The hospital that Winnipeg citizens built

by George Siamandas

On February 1, 1972 the provincial government amalgamated the old General hospital, the Children's Hospital and the Rehabilitation Hospital into one organization they now called the Health Sciences Centre. More than a hundred years earlier (1872) Winnipeg citizens were establishing the first hospital.

The first hospital was started in 1872. It was a five bed hospital over Dr Schultz's store near Main St and Notre Dame east. The first patient was a typhoid case on Dec 24 Christmas eve 1872. Just after the new year on Jan 3 1873 two men suffering from gun shot wounds were added. By the 8th the hospital was full. And till staff could be found Surgeon Codd of the Canadian Light Infantry did free work.

Leading the crusade for a hospital was the Winnipeg Free press which itself had been founded months earlier. There had been typhoid epidemics in 1871 and 1872 but the federal government had set up only temporary makeshift treatment boards. But nothing permanent existed to serve Winnipeg citizens.

A citizens committee led by AGB Bannatyne called a meeting and established a board of directors that would be elected annually for the next 100 years. A petition to the Manitoba government of 1872 was rejected by the "hard hearted" provincial treasurer of the day.

But later in the year the province did come through with $500. But still, the first annual report found an over run of $319 which came out of the director's pockets and from a canvass of the city. The following year the Board incorporated to limited their personal liabilities, and they developed a subscription plan to finance the hospital.

Charities raised money from the very beginning. A ladies fundraising effort held dances and raised $950 which was retained for the construction of a new hospital. In 1900 an X-Ray device was provided by merchant John Galt. Phones came in 1881 and from 1883 and for years after Bell provided free phone service.

The men literally died in their boarding houses and hotel rooms. In 1872 the census of 1467 people showed 1000 were males. A partial explanation of why all 15 patients during 1873 were men. In 1874 39 males and 3 females were served. In October 1874 the first child was treated fresh from the Icelandic migration. The first baby born in the hospital was 1881. The patients were English speaking: either Canadian or Manitoban. The French were cared for at St. Boniface Hospital.

Finally in 1875, on land donated by AGB Bannatyne and Andrew McDermot, located a mile west of Main on streets that bear their names, tenders were called for the first hospital building. This open field which was surrounded by a swamp was more than a mile away from downtown. The first two storey building cost $1,818, and the ladies fundraisers donated $1,345.80. And to overcome the muddy prairie conditions, a wooden boardwalk ran from Main St. to the hospital.

By 1878 there were 2 doctors on staff: John O 'Donnell Dr A J Jackes. And a steward, a cook and a nurse.

According to a map there have been at least 81 buildings and their additions on the site, including the ones that still stand. The complex now contains over 44 buildings plus their additions which now cover 16 square blocks.

The first building was a hospital. The second was a morgue. Then of course administrative space, a laundry, operating rooms, a nurses home, a maternity hospital. All in the first ten years. One building is of special note.

The nurse's home built in 1888 is the hospital's oldest surviving building. Of brick and lime stone construction, some of the limestone came from Old Fort Garry which was being dismantled at the time.

Penny pinching has been a way of life. They cut cost for milk, changed back to wood heating when coal got expensive and they built their own laundry to save costs. Charity has always been essential in the growth and development of Winnipeg hospitals.

In 1880 it cost patients $1 per day. Paupers received free care. Hospital insurance began in 1938.


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