Thousands of people visited Nanaimo Regional General Hospital the day it opened in 1963. PHOTO COURTESY OF NANAIMO COMMUNITY ARCHIVES

Timeless Tales: hospitals have helped keep community in good health

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital opened in 1963

Kathleen Clark was in labour with her second daughter and needed to get to the Nanaimo hospital’s third-floor maternity ward.

Trouble was, the “rickety old elevator” was out.

“You just groaned and did it. Had to get up there. There was no other way,” said Clark, who climbed three flights of stairs at Nanaimo’s old Machleary Street hospital to deliver her baby that day in 1959.

Four years later, a new Nanaimo Regional General Hospital opened its doors on Dufferin Crescent. She said it was a “real big deal,” modern, big and spacious, with three elevators instead of one and a bathroom in each room. She recalls just one bathroom for the entire floor in the old hospital.

“Everyone was so excited in town when that new hospital opened, I mean they lined up just to go in [the] open house,” said Clark, 81. “It was really a wonderful feeling and it was such a state-of-the-art hospital.”

Six thousand people converged on the site of the new Nanaimo Regional General Hospital on Dufferin Crescent in 1963 to tour the more-than-$4-million facility.

An advertisement for the hospital says the project was necessary to relieve overcrowded conditions and was going to have features like 200 beds, a modern pediatric department with playrooms for children, modern diagnostic facilities and washroom facilities for all rooms. It would be the “medical centre” for upper Vancouver Island, show Nanaimo Daily Free Press papers.

The local hospital had grown with the community, beginning as a 10-bed ward for men in two miners cabins on Chapel Street.

Coal baron Robert Dunsmuir and Mayor John Pawson helped to form the community’s first hospital association and in 1881 a new facility was built on a lot at Kennedy and Franklyn streets. Old newspapers show it had a women’s ward by the early ’90s and a nurses training establishment for a short period of time before it was decided that the facility also needed to be replaced.

A cornerstone was laid at the same location for a new hospital in 1925 but financial problems delayed its completion for three years.

When those doors opened to the Harbour City’s newest hospital in 1928, a souvenir book called it an ideal facility with an “inspiring view” of the Gulf of Georgia from its windows and wide verandas. It was built to be fireproof with reinforced concrete and hollow tile finished with stucco and red brick, the furnishings were the “most modern” and the walls were tinted in colours that “do not become wearisome to the eye nor irritating to the nerves.”

The hospital underwent an expansion in 1942 before it closed to make way for NRGH. It became a residential care home and was demolished this year when a new $27.4-million replacement facility opened on Eleventh Street.

-files from Nanaimo Community Archives and Nanaimo Daily Free Press

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