History of the Hospital, by Dr Henderson

HISTORY OF QUEEN CHARLOTTE ISLANDS GENERAL HOSPITAL

Prepared by

Dr. Robert B. Henderson

And

Miss Catherine Hodgens

Our church has been working with the Haida Indians on the Queen Charlotte Islands for some sixty to seventy years. The United Church of Canada has been interested in hospital work in Queen Charlotte City for over fifteen years. The first hospital was built in 1908 of lumber donated by the local mill, on land which had been cleared by men from Skidegate Mission. This hospital was operated by the community and a succession of doctors and nurses served the people. In 1946 the community found itself in difficulty concerning finances and staff, and it was at that time that the United Church of Canada was asked to assume the responsibility of the administration, thus the church sought doctors and provided residences for them. In 1948 the hospital was declared inadequate, and in 1952 it was condemned as being unsafe for a hospital. The present modern, well equipped 21 bed hospital was opened on November 15, 1955. Originally the nurses had living accommodation on the ground level of the hospital, however, as this space was needed for doctors’ offices, and it was inadequate for the growing staff, a beautiful nurses’ residence was built in 1963 on a hill behind the hospital.

As the Queen Charlotte Islands are five hundred miles north of Vancouver and ninety miles west of Prince Rupert, you can see that we at Queen Charlotte City are quite isolated. Weather permitting, we are provided with daily plane service to Prince Rupert and Vancouver.

It is generally recognized that the Haida Indians are among the finest in Canada, they have a rich heritage in culture and art. It is interesting to note that some of the finest Totem poles in the world have been carved on the Queen Charlotte Islands. Besides their wood carving, the Haidas carve also in stone, or slate, called argillite, this slate is procurable only on the Islands and only by the native people. The authentic argillite Totem poles cost from $12.00 to $15.00 per inch in height when bought direct from a carver. The Haidas also work in gold and silver, making very attractive pieces of jewellery.

Skidegate Mission, commonly known as “the Village”, is six miles from Queen Charlotte City. The people who live on that reservation are, for the most part, quite industrious and are self supporting.

On the Queen Charlottes, as elsewhere, the greatest problem seems to be that of a social nature … many illegitimate births, very young mothers, drinking problems, an apathy towards education. There is very little discipline within the home, thus the children have very poor study habits. As students cannot advance beyond Grade 8 in academic work at the local school (there is a Vocational Course in Grades 9 and 10) it is necessary for students to go elsewhere for further education, unless they persevere and take it by correspondence. Actually, any Indian child who wishes to continue his education can have that education at the expense of the Department of Indian Affairs, but comparatively few avail themselves of this opportunity. The hospital attempts to interest the local people in furthering their education. Younger girls are encouraged to take nurse’s training, one of our Haida ward aids left in December 1965 to enter the January class in Practical Nursing in Nanaimo.

As there are many jobs available, and there is no racial discrimination in logging or mining camps, many native people work in such a camp for a few months, then go fishing. They have no thought of saving for the future.

The Hospital serves an Island population of 4,000, approximately half of whom are Haida Indians. Lumbering, mining and fishing are the chief industries. Our doctors are called upon to care for many accident cases and it is not unusual for us to receive a telephone call to the effect that a seriously injured workman is being flown to the hospital from a distant logging camp. Monthly clinics are held at four different logging and mining camps, as well as at Masset and Haida, Indian villages 85 miles north of Queen Charlotte City. To attend these clinics the doctors have to travel by car, water taxi and small sea-plane.

The medical and nursing staff of the hospital are recruited by the Church and these people endeavour to show by their living and example that their Christianity means more than attending a weekly church service. Many of the staff serve the community by providing leadership for mid-week groups at the village as well as here at Charlotte. The Matron is Superintendent of the Sunday School at Charlotte, one of the nurses assists a local person with C.G.I.T., and the same is true with the Explorers. Two of our secretaries give leadership with C.G.I.T. and the Explorers in the village. It is to be hoped that the local people will in time, be able to take on such leadership themselves and that our girls will find themselves without a mid-week job!

The church wishes hospital employees to mix with all in the community, attend the dances and social functions, thus showing that one can have a good time and still be a Christian. All members of the staff try to break down any feeling of discrimination between the white and the native people, as we realize that such discrimination does exist in Canada, as well as in the United States. One of the biggest problems to be faced by hospital personnel is that of becoming part of the local community without having adopted a “holier than thou” attitude.

The hospital is much respected and appreciated, which is evidenced by the invitations which are received to all weddings and major social events. The members of the staff endeavour to live as good a Christian life as they are able, and hope that by their example some Christian principles may rub off on those with whom they come in contact, but to be a Christian on a mission field is not easy. The members of the staff do not consider themselves to be any better than the local Indian, but they cannot help having the feeling that the native feels he is being looked down upon and considered as being inferior. To be accepted with our Christian standard of living often gives rise to minor problems and a feeling of discouragement.

A doctor does not serve only in the field of medicine, but also as dentist, veterinarian, marriage counselor, undertaker and minister.

Dr. Robert B. Henderson, of Brookfield, N.S., is the present administrator, and he is assisted by Dr. Kenneth S. MacKenzie, of Charlottetown, P.E.I. The rest of the professional staff consists of the Matron, five Registered Nurses, four Nurses’ Aides and one Laboratory Technician, the latter having recently arrived from the Philippines. With the exception of one Filipino nurse, our nurses are all Canadians, coming from New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

Although the hospital is owned by the United Church of Canada, it is operated by the British Columbia Health Insurance Service on a fairly tight budget, thus we are dependent upon the donations received from the various camps on the Islands and church groups across Canada for many of the things that are needed.

Plans are under way for the construction of a paediatric ward which will bring our total bed capacity to 27. It is hoped that, in addition to the grant received from the Government of British Columbia, the different companies whose camps are served by the hospital will help with the cost of this expansion, and that donations will also be received from the local community as well, so that there will not be too great a call made on the Home Mission Board of the United Church of Canada.