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Medicine Hat

Seven Persons - Once Hundred Sixty Acres and a Dream

Chapter 23

Medicine Hat made its beginning when the Canadian Pacific Railway made its way across the west. It could supply coal and water to the locomotives and business for the trains so it became a railway centre of considerable importance. It was less than twenty miles from Seven Persons so became the city to attend for all business.

The story told of how it received its name is written in the newspaper clipping. It became the medical center for the people of the surrounding rural area. Here is the story of the hospital as taken from The Medicine Hat News of Thursday, May 10, 1962.

Old Indian Legend Source of Medicine Hat's Name

By Senator F. W. Gershaw
The name Medicine Hat is an unusual one for a city and arouses interest when it is mentioned. The city has come to the attention of many lately because the vigorous Mayor Harry Veiner has travelled a lot. Wherever he goes he iniates some publicity stunt that makes people all over Canada curious about the city.

Numerous stories are told about the origin of the name. One is that Medicine Hat is a translation of the Blackfoot word "Saamis" meaning the colorful head-dress of the Medicine Man.

History records that in the days of tribal warfare a battle took place between Blackfoot and Cree warriors. The Cree leader lost his hat, trimmed with feathers brightly colored, while crossing the river. With this loss the morale of the Cree warriors suffered and they fled in disorder. A hill nearby was marked by the name Medicine Hat on a map of the Department of Interior in 1883.

Mr. Hunter, the historian for the North-West Mounted Police recorded the following:

The unusual name Medicine Hat was the out come of an Indian legend that, while camped on the south branch a Blackfoot warrior had a vision. Ice covered the river, in the midst of which was a small patch of open water caused by the current. A figure appeared from this opening (some versions say an Indian Chief, some a serpent), wearing a elaborate head - dress adorned with eagle plumes. It so happened that the young warrior at the time was courtng the maiden of his heart and was told if he threw her to the underwater creature he would be the greatest warrior chief of all his tribe. For love of her barbaric fiance the girl acquiesced and was hurled beneath the water.

Henceforth,the place was known as the pot of Medicine Hat."

General Hospital's History Interesting:

Miss Noreen Flanagan, a native Medicine Hatter, joined the clerical staff of Medicine Hat General Hospital in 1930. She was appointed administrator in 1951. She is a nominee of the American College of Hospital Administrators and holds a certificate in hospital organization and management from the Canadian Hospital Association. By NOREEN FLANAGAN Administrator, Medicine Hat General Hospital

In the year 1888 application was made to the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories to incorporate the Medicine Hat General Hospital and in the bill of incorporation the following gentlemen were named as the first board of directors: P. Robertson, J. Horner, J. Niblock, R. Rice, Rev. C. Teeter, Rev. W. G. Lyon, M. Leonard, R. McCuaig, S. Hayward, N. Wessell, W.T. Finlay, W. Cousins, Thos. Tweed, G. Noble, L. Dobbin, R.E. Starks, Rev. J. Herald, C.D. Kevin, Rev. D. Garton, and Sir Lister Kaye.

A meeting of the citizens of Medicine Hat was held in the Government Hall, Monday evening, Jan. 21, 1889, at the call of the projectors of the hospital. The object of the meeting was to take action on the erection of a hospital in Medicine Hat to take care of the unusually large number of sick people in the town and along the Division of the CPR. The first intention was to try and raise $1000. Before spending many hours in the laudable work Mr. Q. Niblock doubled the amount and after receiving expressions of encouragement in his undertaking from every person with whom he came in contact and by placing their names on his subscription list for a good round sum he placed the figures at three times their original dimensions. Some $2,600 were realized "with more to come."

The hospital building was completed and opened in the year 1890 at a cost of $25,000 thus becoming the first institution of the kind in the Northwest Territories. When you take into consideration that Medicine Hat at that time had a population of 350 and the country surrounding settled by only a few ranchers it will be seen what a task the above named gentlemen had taken upon themselves to build and maintain a hospital on this vast prairie and yet they did it and made it go and it has been going ever since and today it is one of the few hospitals in Canada not showing a huge deficit in operation and this is done without impairing the service which is of the very best. Too much credit cannot be given to those who have been responsible for the financial affairs of the institution from the beginning.

The building erected in 1890 had a capacity of 25 beds, in the year 1907 a wing was added to the building at a cost of $22,000. In 1919 the sum of $21,000 was expended in making more room. In 1919, $10,000 was expended in erecting and equipping a laundry. The bed capacity of the hospital at this time reached 130. At that time the hospital owned the whole block on which were no encumbrances on either the building or the land.

The total number of hospital days for patients during the year 1890 was 3,501, and for the year 1928, 28,667, the total number of patients treated in the year 1890 was 124 and in the year 1928, 2,719. During the first year the total cost of running the hospital was $3,178.72. The total cost in the year 1929 was $65,000 and costs have been steadily increasing since.

The Training School for nurses as it was known then was started in the year 1894 by Dr. J. B. Peters, then medical superintendent and the first examination for graduation of nurses was held in Jan. 1896. Two graduated that year. Dr. Peters lectured weekly, not only to the nurses but to ladies of the town who were interested in hospital work. The hospital supplied nurses for cases outside the hospital, the fee being fixed at one dollar a day.

The corner stone of the maternity hospital was laid by Lady Aberdeen on Oct. 11th, 1894 and the building was opened by Lieutenant-Governor Mackintosh on Aug.11th, 1895; the ceremony took place in the afternoon and in the evening a garden party was given by the Women's Hospital Aid Society. The cost of the building was $5,000. In the year 1904 a further sum of $7,000 was expended in putting on another story. In 1910 a new wing was added costing $14,000 and a further addition costing $33,000 in 1919.

The Women's Hospital Aid Society, one of the greatest auxiliaries the hospital could have, was organized in Medicine Hat in the year 1894. This society was instrumental in the furnishing of the maternity hospital and the nurses' home and contributed the sum of $1800 to the building of the nurses' home. In fact it was said that all the hospital had to do was rub Aladdin's Lamp and the bolts of cotton, linen, blankets etc. were delivered to the hospital by the Hospital Aid.

The old hospital had quite a colorful and interesting background. Money was needed for building and a policy was set up whereby citizens paid the sum of $50 and were known as life governors. The president of the Board, Mr. J. Niblock, who was a CPR man, would tab all the prominent passengers going through for donations. That's one reason the old hospital had such life governors as Lord Mountstephen, W. C. VanHorne, the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, not to mention the Hudson Bay Co. of Winnipeg and the Eau Claire Lumber Company of Calgary, and so on.

In 1948 the ownership and operation of the General Hospital was taken over by the City of Medicine Hat from the public corporation that had operated it since inception.

In 1953 the municipal hospital district was formed and plans got underway for the erection of a new hospital, and in 1955 a new foundation was started. The foundation stone was laid in September by the late Hon. J. J. Bowlen, Lieutenant-Governor of the province.

In 1956 a new nurses' residence was planned, and its building begun. In 1957 the new hospital and nurses' residence were opened, and finally on Jan. 22, 1958, the big move from the hospital to the new one took place.

From a 25 bed hospital to a rated bed capacity of 243 beds and 37 bassinettes in 67 years!

Old stained glass windows and transoms are now in an honoured place at the museum. The value of the new general hospital and its contents is in excess of $3,600,000. A total of 448, including medical staff and student nurses, are occupied in it. And by April 1, 1962 more than 30,000 patients had been treated in it since it opened.

In 1961 construction of a new 100-bed auxilliary hospital, the Dr. Dan MacCharles Hospital, which will be in some respects a satellite of the General Hospital and which will be linked to it by a tunnel, was started.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup