Beautiful New Hospital Building – Completely Empty!

In 1912, when the cornerstone for the third Royal Columbian Hospital building was laid, the world was a very different place than it had been in 1889, when the second hospital was built.

During that 23 year period, antitoxins for both tetanus and diphtheria were produced for the first time, the world’s first open heart surgery was performed, the X-ray was discovered, ASA (Aspirin) was perfected, and Novocaine was introduced into clinical use. On the local hospital front, RCH and the Women’s Hospital merged, the RCH School of Nursing was established, and a maternity cottage was opened on the RCH site. In New Westminster, the first electric lights and the City’s first waterworks system came into service, regular streetcar service between New Westminster and Vancouver was established, the first local bridge across the Fraser River opened, and almost the entire downtown area was destroyed by fire.

In March 1913, Jessie Scott, Lady Superintendent, returned from her extended trip to eastern Canada to determine what equipment and supplies would be needed for the new hospital (see last week’s post). Furnishings and equipment, at a cost of $30,000, had to be ordered soon in order to be installed for the expected opening that August. The $100,000 from the Provincial Government and the $130,000 from the City was strictly for construction and could not be used for furnishings.

Fundraising activities began in earnest. There was a huge barn dance in Queen’s Park with special cars on the BC Electric Railway to bring people to the event; there were concerts at churches and at theatres, there were contests and parties, but it still wasn’t enough. In September 1913, the local paper reported that the Bank of Montreal might advance $70,000 on unsold bonds to complete construction, but that could not be used for furnishings.

The cover story on October 17, 1913 put it very starkly, “Hospital is in Quandary: Faces Necessity of Vacating Old Building But New is Not Furnished” The old hospital had been condemned. Construction crews were anxious to begin work on the remaining two wings of the new building and were pressing for the old building to be vacated so it could be razed, allowing the new construction on its site, but still there were not enough funds for furnishings, supplies and more nurses to care for the expected increase in the number of patients. Specifically, they needed furnishings for the kitchen, dining rooms, nurses’ quarters, rooms for staff and for the operating room. Individuals and societies had committed to furnish eight of the twelve private wards, and one of the five public wards would be furnished by Mr. & Mrs. P.D. Roe of Port Moody at a cost of $1,200.

A ward was furnished in the name of A Creighton


It was becoming very clear that few if any of the other municipalities in the district would contribute financially to the hospital, though they all expected to send patients to it. The Board appealed directly to the citizens of New Westminster “to come to the rescue”. The fundraising campaign sent personal letters asking for subscriptions to groups, companies, “employees of mills, factories and business houses”, teachers, “hardware men, clothiers, butchers, and fishermen”.

A ward was furnished by school children

Slowly the response began to build. The Red Cross Society committed to furnishing the children’s ward; other groups took on furnishing a private or public ward; companies committed to providing supplies for the private rooms. More fundraising events took place: “The Queen of Bon Ton Land” at the Opera House raised $174.05, and a Cinderella Dance at St. George’s Hall raised enough to furnish one ward. The RCH Auxiliary scandalized the town by holding a Tango Tea at the Russell Hotel at which Mrs. Lester and her partner gave exhibitions of the tango and the hesitation waltz, in spite of raised eyebrows and fears that “the morals of the nation are degenerating”. Most importantly, it raised $147 for RCH. The final goal was met when the Bank of Montreal agreed to lend the Board $10,000, giving them enough to furnish and equip the main part of the building.

A ward was furnished by Hugh Nelson

By the end of March 1914, the third car of furniture was being unloaded, and the electric fixtures and other minor elements in the new building were being installed. By April, the required connections had been made, and the paper excitedly reported that “the new hospital building will be warmed entirely by electric heaters”.

Finally the official announcement came – the new hospital would be open June 1, 1914. Almost all areas were furnished on time except the operating room, but they moved the old O.R. equipment to the new site and prepared to open anyway. The only minor hitch was having to seal up the skylights of the two operating rooms as dust and dirt was sifting down from them into the room..

Celebrations marking the formal opening of the new RCH were held May 29. There were speeches, a tea, and a dance in the evening in the main ward that was “comfortably crowded with over 100 guests”. As part of the festivities, the ever-practical Auxiliary held a “Jam and Jelly Shower” that afternoon “as the hospital is getting very short of these dainties”. “Some 100 quarts of jam were donated, plus a similar amount of jelly, a pair of flannelette blankets, two sets of books, several table clothes, tray covers and napkins, as well as small money donations.”

Only two weeks after the opening of the first two wings, the paper reported that “so many additional patients have been admitted during the past two weeks, that it is necessary to open the third floor”. Recognizing that the work of providing funds to keep the hospital operating had only just begun, groups continued to hold events, donating the proceeds to furnish other wards, hire more nurses and buy new equipment for various departments such as the brand new laboratory. It was and is a never-ending challenge, continued today by the current Auxiliary and the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation.

Advertisements
Explore posts in the same categories: Building Expansion, Community Support

Tags: , , , , , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

2 Comments on “Beautiful New Hospital Building – Completely Empty!”

  1. mannis2 Says:

    Fascinating read on the healthcare funding challenges of the early twentieth century.

    • rch150 Says:

      Thanks for your comment. Interesting that while there was an expectation that capital costs would be provided by various levels of government, the general view was that operating costs should come from users and/or the public who might be users at some point, via direct donation.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: