Royal Columbian Military Hospital

When wounded and sick soldiers from the Canadian Expeditionary Force in World War I began arriving home in 1914/15, Royal Columbian Hospital (RCH) saw an opportunity to fill their newly completed but unoccupied south wing.

However in 1916, in spite of an offer by RCH to accommodate them, the government arranged for Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) to construct facilities for 300 soldiers. The RCH board protested that this was a waste of public funds since their facility was ready and vacant, and Ottawa then agreed to hospitalize 70 veterans at RCH. In December 1918, Ottawa guaranteed that they would be responsible for the hospitalization of a minimum of 100 soldiers for one year after the declared peace. Based on that guarantee, RCH constructed an annex and converted balconies and a basement storeroom to wards, increasing the total military wing capacity to 225 patients.

The 1919 Victory Edition of the British Columbian newspaper reported that a total of 571 men had passed through the institution for treatment, with the highest number at any one time being 140, some of them being hospitalized for a full year.

The full Royal Columbian Military Hospital was formally opened on September 16, 1918. The administration was in the hands of the Board of Management of RCH, but permanent military staff were in charge of clerical records and discipline. Military medical officers oversaw the care of the veterans.

The Military Hospital Auxiliary, established Feb. 6, 1917, consisted of branches representing women’s organizations in New Westminster, Burnaby and all municipalities throughout the Fraser Valley. They raised over $17,000 and furnished the entire military wing, except for beds, mattresses and pillows, which were supplied by the Military Hospitals Commission.

The Edwin Rand Chapter of the Canadian Red Cross Society furnished a beautiful library containing over 1,000 volumes and members of the chapter acted as librarians, visiting the hospital daily.

The British Columbian also reported that “a splendidly equipped recreation room, with pool tables, etc., was also furnished by the Military Hospital Auxiliary, and frequent entertainments were arranged. The raising of nearly $40,000 and the gratuitous services otherwise rendered entailed considerable sacrifices, but the universal verdict is that the outlay has been abundantly justified.”

Unfortunately, in May 1919, Mayor Wells Gray, Chair of the RCH Board of Management, reported that the government had failed to maintain its guarantee and the military wing was again unoccupied. The military authority refused liability, though they did agree to reimburse the hospital for $3,000 and donated all beds, bedding and linoleum used.

In June 1920, the military wing was converted to a separately run maternity hospital, described at the time as “one of the finest and best equipped hospitals on the coast”, but that’s a whole different story.

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