In 1912, J.D. McCormack, President of the Comox Logging and Railway Company urged the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto to establish a hospital. Met with hesitancy initially, the community eventually was able to convince the Archdiocese of Toronto who was the former Archbishop of Vancouver to send the Sisters to the remote community.
July 5th will mark the 100th anniversary of the arrival of four Sisters – Majella, Claudia, Saint Emond, and Praxedes – in the Comox Valley. Sister Majella served as the first Sister Superior for the first four years.
For 79 of the past 100 years, the Sisters of the Order of St. Joseph have faithfully served the hospital and residents of the Comox Valley and surrounding community. The last Sisters to retire and close the mission in 1992 were Sister Marie Kilcollen, Bernice Lamphier and Patricia Macauley.
The hospital opened as a temporary fourbed converted farmhouse on August 10th1913 receiving the first patient, a painter who had fallen and broken his collarbone.
The first baby born in the hospital was Jack Berkeley on September 29th 1913, the only birth on record of that year. Account of this is documented in his memoires tapedrecorded by his son Don Berkeley in 1995.
On August 14th 1920, seven years after opening, the hospital turned the electricity on for the first time doing away with coal oil lamps. By 1926, piped water was installed bringing further modernization to the expanded 35 –bed, two-storey building.
On March 1st 1929, a new red ambulance was used for the first time. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by fire shortly thereafter and never replaced.
Twenty-two days later, on the 23rd, the statue of St Joseph was erected in the niche above the then front doorway. It has been recorded that St Joseph turned as a result of a damaging 7.3 magnitude earthquake that shook the valley in 1946.
With a significant injury rate, loggers relied on the hospital extensively, hence the plea to establish one. Albeit necessary in the development of the valley, their job proved to be quite dangerous. The company brokered a deal with the hospital to pay a monthly due of $2.00 to the hospital. Those with resident families paid $4.00.
Well-known Canadian actress and former Comox Valley resident Pamela Anderson has ties to the Comox Logging Company and hospital. Her grandfather, Herman Anderson, sustained severe injuries in 1925 as a rigger at Camp 2. His wife rushed from Ladysmith to St Joseph’s to be by her husband’s side but arrived just an hour and a half too late.
After the first year, the hospital was up to 11 births proving that home births were no longer the only option for the valley ladies. By 1955, births surpassed 360 and today, approximately two babies are born in Maternal Child a day. With the NHL strike, perhaps St Joseph’s will reach an all time record of births in celebration of the centennial. All of our Centennial Babies of 2013 will be featured in December.
The Views is home to 125 permanent residents. The oldest resident is Evelyn Potter who recently celebrated her 104th birthday in December. Evidently, she was not born at St. Joseph’s. Just who is our eldest original centennial baby? Let us know; first decade babies still residing in the Comox Valley today will be featured throughout 2013. Several published works were referred to in compilation of these facts including books Land of Plenty, A History of the Comox District and Mountain Timber; clippings from the Comox District Free Press; and notes, letters and memoires archived at St. Joseph’s General Hospital and by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto.
This is just a small glimpse of the past 100 years. If you have more facts of interest pass them along through our Facebook Page, www.facebook.com/SJGHCentennial, or by contacting the Foundation at 250-339-3046. We would love to hear about them because history matters!