The Gardener was the Butcher & The Floor-Cleaner Made the Ice Cream


from New Westminster Now, 28 July 1987 p. 23

Dietician Helen Rhodes in 1987

Compared with the sophisticated food preparation system in place today, the Royal Columbian Hospital kitchen of the 1920s was pretty primitive.

Helen Rhodes had her work cut out, serving not only as dietician but also as hospital housekeeper – she was responsible for ensuring the window cleaners kept the 1000 windows clean. “I was alone,” said Helen, now 90, in a recent interview, “in the dietary department at the Royal Columbian, to which the housekeeping had been added. When I left in 1945 I had a secretary, two assistant dieticians and a housekeeper. We were also affiliated with the VGH in training intern dieticians. Each came to us for a month. The dieticians visited patients regularly to help them with their choice of food.

“In addition, we were the first in the district to have selective menus for the private (paying) patients. One of my first visits to a liquor store was when I went to buy wine for a French private patient. Many patients were on special diets and there have been as many changes in these as in other forms of treatment.”

In the early twenties the kitchen was very primitive: coal stoves and no power equipment. Kitchen staff worked a 64-hour week and had to report for duty at 6 a.m. No sleeping in for them. They had two weeks holiday a year, and if they had Christmas afternoons off, they worked New Year’s Day. There were no pensions, there was no trained staff, and no money for chefs. If the cook left, then perhaps a window washer or local housewife got the job.

Meat came in whole carcasses and was cut up by the gardener, regardless of his ability in this field. The Sunday ice cream was ground out by the floor-cleaner, with a hand machine.

“I had a room in the nurses’ residence. My first assistant was appointed in 1930. She was Betty Whiteside, who had been May Queen, and was Judge Whiteside’s daughter.”

Conditions began to improve during the 1930s – except that during the war years there were staff problems and shortages. “We had to make do with untrained people, some of whom, if they didn’t feel like coming to work, just stayed in bed.

“The one important aspect that stands out in my 25 years at RCH is that although the patients may not have known much about their illness or their treatment, they did know about food. So that although we were preparing institutional food, we always did the best we could with what was available.”

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