Tucked on an unassuming shelf at the Northern Health Unit office complex on Kalum, lay a series of scrapbooks filled with clippings and photographs of the health unit’s past. One of those news clippings is from 1945, and it’s about a movie detailing the trials and triumphs of public health in the northwest.
When Dr. David Bowering, Northern Health’s chief medical officer, first saw this clipping in the ‘90s, he immediately tried to track down a copy of the film, and eventually succeeded in finding one, albeit without the narration.
One thing lead to another, and that copy was lost, but luckily researcher and nurse Carol Harrison had just finished writing her book on northwest public health nurses, a book which caught the attention of the nephew of the doctor, Dr. Knipe, who is featured in the film.
That nephew not only sent copies of the film – still without the original narration and backed by what Harrison describes as “real crashing music” – but put Harrison in touch with Dr. Knipe’s son and daughter, who were interested in their father’s history, and wanted to narrate the film. So Harrison sent them the original transcripts and they put the film together from afar, and sent it back here, to Terrace.
“She lives in Geneva and he lives in New York but they managed somehow to put it together,” said Harrison. “One of the really interesting things about it is that Mary, the daughter, is in the film. She is a baby, a newborn baby, and the public health nurse is visiting her.”
“It’s come into a really nice full circle,” added Bowering. “The family has given us permission to have this and to make copies, so we’re going to encourage people to take a look at it.”
Both Harrison and Bowering are thrilled with the turn of events, and stress that this film is an important part of the northwest’s medical history. Prince Rupert, where the film is set, had the first health unit in the north.
“That’s one reason he made the film,” said Harrison. “They took it on the road to Prince George, and Prince George was considering having a health unit of their own, and so the film was to help them.”
In the 30-minute film, the audience sees Prince Rupert and the industries that were dominant in the port city at that time – lumber and cannon and ship building. There’s a trip to the public health unit and a visit to the hospital with the public health nurse, who the audience then follows to a wartime house to see her supervise the bathing of a new baby before she heads to the Conrad St. School. The sanitary inspector goes to a restaurant, country dairy, and the chlorinating plant. Then, to the lab and x-ray office.
“The natural environment is still familiar,” said Bowering. “There’s lots of logging stuff going on. But the health system, all of our staff wore uniforms, in an almost sort of paramilitary look. Old, WW2 Annex-type buildings. So I’m blown away by that.”
The themes explored in the film are issues that public health is still addressing now – nutrition, food safety, prevention.
“I was born in ‘46 so this was actually produced the year before I was even born,” he said. “So if I think I’ve actually invented any of these issues or that they’re new, they’ve been around for longer than I have.”
And the film will be helpful for younger staff to see that public health has deep roots, especially in the north.
“I love this part of the world, the northwest,” said Bowering. “And just to see how deeply embedded this public health practice is in this area, I just love it. I’m hoping that some of our younger staff can pick up on this because a lot of them have no idea, they think that public health is something relatively recent.”