Posted tagged ‘air ambulance’

Christmas Through the Years at RCH

December 19, 2012

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.

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Air Ambulance in the Park & A Cemetery Tour

August 8, 2012

Our June 28 post, “From Buckboard to Sikorsky” mentioned that, before the current heliport at Royal Columbian Hospital was built in 2002, they had to use Sapperton Park, across the street from the hospital, as an emergency landing area. When a patient was brought to RCH Emergency by helicopter, the police had to close East Columbia Street and clear the park in order for the helicopter to land safely. The patient was then wheeled across the street to the emergency ward and eventually, after the helicopter had departed, traffic and park activities returned to normal. These two photos were taken by Dianne London in 1989 at Sapperton Park, New Westminster, when the helicopter had just brought in a patient for RCH. Our thanks to Gerry and Dianne London for allowing us to use these images.

Air ambulance landing in Sapperton Park, across the street from Royal Columbian Hospital in 1989. Photo by Dianne London

Air ambulance in Sapperton Park 1989. Photo by Dianne London

The first of two cemetery tours focussing on the 150 year anniversary of Royal Columbian Hospital will take place on Sunday, August 12, 2012, from 3 to 5 pm. This tour will explore a series of interesting, intriguing, or curious stories that involve RCH and individuals buried in St. Peter’s and Fraser cemeteries in New Westminster. Several of these stories have been told in this blog, though there will be much more detail given on the tour as well as the opportunity to ask questions or add comments. There will also be many other stories that don’t necessarily lend themselves to a blog!

Among others on the tour will be the grave and story of Lillian McAllister, a well loved nurse who died on duty and after whom the nursing home was named in 1935, and Dr. A.W.S. Black who served in the Crimean War in Florence Nightingale’s hospital, and when he died in 1870, left the town with no medical doctor. We will also visit the grave of David Robson.

Grave marker for David Robson in Fraser Cemetery. The Women’s Hospital was in the Robson house

The Women’s Hospital, that was incorporated with RCH in 1901, was located in Mr. & Mrs. Robson’s house on 3rd Avenue in New Westminster.

Ethel Cunningham’s family was involved in almost every aspect of the community, including the Women’s Hospital and Royal Columbian. You’ll hear about how James Cunningham, Ethel’s uncle and one of the wealthiest citizens in the community, had planned to move to Vancouver but decided to stay and help rebuild the Royal City after the disastrous Great Fire of 1898.

A portion of Fraser Cemetery with the Cunningham market in the foreground.

Another familiar name to blog readers is Dr. A.L. McQuarrie. He was the “detective” who solved the mystery of the source of the killer scarlet fever epidemic in 1913. See that story in the June 6th post.

If you are in the area on Sunday, join us for the tour. You’ll “meet” some of the people you’ve come to know through this blog and many others involved with RCH who have curious and intriguing stories to tell. One of those is a family who lost their home and their business in the Great Fire, but suffered an even greater loss 12 days later when their daughter died of a disease that is very much a concern in BC today. Find out how they dealt with the devastation and, while deeply mourning her death, increased their drive to rebuild and constructed a two-storey hotel with accommodation for at least 75 guests to replace their old one – in less than 14 days!

There is no need to register – just come to the cemetery office at 100 Richmond Street in Sapperton, New Westminster for a 3 pm start. Don’t forget your hat, sunscreen and walking shoes!

From Buckboard to Sikorsky

June 27, 2012

A newspaper article from September 1862, a month before the official opening of Royal Columbian Hospital (RCH), tells of a man who fell 30 feet down a precipice on the trail above Lytton, breaking one of his legs. “He succeeded in crawling to a point from which he could be seen by the men employed on the road, who at once conveyed him to Lytton, whence, through the kindness of the people at the various points, he reached this city.”

Later that month, another a man was brought down the Fraser River by the steamer Col. Moody and taken to RCH. However, the paper described him as so “far gone in a low fever” that he was unable to speak”. No one had any idea who he was or what was wrong with him. The paper suggested that it would be a good idea in the future “in sending down sick to accompany them with a letter from the local magistrate, or Doctor if any, giving the Hospital Board the name, disease, duration of illness and pecuniary circumstances of the patients.”

A 1876 case note for a seaman with a fractured rib reads, “This patient was struck on left side by a heavy spar on board ship on March 7th. Has been lying onboard since then on hard board. Brought in on stage today (March 10th).”

The only option for people to get to a hospital or to a doctor was to walk or be carried in a wagon or boat of some sort. The entire process might take days or even weeks, by which time infection might well have set in, a broken bone might have begun to set in a bad position, and of course, the patient had likely been in unremitting pain all that time.

Vehicles dedicated to transporting patients began in the early 1900s, but before the creation of the BC Ambulance Service (BCAS) on July 4, 1974, ambulance services were generally uncoordinated. Service was provided by a mixture of volunteer ambulance brigades, fire and police departments, funeral homes, and private operators.

In New Westminster, the first ambulance were horse-drawn wagons. In May 1909 City Council minutes note that the ambulance ordered by the City had arrived, would be kept at one of the Livery Stables, and that the parties using it were to pay for the use of the team. By 1912, there was a recommendation “that a Motor Ambulance be procured to be used for ordinary sickness and accidents, and that the present ambulance be used only for infectious diseases.” The photograph below shows the New Westminster Police Department’s “Black Maria” from that year. It was used as an ambulance, for prisoners, and by the pound keeper.


By 1927, ambulance service was provided by the New Westminster Fire Department and was available 24 hours a day. In his 1927 annual report, Chief Watson stated that the department answered 141 calls for accidents and sickness, the ambulance had earned $330 from paying patients, and that clean sheets and pillow slips were furnished every patient, being changed after every call. He added, “now that the cold weather is setting in, we should have 2 or 3 hot water bottles to take along for the comfort of the patients.”

Fast forward 75 years to an article in Fraser Health’s “In Focus” of December 20, 2002, entitled “Heliport ready for an emergency”. “After months of construction and flight tests, the new RCH heliport is fully operational and ready to take air ambulance helicopters transporting trauma patients when the need arises. … In the past, the hospital had to use Sapperton Park across the street as an emergency landing area. Now with the heliport on site, patients can be flown in for tertiary care and be treated and stabilized with minimal delay.” RCH now receives more trauma patients by Air Ambulance than any other hospital in BC.

Santa arrives at RCH Heliport 2005


Add to the Air Ambulance, a ground fleet of 540 ambulances and support vehicles, deployed from 184 stations around the province and staffed by highly skilled paramedics providing Basic Life Support or Advanced Life Support and both patients and doctors from RCH’s early days would be forgiven for thinking that you had lost your mind if you tried to describe to them what we all take for granted.

Next time you hear an ambulance siren or hear the Medijet Air Ambulance overhead, take a moment to remember just how far we’ve come in responding to and providing care for patients during emergencies.


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