research Services.

Do You Remember RCH in the 90s?

Posted November 28, 2012 by rch150
Categories: Community Support, Departments & Services

Tags: , , , , , ,

A couple of weeks ago we posted several photos from a photo album of Royal Columbian Hospital events in the late 1980s and 90s, and asked if anyone recognized the people in them. We had an overwhelming response and many requests for more photos.

Here are a few from the same album. It’s amazing how many of the people in the earlier photos are still around – maybe some in these are too.

This one is the only one fully captioned, so we know it’s Dr. Gittens showing some of the neurosurgical equipment in March of 1998, but we don’t know what the event was.

This was taken at the official lab opening January 21, 1997, but there’s no name given.

And this is just captioned MRI 96 10 01, so we assume it was the opening of the MRI unit we described in a post here in October.

The following 2 photos are from the Surgery Open House Day December 01, 1991 and obviously represent Plastic Surgery and Orthopedics respectively, but we don’t have the names of the doctors.

This last image was taken at the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the RCH Foundation in 1993. Just can’t work for a foundation without being an expert at serving at cake!

Again, if you know any of these people, or can add details of the event shown, please share your comments.

Health for a Shilling

Posted November 21, 2012 by rch150
Categories: Diseases & Epidemics, General

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Medications that are now used with great caution, if at all, were common place in the Victorian age. Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, described as an indispensable aid to quiet crying or teething babies, had morphine as a major ingredient. Opium, regarded as an all-purpose drug, was widely used to control coughing and diarrhea. One company sold heroin tablets to relieve asthma symptoms. Cocaine was used in drops for toothache, one company promoted cocaine throat lozenges as “indispensable for singers, teachers and orators”, and dentists and surgeons used it as an anesthetic.

While these were legitimate drugs in medical practices of the late 1800s, a whole range of patent medicines also flourished during that period. People bought them from traveling medicine shows, and they were advertised in newspapers and magazines. The golden age of patent medicines ended in the early 1900s, when new legislation prohibited the misbranding of foods and drugs, as well as false advertising. Also, as legitimate medicine evolved, new cures replaced the old. Opium and other addictive drugs fell by the wayside once scientists realized their pitfalls, and novocain replaced its predecessor, cocaine, as an anesthetic.

Advertisements from the British Colonist of October 7, 1862, the day RCH opened, included ones for Holloway’s Pills, Brown’s Bronchial Troches, Dr. Jayne’s Sanative Pills, and Dr. J. Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters, standard remedies that most New Westminster families would have had on their shelves.

Ads for Dr. Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters were often targeted specifically to local conditions. During the Civil War, they were sold to soldiers as “a positive protective against the fatal maladies of the Southern swamps, and the poisonous tendency of the impure rivers and bayous.” In BC, the ad described the medicine as “a preventive of various dangerous diseases to which the gold seeker is liable”. The original formula was about 47% alcohol – 94 Proof! The amount of alcohol was so high that it was served in Alaskan saloons by the glass. Hostetter sweetened the alcohol with sugar to which he added a few aromatic oils (anise, coriander, etc.) and vegetable bitters (cinchona, gentian, etc.) to give it a medicinal flavour.

Ad for Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters

Dr. Jayne’s Sanative Pills, on the other hand, would speedily remove “bilious affections”, and were “invaluable to the miner as they may be taken without necessitating a discontinuance from work, even though the latter should be in the winter”.

Ad for Dr. Jayne’s Sanative Pills

Feeling a little hoarse? Brown’s Bronchial Troches were just the thing. The ad quoted a clergyman from Morristown Ohio, “Last spring I feared my lungs were becoming dangerously involved, and until I used your Troches could not preach a sermon of ordinary length without hoarseness, but now, with the assistance of the Troches, I have in the past five weeks preached some forty sermons.”

Ad for Brown’s Bronchial Troches

But the most popular patent medicine of that time was Holloway’s pills. Under the title, “Health for a Shilling”, their ad claimed that they would cure an astonishing number of diseases and conditions from coughs, colds and asthma, to dysentery, gout, tumours and “weakness from whatever cause”. Analysis of the pills showed that they contained aloe, myrrh and saffron, which while probably not harmful, would be unlikely to have the claimed effect.

Holloways Ointment and Pills

RCH Medical Record Librarian School First in BC

Posted November 14, 2012 by rch150
Categories: Departments & Services

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The Canadian Health Information Management Association (CHIMA) celebrated its 65th anniversary in 2007.

CHIMA represents more than 3,700 certified Health Information Management (HIM™ ) professionals from across Canada in addition to 1,300 affiliate, student and retired members. HIM professionals are employed in hospitals; in the community health and extended care sectors; government; health and education institutions; the private sector including insurance and pharmaceutical companies; technology vendors; and consulting firms. The skills and knowledge of the HIM professionals support clinical research and provide information for medical and health care statistics. But this area of health care is relatively new.

In 1913, the American College of Surgeons was founded with the goal of enhancing the quality of surgery performed through better surgical training. To standardize the training performed, quality health records were deemed an essential factor. In the 1920s, Royal Columbian Hospital had difficulty with case history reports and medical record keeping to the extent that in 1922, it was removed from the list of standardized hospitals. By 1931 RCH, along with ten other BC hospitals, regained “approval” by the American College of Surgeons, based on what the College described as “competent medical staff keeping accurate and complete records of all cases”. However, because of a shortage of both funds and trained staff to organize and maintain medical records, RCH again lost its “approved” status.

Probably as a direct result of the inability to obtain and keep accreditation, RCH instituted a Medical Records department in 1949 with the appointment of Mrs. Ruth Melby as Chief Medical Record Librarian.

During the following year, she established a cross index based on the standard classification of disease and operations, as well as numbering and filing medical records by the unit system. The next year, the hospital purchased a dictating-transcribing machine for the use of medical staff and 75% of admissions had type-written histories. Mrs. Melby could now state in the annual report, “with the accumulation of two years of cross indexing of diseases and operations, statistics are now available for the first time for any physicians who wish to carry out medical research projects.”

In 1954, RCH was approved for training by the Canadian Association for Medical Record Librarians and the school, the 7th in Canada, opened September 26, 1954. Four students began classes the following year after arrangements had been made for them to receive their training in anatomy and physiology with the student nurses. The Vancouver Sun of May 16, 1956 published the following article describing the school and the careers it made possible.


Hospital authorities aren’t just being nosey when they ask you all those questions. The fact that you’re allergic to artichokes might help someone engaged on an important research project. First of its kind in BC, a school for medical record librarians at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster trains people to make use of all the information a hospital collects.

After a 52-week course, graduates are equipped to make quantitative analyses of medical records, to classify, code and index diseases and operations, to prepare statistical, medical, insurance and Blue Cross reports and to do research for doctors and medical associations.

In session now, with the first graduation ceremonies scheduled for August, the school opens up new job opportunities for those who qualify as trained specialists in the profession of medical record science. There is a big demand for medical record librarians in hospitals throughout Canada and the US, with the result that posts are plentiful and starting salaries, approximately $250 a month. Based on requirements of the board of registration of the Canadian Association of Medical Record Librarians, the course of training is divided into two parts, Junior and Senior, with one week’s vacation at Christmas. During the first three months most of the student’s time is spent in practical training. Classes commence in September and January and hours are from 9 to 4 weekdays and 9 to 12 on Saturdays. Lectures are given by members of the hospital’s medical record department staff and School of Nursing instructors. Guest lectures also are given by members of medical record departments of other hospitals in the greater Vancouver area.

On successful completion of the course, graduates receive a diploma and pin and become eligible to write Canadian registration examinations. When they have passed these exams, they are privileged to write RRL(Registered Record Librarian) after their name.”

A Medical Record Librarian from the Regina General Hospital who had graduated from the RCH school, described her career in glowing terms, “No two days are ever the same”, she said. Her daily work included analyzing medical records, classification, coding and indexing diseases and operations, statistical and medical reports and research work for medical associations and doctors. “One of the advantages of being a medical record librarian is that you know you are serving others – patient, doctor and hospital.”

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