The Ladies’ Aid of the General Hospital – Thunder Bay’s Vanished Vanguards

The Ladies' Aid of The General Hospital - The Original Railyway Marine and General Hospital of Port Arthur Ontario | Alex Inspired

There are many things which truly disappoint me with our city and the people who make final decisions. One of them being, the complete disregard for our history and the lack of acknowledgment to those people/organizations/buildings and their historical significance.

The Ladies’ Aid of the General Hospital has sparked my curiosity greatly, and is a fine example of this typical disrespect. Their hard work, stamina and ability to build not one, but two hospitals in Port Arthur have been completely dissolved through bad decisions.

Port Arthur Railway Marine and General Hospital

Here is the story of our nearly forgotten heroines, our leaders and patrons who changed medical history in Port Arthur forever.

This is the story of our Vanished Vanguards – The Ladies’ Aid of the General Hospital.

The Ladies’ Aid of the General Hospital was organized in November 1904, composed of a small group of 24 women. Their title at the time was “The Ladies’ Aid Society of the Railway, Marine and General Hospital of Port Arthur”.

Their first annual meeting was held November 6th, 1905.  Meeting minutes detail their reasoning behind the creation of the organization. In summary, the organization was created to fill a need to bring a General Hospital to Port Arthur.

Many years before, a public gathering was held to discuss such venture. Although this gathering was large and boisterous – resulting in a sum of money being collected, the momentum died. Later on, a meeting was called and on May 9th with Reverend S.C. Murray at the helm, he announced the businessmen of Port Arthur had deliberated the idea of building a hospital. The ladies present at this meeting sprang at the opportunity and officially formed the Ladies’ Aid Society of the Railway Marine and General Hospital later that afternoon.

Throughout their first year, they held 31 meetings and carried out 8 major fundraising events, (one of which was the very first rummage sale held in Port Arthur) they held multiple teas and collected donations from city residents. Particular mention was made in the secretary’s report praising Mr. Sandoe, who collected money for the Aid in the lumber camps, where he worked.

By 1905 the Aid grew from a mere 24 members to 270 paid memberships. Their funds secured a portion of land at the price of $3.000 on the corner of Dawson and Algoma Street. The remaining balance of their account was $963.46; this was used to begin planning the next stage and development of their new hospital. During the first four years, they raised $11.200, which was handed to the Board of Governors for a building fund. By September 1906 a sum of $3000.00 and an extra $500.00 was presented to the board.

October 5th, 1906 brought celebration upon the laying of the cornerstone of the new hospital, with a charity ball and festivities later that evening.

The following years (1907 and 1908) brought upon many more events, concerts, plays and various fundraising activities to furnishing the hospital. The Young Ladies’ Auxiliary was created and assisted in fundraising to furnish the matron’s room in the new hospital.

In 1908, the economy took a turn. The construction of the hospital was delayed; in turn the Aid questioned why construction could not begin, even with the funds readily available.

The President of the Board, Mr. Wideman commented:

“Delay was caused by the financial depression of the country, which made it impossible for the Board to complete the work”.

In response, the Ladies passed a motion, giving the Board (let’s remember the board was completely composed of men) an ultimatum.

“… A resolution was passed asking the Men’s Board when the hospital would open, and saying until a definite answer was given, the Ladies Aid refused to do anything further in a financial way.”

Cue Beyoncé.

Boy you know you love it how
we’re smart enough to make these millions
Strong enough to bear the children
then get back to business
– Beyonce Knowles – Girls Who Run The World

The hospital opened on Victoria Day, 1909.

Photograph of the Port Arthur Railway, Marine and General Hospital

The hospital is provided with very spacious sun porches and balconies, and in 1924 the Masonic Orders of the city installed X-Ray equipment at a cost of $4,000.

Through their success of building and furnishing a brand new hospital, in 1913 the Ladies took towards purchasing an adjacent home, 317 Dawson Street – owned by the Pigeon River Lumber Company. This would become the new Nurses Residence, complete with chicken house (constructed by Mr. Wood) to be built on the grounds. Farm Fresh eggs would be available in the hospital kitchen!

Nearly 4,000 Dance for Hospital Funds - Railway Marine and General Hospital Port Arthur

The Winnipeg Tribune (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) 20 Nov 1922, Mon • Page 7

Throughout the years, the Ladies’ Aid would not only continue fundraising efforts, they would also sew every piece of linen for the hospital. This included sheets, pillowcases and nightshirts, hot water bottle covers and pneumonia jackets. An annual linen shower was created, where new linens were bestowed upon the hospital. Later on this service would discontinue in 1932, and all linens would eventually be purchased.

Election of Directors at the Railway Marine and General Hospital of Port Arthur - 1911

The Winnipeg Tribune (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) 24 Jan 1908, Fri • Page 1

After the Great War, the Ladies’ recognized the need for a larger hospital. Thus fundraising efforts commenced (after the influenza epidemic of 1919) in preparation for a larger and newer hospital. By 1925, the building fund neared the $10,000 mark.

In 1927, property on North Court Street, nestled between Munroe and Clavet streets (comprise of 3.5 acres) was purchased. This would become the future site of the new Port Arthur General Hospital.

On September 9th, 1929, the cornerstone was laid and on January 27th, 1930 the Port Arthur General Hospital officially opened.

Port Arthur General Hospital Post Card

PAGH Postcard, ebay

In January of 1938, the Chairman of the Board of Governors addressed the Aid, and expressed hope for a new nurse’s residence. Through this period, war had broken in Europe and the Aid continued with fundraising for the new residence as well as assisting in the war effort.

With the ongoing effort by the Aid, various supplies including furniture, china and linens were purchased for the hospital, along with new state of the art equipment which included occupational therapy materials and diagnostic tools.

Arial view of the Port Arthur General Hospital

Aerial View pf PAGH 1953 – Joanne Nowosad, Thunder Bay Memories Group

In 1945, an additional wing was created and furnished solely on funds raised by the Aid. In addition to the new wing of the hospital, the women contributed money towards new instruments for the operating room and equipment towards physical therapy.  In 1948 the Veterans’ Wing was completed, with an opening ceremony which welcomed thousands of citizens to tour the new facility.

Mrs. J. Raynard is quoted from the annual report:

“It is to be hoped that our future efforts may be well rewarded in order that our hospital may remain the best in the community in every detail”.

Throughout the years at the Port Arthur General, the Ladies’ Aid continued to fundraise, bringing improvements and zest to their beloved hospital. Another wing was eventually added, and the Nurses residence was completed and utilized for teaching and learning.

In a modern light, here are a few things the Ladies’ Aid brought to us:

The Baby Camera
I’m certainly not the only baby who had their picture taken at the hospital. You know the ones; new baby centred on a cute blanket patterned with little blue and pink elephants and bears. We have the Ladies’ Aid to thank for this. They raised the funds to help new parents document their precious little ones, with the option to have prints made to hand out to family and friends.
Sadly, I found this remarkable camera for sale on Kijijji recently.

Christmas Stocking
Were you a Christmas Baby born at Port Arthur General?
Chances are you were swaddled in a handmade Baby Stocking for your trip home. The Ladies’ Aid lovingly sewed large stockings especially for these newborn Noëls. These rare and one-of-a-kind stockings are treasured heirlooms, am I right Galati family?

General Hospital Ladies' Aid Handmade Stockings

Does anyone remember any of the murals in the Children’s area? These murals were hand painted and designed by members of the Ladies’ Aid – creating a calming and distracting atmosphere from the purely clinical environment.

My heart aches as I write about the achievements this amazing group of women procured.

Yes, a hospital wouldn’t be a hospital without its Doctors, Nurses, and Staff. However, without this amazing group of women there never would have would have been a Port Arthur General Hospital where nurses and doctors trained and healed.

And yet, there no longer is a Port Arthur General Hospital.

These wonderful women, who created something from nothing, have no physical legacy left, other than three stone blocks from the Port Arthur General Hospital Façade. This is embarrassingly shameful.

I am ashamed that the Railway Marine and General Hospital was torn down. I am ashamed the Port Arthur General was torn down, and I am ashamed that our community allowed it to happen – arbitrarily removing both historic hospitals these women built.

baby onesie, "I was born at the Port Arthur General Hospital"

I am however, PROUD.

I am proud of the Aid, their achievements, their tenacity and their impact on our community. I am proud of Mrs. Shirley King, a retired PAGH Nurse who has spearheaded a memorial to our dear hospital. I am also proud of the many people who keep PAGH memories alive, who share their photos and reminisce.

You may agree, or agree to disagree with what I have written; it’s all a matter of opinion. However, we must remember what this group of women accomplished, and how they’ve ultimately shaped the history of health care in Port Arthur – for the better.

They are, The Ladies’ Aid of the General Hospital, Thunder Bay’s Vanished Vanguards.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Mike April 15, 2018 at 9:14 am

    a great write up Alex…as one who is always photographing and writing about the history of Thunder Bay, and one who once lived where the hospital was and is now Dawson Apartments I found this quite fascinating…I even took a photo of them demolishing the General Hospital…

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