Surplus Second World War building on Little Ave. close to the arena served as first hospital here and was run by the Red Cross. A move then followed to a much larger facility

This is how Terrace, B.C. got its first modern hospital

Mills Memorial Hospital built on land purchased by group of local businessmen

(Second of two parts)

By Kelsey Wiebe

When the Second World War ended, concerned citizens suggested that at least a portion of the military hospital on the Bench be used as a community hospital.

Dr. Mills, in his constant role as hospital advocate, suggested that ‘the project be advanced as a living War Memorial to the men of the war recently ended.’

Several others, however, objected to the idea on the grounds that the Bench ‘was too far away for friends and relatives who wished to visit patients.’

The military hospital was subsequently stripped of its equipment, and demolition was scheduled.

It was stopped by a timely telegram from Terrace businessman Geoff Lambly to then-MLA E.T. Kenney.

Recognizing the usefulness of the complex, Kenney arranged for the hospital to be converted into what became, interchangeably, Skeenaview and the Home for the Aged.

Mentally ill patients and seniors suffering from dementia and other age-related diseases were transferred from Essondale and other Lower Mainland care facilities.

After the war, the need for a dedicated hospital for the community became more acutely pronounced.

Dr. Mills, who had used state-of-the-art facilities, was suddenly back to a small, one-bed wooden building without electricity.

He became more vocal in his efforts: in 1945, he demanded, at a Board of Trade meeting, that business people help him in his hospital campaign.

As a result, the Terrace Hospital Association was formed.

This new group took advantage of the army’s policy of auctioning off surplus military buildings, purchasing the Brigade Headquarters Officers Mess on Little Avenue for $2,938.

George Little donated the land the building sat on for $1.

Lacking the funding to convert the mess into a hospital, the association sent Ida Robinson, a ‘demure little Terrace lady,’ according to George McAdams, long-time hospital proponent, to a Canadian Red Cross Society convention in Vancouver.

She had read that the organization had funds available to establish outpost hospitals, and made headlines by standing up in the general assembly to request that Terrace serve as one of those outposts.

The Red Cross agreed to build an outpost hospital in Terrace, with the enticement of the community’s willingness to put up one third of the cost.

The Red Cross, the government, and Terrace each paid for $6,000 of renovations.

The 10-bed, three-nurse Outpost Hospital operated by the Red Cross was officially opened in March of 1948.

The new facilities attracted three new doctors, including a surgeon from New York, who joined Dr. Mills.

The rapidly increasing regional population resulted in the hiring of more nurses and a greater workload.

The Red Cross, anticipating the need for expansion and facing dwindling funds, encouraged the community to take over full responsibility for the hospital’s operations.

In late 1951, the hospital and all of its assets were turned over to Terrace.

Within six months, a new organization, the Terrace Hospital Fund, arranged the sponsorship of service organizations and private citizens in order to double the amount of beds to 20.

Even so, the hospital was not suitable for the increasing needs of a booming post-war population.

By 1957, the Skeena Hospital Improvement District had been established in order to pursue the exhaustive process of lobbying the government to build a new hospital.

Trustees Bill McRae, Bert Goulet, Sandie Sandover-Sly, George Martin and Fred Smith personally purchased 20 acres of land at Haugland Ave. and Tetrault St. from eccentric old-timer Pat Beaton for $4,000 each.

The land was then donated to the hospital effort.

At the same time, the BC Minister of Health and Welfare Eric Martin toured the Outpost Hospital and was appalled: he “express[ed] amazement at its dilapidated condition” and “decided immediate action was necessary.”

With the support of the provincial health department, the hospital campaign proceeded much more quickly. Martin secured government approval in principle to construct a hospital.

“Because three partners were involved, (i.e. The Provincial Government, The Federal Government and the Terrace Board,) arguments, changes, and delays were inevitable,” wrote McAdams.

The process was a “long and difficult” one, but after five more years, a building contract was awarded to the lowest bidders, Peter Kiewit and Sons Canada, at $804,000.

Construction of the new hospital began in March 1960.

The “pride and joy to all Terrace and district” was completed a year later, on time, for $833,000.

The provincial government paid half the costs.

The remainder was paid by the ratepayers of the hospital district: a new hospital was proposed as a bylaw three times, and each time, passed with 95 or 96 per cent of voters in favour.

The 40-bed Terrace and District Hospital was officially opened on March 4th, 1961.

The ceremonies were fittingly overseen by Minister Martin, who had ensured that the community campaign was taken seriously by the government.

About 2,000 people attended the opening ceremonies.

The hospital was open for public inspection, and 4,000 people “inspected” the new wards on its opening weekend.

In 1961, the building was heralded as “one of the most modern hospitals in B.C., if not in Canada.”

The Terrace and District Hospital Association dedicated the hospital “to the service of humanity.”

Annie Thibideau was the first patient at Terrace’s new hospital, arriving on March 17th, 1961, the first of a set of patients transferred from the former Red Cross Hospital.

The first baby born in the new maternity ward was Terri Leigh Roper, on March 20th.

The first twins, Joy Julian and June Elizabeth Wideman, followed shortly after on March 25th.

The hospital, which was called “the ultimate in planning and imagination” at its opening, has been expanded and renovated many times since 1961.

A $1.2 million expansion in 1968 increased the number of beds to 87 and added an intensive care unit and a new laboratory and X-ray department.

Most departments were upgraded during a $6.3 million expansion in 1977.

A new hospital in 1961 was the culmination of decades of advocacy, lobbying, and unsafe medical care.

Once again, the Skeena region is faced with medical facilities that do not allow for the safe treatment of many of our sick and injured close to home.

The Terrace and District Hospital was renamed Mills Memorial Hospital in 1962, to honour the memory of Dr. and Edith Mills, who perished in a house fire in May of 1961.

Edith was, at the time, the head nurse in charge of the Emergency Department at the new hospital.

Dr. Mills died having seen his mission to secure a purpose-built hospital for Terrace come to fruition: the Mills’ joint gravestone in the Kitsumgallum Cemetery reads “Life’s Work Well Done.”

Kelsey Wiebe is the Curator of Heritage Park Museum (curator@heritageparkmuseum.com..

If you have hospital photos, please consider donating them or loaning them to the museum to scan.

 

 

 

 

 

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