Notre Dame Hospital has checkered history
By Eloi DeGrace
NORTH BATTLEFORD, Sask. — The Sisters of Providence celebrate this year the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Holy Angels Province in Western Canada. Mother Emily Gamelin founded the Sisters of Providence in Montreal in 1843 and soon after they were called to serve in missions throughout North America. In 1912, it became necessary to restructure the administration of the community and Holy Angels Province was created for the houses in Western Canada. Notre Dame Hospital in North Battleford was one of the institutions in the new province. Here is the story of its founding in 1911.
Between 1901 and 1911, the population of the Battlefords area increased rapidly. North Battleford had two doctors then, Dr. J. H. Jackson and Dr. Jules Hamelin, but no hospital. The closest hospital was in Saskatoon, about 160 km away. It was Rev. Joseph Paillé, OMI, the parish priest of North Battleford, who invited the Sisters of Providence to build and operate a hospital.
For this foundation to succeed, the general council needed to appoint a sister with hospital experience. Sister Heliodore, the first superior, arrived with Sister Genevieve, both of them experienced in nursing and hospital operation. There was nobody there to welcome them at the train station. Mr. Massé, a hotel employee, drove them to the church where the pastor was getting ready to say mass. In the next six months, three other sisters arrived from Alberta and Quebec: Sisters Sostene, Anthime, and Rollande, who had just made vows.
When the sisters arrived, the hospital was not yet built. Temporary quarters affording 20 beds were set up in the rectory, which the priests vacated so that it could serve as a hospital. At the end of June 1912 there were six sisters working there and 200 patients had been treated after a year of operation.
The city provided a lot on which to build, and the sisters went on begging tours to raise money for construction for the 60-bed Notre Dame Hospital, which opened in Sept. 1912. It progressed gradually. In the chronicles for 1915-1916, the annalist wrote: “Everything in our small hospital is so ordinary that it is really extraordinary.” That year, the sisters took care of 607 patients.
Notre Dame Hospital was awarded standardization in 1922. During the Depression, nine sisters and five lay nurses worked at the hospital.
From July 1929 to June 1930, 1,254 patients were admitted and 227 individuals who couldn't pay were admitted for free. Two new wings opened in October 1948, bringing the hospital up to a capacity of 165 beds. It was one of the finest hospitals in the province. By 1950, it had grown to 176 beds. The hospital needed to be enlarged again in 1964, but this time the sisters — for lack of religious personnel to staff the hospital as well as for lack of money — began procedures for transferring ownership to the Union Hospital District.
Before the sisters left on March 16, 1966, a farewell banquet and a farewell tea were organized. A parting gift to the sisters was a new station wagon. It was most precious to them because it had been paid for by small contributions from members of the public, who wanted to give something out of personal appreciation for the sisters' care.
At the farewell banquet, the Lay Advisory Board presented a bronze plaque to the sisters for the “loving care, living example, and endless self-sacrifice given to the patients of northwestern Saskatchewan.” The annalist wrote “they requested that this be placed in our Provincial House in Edmonton as a tribute of gratitude from their group to the Sisters of Providence.” The plaque found a home in the Heritage Room of the Sisters at Providence Centre, Edmonton. It is still there today for visitors to see and read.
The sisters were not quickly forgotten. Twelve years later, when the new Battlefords Union Hospital opened, June 12, 1978, the sisters were invited to attend as honoured guests.