The Catholic Mission: The South of the North Pioneers
Heritage Park
Fort McMurray, Alberta

Hôpital St. Gabriel: The Sisters' Hospital

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Sign from St. Gabriel's Hospital, only remaining part of structure.
29 October 2009
Heritage Park, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada


Credits:
Fort McMurray Historical Society

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Welcome to the Hôpital St. Gabriel!

The Hôpital St. Gabriel, or St. Gabriel's Hospital, was the second hospital in Fort McMurray. It was administrated by the Grey Nuns of Montreal. From 1938-1966, this was the community's only hospital, and it continued to serve as a chronic care facility until 1972. The Hospital was important to the community not only as a medical centre, but also as a source of local employment and as a resource for the community's poorer members.

Today Fort McMurray's Heritage Park has the hospital sign, the only remaining part of the structure. Heritage Park also features an exhibit devoted to the hospital and the Grey Nuns.

Note that in this storyline, the names l'Hôpital Saint Gabriel and St. Gabriel's Hospital will be used interchangeably.

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Dr. George Ings and two women in front of building
circa 1921
Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada


Credits:
Bob Duncan
Mrs Harry Halliday
Fort McMurray Historical Society

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Fort McMurray Before the Hospital

Before the arrival of medical professionals, residents of Fort McMurray and the surrounding area had to make their own treatments for illnesses and injuries. Anyone with a little bit of medical knowledge was a consultant on these matters. Christina Gordon, the first white women to live permanently in the area, was one such person. She learned how to splint a broken arm, lower a fever, and mix herbal remedies from a home nursing book that she had brought with her from Scotland. She remained in Fort McMurray until her death in the 1940s. Caroline Desjarlais was one of Fort McMurray's early and unofficial midwives, arriving in 1911. She charged nothing for a delivery and could speak to the Aboriginal women in Cree. When Dr. George Ings arrived (see below), he charged $25 for a delivery, so many poorer residents still turned to Desjarlais for aid. Since she did not accept payment, she often received anonymous gifts of moose or rabbit meat. Desjarlais remained in Fort McMurray until her death in 1958.

Angus Sutherland was the first person in Fort McMurray with professional medical knowledge, having studied Pharmacy at the University of Winnipeg. He came to Fort McMurray in 1918 as the Northern Trading Company's business manager, a position entirely unrelated to his degree. Residents found out about his education, however, and turned to him when the Spanish influenza pandemic struck. He ordered and stockpiled supplies, saving lives and often providing medicine for free to people who could not afford to pay. After this, he decided to open a pharmacy in the Franklin Hotel, located where the Oilsands Hotel is today. Business increased, and in the early 1920s he opened a two-story drug store and residence called Sutherland Drugs next to the hotel. As a pharmacist in the early 20th century, Sutherland prescribed as well as dispensed medicine, and he might have compounded up to 80% of it himself. Locals often asked him to help in dentistry, baby delivery, and bone-setting.

The Presbyterian Church established a two-bed nursing station, which was run by Nurse Olive (Dolly) Ross in the 1920s. This nursing station was the first hospital in the region.

Dr. George Ings served as a doctor across the whole of northern Alberta from 1921 to 1933. He was the first physician to serve in Fort McMurray.

While these individuals and institutions were helpful and important, the community was growing too quickly. There were too many smaller communities in the area turning to Fort McMurray for aid. Fort McMurray needed a hospital, and citizens began petitioning for one as early as 1915. In the 1930s, with the population still increasing, citizens started what became a six-year campaign to get a "Sister's Hospital" run by the Grey Nuns of Montreal. Eventually, Bishop Gabriel Breynat agreed, on the condition that the community open a Catholic School.

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Christina Gordon with produce
October 1914
Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada


Credits:
Fort McMurray Historical Society

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Hill Drugs, formerly Sutherland's Drugs, at Heritage Park
9 November 2009
Heritage Park, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada


Credits:
Suzanne Braat

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The Beginning of the Grey Nuns

Marguerite d'Youville and three other women vowed their lives to the services of God in Montreal on 31 December 1737, becoming the first religious congregation (in this context, an organization of nuns or monks) in Canada. They devoted themselves to helping those in need, calling themselves The Sisters of Charity, the Grey Nuns of Montreal, or Les Souers Grises. In 1747, they petitioned to administrate the General Hospital of Montreal, which was at that point in a state of disrepair. The civil authorities grudgingly ceded control. In the old building the Sisters cared for the sick, particularly those unable to pay for medical services. Both the civil authorities and Montreal's citizens opposed the Sisters' mission. The Nuns were spit on in the street. When they went door-to-door begging for funds to give executed criminals a proper burial, they would sometimes have stones thrown at them. Marguerite d'Youville's family tried to dissuade her from her vocation. They thought a woman of her upper-class breeding should not be in the company of criminals or poor and sick people. They were afraid she would tarnish the family's reputation.

When the hospital burned down, the civil authorities tried to prevent it from being rebuilt. The Nuns had supporters, however, and with outside help the Sisters built a new hospital in its place. But it was not just a hospital. It also served as a convent and as a refuge for people who were considered unacceptable in early Canadian society: the homeless, people with disabilities, wounded soldiers, orphans and foundlings, widows, prostitutes fleeing the streets, and single mothers. As the Nuns' reputation and numbers grew, they began to open satellite hospitals in western Canada.

In 1755 they received official approval of their commitment from Rome and began wearing religious symbols and garb. Pope Pius IX approved their organization as an Apostolic Congregation in 1865. They wore a distinctive uniform unlike other organizations of Nuns, making them instantly recognizable.

As helpers of those in need, the Nuns learned a number of roles and skills. They became teachers, principals, and counsellors in schools, and they became nurses, x-ray and lab technicians, dentists, doctors, undertakers, and midwives in hospitals. Some nuns were also secretaries, sacristans, catechists, pastoral ministers, authors, childcare workers, musicians, weather recorders, housekeepers, bakers, dieticians, gardeners, seamstresses, librarians, police escorts, barbers, drivers, and translators. They wrote letters for those who were illiterate, they carried water, and they cared for children. Most of all, they were advocates for the poor, the homeless, the abused, and the victims of family violence.

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Sister Adjutor of the Grey Nuns of Montreal
1937

TEXT ATTACHMENT


Credits:
Les Soeurs de la Charité de Montréal, "Soeurs Grises" (The Grey Nuns of Montreal)

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The Grey Nuns Go West

Seeing that their work with the poor in Quebec was succeeding, the Nuns turned their attention to Canada's western frontier. Traveling with the Oblate missionaries, they moved into what later became Canada's prairie provinces, then considered harsh, unsettled, and wild country. Thus, in 1818, the Nuns established their first western mission--St. Boniface--in Manitoba. This would be the location of the first hospital in western Canada, built in 1871.

In 1859, the Nuns established their first mission in what would later become Alberta, and followed clergymen into remote areas and outposts, bringing with them mobile educational and medical services for fur traders and their families. Bishop Alexander Taché called the Grey Nuns in 1867 to go north to open schools and hospitals. This mission took them into the Yukon and the Northwest Territories--including what is now Nunavut--where they were often the first non-aboriginal people with medical skills.

Most of the nuns had grown up in Europe or Quebec and in urban areas, making them inexperienced in the north- western climate and the frontier environment. Despite lacking any guarantee of basic life necessities, they persevered. Their western mission was to help frontier settlements, which meant they usually left a community once it was large enough to support its own schools and hospital. Over 300 nuns served in northern and western Canada, making them an organized and recognizable presence in this area's history.

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Sisters Adjutor, Nadeau, and Roberge in front of St. Gabriel's Hospital
circa 1939
St. Gabriel's Hospital and outbuildings, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada


Credits:
Les Soeurs de la Charité de Montréal, "Soeurs Grises" (The Grey Nuns of Montreal)

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The Grey Nuns Arrive

In 1938, Sisters Marie-Rose-Anna Henri, Aldéa Roberge, Marie Nadeau, and Eva Bouchard (Cook, Nurse, Local Superior, and Nurse, respectively), arrived at Hôpital Saint Gabriel. They were provided with room and board and wages of $50 annually, though they always returned their wages to the Hospital budget, essentially working without pay. Because the nuns spoke French they gave the hospital a French name (Hôpital Saint Gabriel); however, in order to communicate with patients, doctors, and local staff, the nuns had to learn English through immersion. As it turns out, the doctors learned French at the same time.

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Sister Marie Nadeau in Fort Smith
1937
Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, Canada


Credits:
Les Soeurs de la Charité de Montréal, "Soeurs Grises" (The Grey Nuns of Montreal)

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Building and Opening

Brother Laurant Bruyère directed the lay brothers as they built the new hospital beginning on 28 July 1937. The nuns called it l'Hôpital Saint Gabriel after Bishop Gabriel Breynat's namesake. The new hospital was located on the corner of Franklin Avenue and what is now called Hardin Street. Reverend Father Chouinard, the first Administrator of the hospital, blessed the cornerstone 1 September 1937. Over the course of its construction, the hospital received donations from a number of charities, corporations, and entrepreneurs, including the Catholic Women's League, the Ryan Brothers, the McMurray Salt Plant, Doctor Blais, Northern Transportation, the Hudson's Bay Company, and the Cooper Corporation of Edmonton. Bishop Piché lent and fundraised much of the funding for St. Gabriel's. The hospital received the Stations of the Cross from St. Mary's Hospital in Montreal, and the Sisters inaugurated the Stations into the hospital chapel on 7 February 1938.

The hospital opened on 24 May 1938. However, before this date the hospital had already been used. On 16 May 1938, Rachel Bourque was going into labour. Dr. Malcolm "Rick" McCallum and Sister Marie Nadeau, resident doctor and Superior of the Hospital respectively, decided that Mrs. Bourque and her family should go to the hospital, even though there were no beds yet available. Brother Bruyère quickly assembled a bed and mattress, and they covered it with waxed carpet and thick wrapping paper, as the usual rubber cover was unavailable. Dr. McCallum could not make it to the hospital due to another emergency and he instructed Sister Nadeau to deliver the child herself. At 11 pm, Rachel Bourque gave birth to a baby boy, but passed away herself near midnight.

The boy was one month premature. The Sisters baptized him, and his family named him Joseph Gabriel Gerard Bourque, in part after the hospital. Joseph Bourque survived. The Nuns, in the midst of preparing for the hospital's opening, had delivered their first baby. But they also had to console and counsel his father and nine siblings.

The hospital opened officially on 24 May 1938, and Bishop Breynat blessed it at this time. In its first year, the hospital admitted 152 patients, performed 27 surgical operations, filled 63 prescriptions, applied 657 bandages, and had 4 deaths.

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Part of the Corpus Christi porcession, with altar made on hospital steps of St. Gabriel's Hospital
1941
St. Gabriel's Hospital and outbuildings, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada
TEXT ATTACHMENT


Credits:
Mary O'Coffey
Fort McMurray Historical Society

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St. Gabriel's Hospital front steps, converted into altar for Corpus Christi
1941
St. Gabriel's Hospital and outbuildings, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada


Credits:
Fort McMurray Historical Society

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The Hospital Building

When St. Gabriel's Hospital opened, it was a two-building structure with 16 beds and 4 bassinettes. The men's ward was on the main floor while the women's ward was on the second story. The maternity rooms and staff living quarters were also located on the second story. During its early use, the laundry and cooking facilities were kept in the basement; food was ferried up to patients using a manual dumb-waiter. Bedrooms for the sisters and lay nurses were also in the basement. The hospital included a chapel. During its use, the lay brothers performed repairs on the building and ensured that it was heated.

Space was limited in the hospital, but the fact that long-term patients were sent elsewhere eased the load a little. Nonetheless, during influenza epidemics the new hospital did not have enough beds for the number of patients who might check in. During these times, the Nuns and lay staff would give up their own beds for patients. If there were still not enough beds, they would have to double patients up. Due to the limitations on space, Father Lesage sent a letter to the Chamber of Commerce in 1945 requesting a fundraising drive for additional quarters, and in 1948 a separate house was built for nuns and staff. The new space allowed the administration to use their previous bedrooms for patient care. The new building also included a laundry facility, housing a commercial washing machine. This was a great improvement over hand-washing sheets and clothes in the kitchen.

In November 1958, a telephone line was added to the hospital. St. Gabriel's phone number was 2349. In the following year, l'Hôpital Saint Gabriel began receiving government assistance. In 1962, the administration organized another expansion. This time they added an X-ray department, a laboratory, and an operating theatre. Unlike other northern hospitals, St. Gabriel's was modern, well-equipped and well-trained.

The second floor of the hospital had a unique fire escape, according to Betty Golosky, registered nurse, who came to Fort McMurray in 1961. Instead of the typical stairs, there was a slide. It was never used in an emergency, but former nurses suggest that it may have been used for fun on occasion.

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Aerial view of Fort McMurray in winter
circa 1959
Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada


Credits:
Bob Duncan
Fort McMurray Historical Society

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Operating room in St. Gabriel's Hospital
1939-1960
St. Gabriel's Hospital and outbuildings, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada


Credits:
Les Soeurs de la Charité de Montréal, "Soeurs Grises" (The Grey Nuns of Montreal)

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Life in the Hospital

Nuns were scheduled for ten-hour shifts, but were on call for twenty-four hours a day, since emergencies and births could happen during the day or the night. Their duties included visiting the elderly in their homes, extracting teeth, escorting patients to the hospital, immunizing children, operating the x-ray equipment, performing laboratory testing, and scheduling monthly check-ups. The Sisters cooked for themselves and their patients in the hospital kitchen, but often made enough to give to children from poor families who begged at the door for food. They gardened and they purchased fish and meat from local trappers. The nuns were also responsible for hiring non-religious staff, such as nurses and doctors, to help run the hospital. When possible, they hired people who otherwise would not have work, and they tried to create employment opportunities. For instance, Sister Cardinal refused to buy disposable syringes, as doing so would have put the person who sterilized syringes out of work. This sometimes put the nuns into conflict with hospital staff looking for cheaper or more effective solutions.

Elva Bussieres, local bookkeeper for the Grey Nuns, remembers that "the Nuns were frugal, but with heart. You almost felt guilty about asking for a replacement pen or pencil." When Elva was in the maternity ward as a patient herself, the nuns put flowers on her food tray.

The nuns dealt with a lot of poor patients. Often, new mothers did not have swaddling clothes for their infants, so the nuns collected blankets and baby clothes for them. They also gave away any supplies they did not need. Some nuns had a reputation for giving away things that they did need (see the entry on Sister Superior Lachambre).

L'Hôpital Saint Gabriel was not just a hospital; it was also a convent for the nuns and a place of local worship. Whenever there was a liturgical festival, such as Corpus Christi, the hospital was decorated in honour of it.

Getting to the hospital was technically the patient's responsibility. This could be problematic when the patient was badly injured or in labour. A new policy in the 1950s made hospitalization mandatory for deliveries by first time mothers or mothers giving birth to their fourth child (or more). The new policy made the transportation problem worse. Since women often waited until they went into labour before trying to get to the hospital, the ordeal of childbirth could be preceded by the ordeal of getting to the hospital. Bushplanes, helicopters, and dogsleds all carried pregnant women to St. Gabriel's during its career.

Sister Nadeau reminisced: "Fort McMurray's was very different from all the other hospitals in the north. It served a different kind of people. There were Crees, Montagnais, Métis and more non-Aboriginal people than other northern missions. We had a more balanced diet and we were never in want. There were no long-term tuberculosis patients in our hospital. We had a good supply of medicine and hospital equipment. We had a good supply of water though it was quite a rusty kind of water from a well."

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Nurses rest in St. Gabriel's Hospital basement bedrooms
circa 1941
St. Gabriel's Hospital and outbuildings, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada


Credits:
Winnie Hutchinson
Fort McMurray Historical Society

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Men carrying a patient on a stretcher into St. Gabriel's Hospital
1939-1948
St. Gabriel's Hospital and outbuildings, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada


Credits:
Les Soeurs de la Charité de Montréal, "Soeurs Grises" (The Grey Nuns of Montreal)

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Chateau Gai

The Oblates built the Chateau Gai in 1960 as a residence and 'relaxation centre' for the Grey Nuns, in thanks for their hard work at the Saint Gabriel Hospital and Saint John's Separate School. It was located on the hillside near Hardin Street and Highway 63. The Grey Nuns from the school and the hospital would knit, socialize, or otherwise relax here, and they invited the lay nurses to join them.

Chateau Gai is now preserved in Heritage Park.

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Chateau Gai, a retreat for the Grey Nuns, at its original location
1978
Chateau Gai, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada


Credits:
Fort McMurray Historical Society

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Chateau Gai at Heritage Park
9 November 2009
Heritage Park, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada


Credits:
Suzanne Braat

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Important Fort McMurray Medical Figures

Mary Feniak was hired by the Grey Nuns of Montreal to move to Fort McMurray and work as a lay nurse in the hospital in 1941. A few weeks before her move to the northern community, she heard a Fort McMurray man named Lowry O'Coffey send greeting to his family over the radio, and she decided that he would be her boyfriend when she arrived. Eventually they wed, and left Fort McMurray in the early 1950s.

Dr. "Rick" McCallum was Fort McMurray's second physician and the first doctor to practice in l'Hôpital St. Gabriel. He practiced in the community from 1934 until 1938, serving Fort McMurray itself and the surrounding settlements.

Dr. Leigh Brown was the first to use antibiotics in Fort McMurray, using streptomycin in 1946 to cure a child dying of tubercular meningitis. Penicillin was invented in 1928, but antibiotics did not become popular until their efficacy was proven in the Second World War. In the following decades, a number of antibiotics were invented and their use spread into western and northern Canada. Thanks to this, many 'incurable' diseases were cured within a week or two.
Dr. Brown arrived in Fort McMurray in 1946 and treated patients out of the Franklin Hotel. He and his wife Nan purchased a home in Fort McMurray and he moved his practice into his house. Not only did he administer the first antibiotics, but he also performed Fort McMurray's first Caesarean section with anaesthetic. Dr. Brown also treated animals. Occasionally, children would bring him their dolls when they needed repair, reasoning that if he could heal sick people, he could heal sick dolls, too. In 1947 he was appointed Health Officer, and he and his family left Fort McMurray on 30 May 1950.

Residents of Fort McMurray could count on Dr. McDonald to give them two aspirin for whatever ailment they had, wherever they might run into him. He carried pocketfuls of aspirin with him and included animals in his unofficial prescriptions as well. On 22 April 1959, Dr. McDonald delivered Benny Hume's son Kenneth. According to Sister Gilbert, Kenneth was the first infant of Chinese descent born in the hospital.

Dr. Steven Yung was the area's first Chinese doctor, working in the hospital from 1964-1968. When he arrived, he was the only doctor in Fort McMurray. He was paid by the Great Canadian Oil Sands Company, by the Department of Indian Affairs, and by the town of Fort McMurray itself.

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Nurse Mary O'Coffey standing next to St. Gabriel's Hospital
1941
St. Gabriel's Hospital and outbuildings, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada


Credits:
Tony O'Coffey
Fort McMurray Historical Society

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Dr. Malcolm "Rick" McCallum with wife (third from left) and friends at the Snye
1934-1938
Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada
TEXT ATTACHMENT


Credits:
Sheila Collier (McDonald)
Fort McMurray Historical Society

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Nuns that Served in l'Hôpital Saint Gabriel

These are the names of the Grey Nuns who served in the Fort McMurray community, arranged by arrival date. Names that appear more than once indicate a Sister who returned to Fort McMurray after leaving for a time. Thanks to the Soeurs de la Charité de Montréal, or the Grey Nuns of Montreal, for this information.

Sister Marie-Rose-Anna Henri, arrived in 1938 and departed in 1939, served as Cook.
Sister Aldéa Roberge, arrived in 1938 and departed in 1940, served as Nursing Aid.
Sister Marie Nadeau, arrived in 1938 and departed in 1941, served as Local Superior.
Sister Eva Bouchard, arrived in 1938 and departed in 1939, served as Nursing Aid.

Sister Juliette Monastesse, arrived in 1939 and departed in 1939, served as Cook.
Sister Marie-Louise Pelland, arrived in 1939 and departed in 1940, served as Cook.
Sister Thérèse Chaloux, arrived in 1939 and departed in 1940, served as Nurse.
Sister Thécla Andruchow, arrived in 1939 and departed in 1940, served as Sacristan and Laundry.

Sister Eva Bouchard, arrived in 1940 and departed in 1941, served as Cook.
Sister Gertrude Lemire, arrived in 1940 and departed in 1940, served as Cook.

Sister Joséphine Létourneau, arrived in 1941 and departed in 1944, served as Laundry, Cook, and Sewing.
Sister Marie-Louise Champoux, arrived in 1941 and departed in 1947, served as Accounting, Local Counselling, Secretary, Organist, and Mess Hall.
Sister Elizabeth Cardinal, arrived in 1941 and departed in 1942, served as Cook.
Sister Thécla Andruchow, arrived in 1941 and departed in 1946, served as Sacristan, Laundry.
Sister Ovilia Bédard, arrived in 1941 and departed in 1947, served as Local Superior.

Sister Laurence Côté, arrived in 1943 and departed in 1947, served as Cook, Mess Hall, and Laundry
Sister Germaine Rheault, arrived in 1943 and departed in 1947, served as Nurse.

Sister Marie Marcelline Vermette, arrived in 1945 and departed in 1956, served as Mess Hall and Provincial Counsellor.

Sister Herméline Galipeau, arrived in 1946 and departed in 1947, served as Laundry.
Sister Élizabeth Champagne, arrived in 1946 and departed in 1947, served as Sewing, Laundry, Sacristan.
Sister Claire Cardinal, arrived in 1946 and departed in 1952, served as Nurse.

Sister Simonne Lapointe, arrived in 1947 and departed in 1948, served as Accounting.
Sister Régina Trottier, arrived in 1947 and departed in 1949, served as Nurse and Laboratory.
Sister Marguerite-Hélène Brunet, arrived in 1947 and departed in 1959, served as Sacristan, Laundry, Cook, Night Shift, Sewing, and Cleaning Staff.
Sister Jeanne Leblanc, arrived in 1947 and departed in 1949, served as Nurse Aid, Organist.
Sister Armande Caron, arrived in 1947 and departed in 1953, served as Local Superior, Nurse Aid, Sacristan, and Chronic Care.
Sister Yvonne Chapleau, arrived in 1947 and departed in 1947, served as Nurse (night shift)

Sister Marie-Anne Deslauriers, arrived in 1948 and departed in 1959, served as Accounting and Local Counsellor.
Sister Adèle Dupuis, arrived in 1948 and departed in 1949, served as Cook.
Sister Anysie Caron, arrived in 1948 and departed in 1950, served as Sacristan and Sewing.
Sister Annie Cooper, arrived in 1948 and departed in 1949, served as Nurse Aid (night shift).
Sister Laure Perrault, arrived in 1948 and departed in 1948, served as Laundry.

Sister Laurence Côté, arrived in 1949 and departed in 1953, served as Cook.
Sister Thécla Andruchow, arrived in 1949 and departed in 1949, served as Nurse.

Sister Simonne Lapointe, arrived in 1950 and departed in 1952, served as Nurse Aid (night shift).

Sister Oliva (Olivine) Lavoie, arrived in 1951 and departed in 1952, served as Sewing.
Sister Gabrielle Létourneau, arrived in 1951 and departed in 1952, served as Night Watch.

Sister Joséphine Kergoat, arrived in 1952 and departed in 1954, served as Nurse.
Sister Clara Gilbert, arrived in 1952 and departed in 1966, served as Night Shift, Nurse, Social Service, Local Counsellor, and Accounting.
Sister Éva Baert, arrived in 1952 and departed in 1953, served as Nurse.

Sister Yvonne Guérette, arrived in 1953 and departed in 1955, served as Cook and Sewing.
Sister Éliane Hébert, arrived in 1953 and departed in 1954, served as Nurse.
Sister Réjeanne Lamarche, arrived in 1953 and departed in 1953, served as Nurse, X-Ray, and Laboratory.
Sister Joséphine Dussault, arrived in 1953 and departed in 1956, served as Local Superior.

Sister Thérèse Lethiecq, arrived in 1954 and departed in 1957, served as Nurse.
Sister Marie-Rose (Antoinette) Poulin, arrived in 1954 and departed in 1955, served as Nurse.

Sister Obéline Bisson, arrived in 1955 and departed in 1956, served as Cook.
Sister Anna Deshaies, arrived in 1955 and departed in 1959, served as Nurse Aid, Local Counsellor, Laboratory, and X-Ray

Sister Médérise Lapalme (Gaboriau), arrived in 1956 and departed in 1957, served as Cook.
Sister Marie-Rose-Anna Henri, arrived in 1956 and departed in 1958, served as Mess Hall and Cook.

Sister Joséphine Kergoat, arrived in 1957 and departed in 1960, served as Accountant.
Sister Lucille Lévesque, arrived in 1957 and departed in 1958, served as Cook.

Sister Fernande Maranda, arrived in 1958 and departed in 1959, served as Cook.
Sister Cécile Montpetit, arrived in 1958 and departed in 1959, served as Nurse, X-Ray, and Laboratory.
Sister Marguerite Bourgeois, arrived in 1958 and departed in 1959, served as Nurse, X-Ray, and Laboratory.
Sister Marguerite LaChambre, arrived in 1958 and departed in 1964, served as Local Superior and House Calls.

Sister Marie-Claire Hamelin, arrived in 1959 and departed in 1962, served as Cook.
Sister Geneviève Duclos, arrived in 1959 and departed in 1960, served as Cleaning Staff, Sacristan, and Mess Hall.
Sister Gertrude Lafrance, arrived in 1959 and departed in 1960, served as Nurse.
Sister Herméline Galipeau, arrived in 1959 and departed in 1962, served as Sacristan and Laundry.

Sister Rose-Alma Laroche, arrived in 1960 and departed in 1965, served as Sacristan, Cafeteria, Laundry, and Cleaning Staff.
Sister Marguerite Lussier, arrived in 1960 and departed in 1963, served as Social Service, Cleaning Staff, and Sacristan.

Sister Thérèse Lafrenière, arrived in 1961 and departed in 1968, served as Auxiliary Nurse.
Sister Jeanne Marchand, arrived in 1961 and departed in 1964, served as Nurse and Local Counsellor.

Sister Isabelle Hamelin, arrived in 1962 and departed in 1969, served as Nurse and Cook.

Sister Aldéa Roberge, arrived in 1963 and departed in 1966, served as Laundry, Mess Hall, and Music Teacher.

Sister Germaine Rheault, arrived in 1964 and departed in 1966, served as Director of Nursing Staff.
Sister Claire Cardinal, arrived in 1964 and departed in 1970, served as Local Superior and Nurse Director.

Sister Cécile Jeannotte, arrived in 1966 and departed in 1968, served as Nurse.
Sister Olga Vigoureux, arrived in 1966 and departed in 1967, served as Auxiliary Nurse and Local Counsellor.

Sister Thérèse Pelletier, arrived in 1967 and departed in 1968, served as Nurse.

Sister Gemma Côté, arrived in 1968 and departed in 1969, served as Nurse.

Sister Thérèse Lethiecq, arrived in 1969 and departed in 1970, served as Nurse.

Sister Marie-Anne Lacasse, arrived in 1970 and departed in 1971, served as Cook.

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Sister Aldéa Roberge
1938



Credits:
Les Soeurs de la Charité de Montréal, "Soeurs Grises" (The Grey Nuns of Montreal)

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Grey Nun cook prepares to leave on the 'Sancta Maria' plane for Fort Smith
1944-1950
Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada


Credits:
Marie McKinlay
Fort McMurray Historical Society

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Portrait Focus: Sister Superior Marguerite Lachambre, 1906-1989.

Marguerite Lachambre was born in Boucherville, Quebec. Her parents, Edouard Lachambre and Délima Gauthier, both died of tuberculosis when she was four. Marguerite's aunt took custody of her and her brother Pierre until her own death, at which point the two children were placed in separate orphanages. Marguerite's orphanage was run by the Grey Nuns. Marguerite joined the Nuns herself in 1926 and studied nursing in Nashua, US. Once her training was completed, she was sent northward and spent a lot of time in northwestern Canada, including time as the Superior in Fort McMurray.

Marguerite was known for taking things she thought of as "extra" from the hospital and donating them to the poor, so much that the other Sisters began to hide anything they thought they needed so that Sister Superior Lachambre would not give it away. For instance, one afternoon Sister LaChambre met a young mother and her child who had nothing to eat. She went to the kitchen to find the cook. The cook was not there, but what she did find was a ham dinner in the oven. She gave the dinner--all of it--to the young woman. The rest of the Sisters were disappointed by the sudden disappearance of their supper.

Sister Superior was notorious not just for her zealous generosity, but also for her poor driving. When the automotive revolution came to Fort McMurray, Marguerite used the community car despite her advancing age and poor driving skills. She made frequent house visits, and it became a local joke that even the RCMP got off the road when they saw Sister Superior zigzagging towards them.

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Kitchen in St. Gabriel's Hospital
1939-1960
St. Gabriel's Hospital and outbuildings, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada


Credits:
Les Soeurs de la Charité de Montréal, "Soeurs Grises" (The Grey Nuns of Montreal)

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Portrait Focus: Sister Jeanne Marchand

Jeanne Marchand was born in Montreal. As a young nun, she was intrigued by the Canadian north, and in 1949 felt ready to tackle the challenges of frontier living. This made her unlike a number of other Sisters transferred to the area, who went because they were told to and not because they wanted to. Her first assignment was to replace a nurse in Fort Resolute who had fallen ill. After spending some years in Fort Resolute and elsewhere, Sister Marchand arrived in Fort McMurray in 1961, where she worked in St. Gabriel's Hospital. She recalls that the hospital was modern but small, as was the number of Grey Nuns serving the area: "We were only five sisters which was a small community for that era." Jeanne Marchand learned English working in Fort McMurray, since that was the only language consistently used.

After her time in Fort McMurray, she was sent to Aklavik, the northernmost medical centre in the diocese. She became an expert in using the X-ray machines, notwithstanding having received burns from one. During one of her trips to Aklavik she was put on special assignment to test for health effects from the WWII Hiroshima fallout.

Sister Marchand began her career in the north afraid of dogs, but in time she grew attached to them, and they to her. Once a sled dog was attacked by a pack of other dogs. His belly was badly wounded and he had intestines hanging out. The owner insisted that Sister Marchand treat his favourite dog. He held the dog in position for her to operate as Sister Marchand performed the surgery and saved the animal's life. After that, whenever the dog saw her he would run up to her and lick her hands in thanks. By the end of her career, her relationship with sled dogs had changed.

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Nun with dogsled
1920-1980



Credits:
Les Soeurs de la Charité de Montréal, "Soeurs Grises" (The Grey Nuns of Montreal)

35

The New Hospital Opens, the Old Hospital Closes

In 1964, the Grey Nuns decided that St. Gabriel's had served its purpose. Their order was dedicated to helping frontier towns, and Fort McMurray was now a growing and well-populated city. Not only did the Sisters' mandate no longer apply to the community, but the population was getting too large for the Nuns' resources. After all, St. Gabriel's had been designed for a large village or small frontier town. Therefore Father Lesage wrote a letter to Mayor Claire Peden in 1964, explaining the situation and requesting that a new hospital be built.

In 1966, the Fort McMurray General Hospital opened. The Grey Nuns continued serving in l'Hôpital Saint Gabriel, now using the facilities as a chronic and senior care centre. They also took overflow patients into Saint Gabriel's and sent nurses and nuns to the new hospital to care for patients there. The Nuns' order began sending the Sisters northward to new hospitals and communities. The hospital began phasing out. Saint Gabriel's Hospital was finally and officially closed in 1970. The building was sold to Thompson's Foods Ltd. for $260,000 in 1972, in conjunction with Alberta Grocers Wholesale Ltd. $260,000 in 1972 equals about $1,336,143.50 in 2009, calculated for inflation.

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Nursing aides in front of St. Gabriel's Hospital; 1st and 3rd from left are twins from Plamondon
1944
St. Gabriel's Hospital and outbuildings, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada


Credits:
Bill Morimoto
Fort McMurray Historical Society

37

The Impact of l'Hôpital Saint Gabriel

The Sisters' Hospital was a major benefit to the Fort McMurray community. During the community's growth from the late 1930s through to the late 1960s, Saint Gabriel's Hospital provided health care to a population without a general hospital. The health care staff was well-trained because the Grey Nuns brought in professional nuns and lay staff from eastern, urban centres. This meant that St. Gabriel's often had state-of-the-art technology and the people trained to use it.

Further, the Hospital and the nuns in it provided a number of social services that are not normally associated with hospitals. The Grey Nuns were often determined to generate employment opportunities rather than choose cheaper options that required fewer staff hours. In particular, the Hospital provided employment for young women who had few career prospects in the Canadian frontier of the 1940s, '50s, and '60s. The nuns made grief and family counselling a part of their duties, and found ways of giving food and supplies to the poor.

Through both official and unofficial procedures, St. Gabriel's Hospital had an impact on the community it served until the day of its closure. By providing the necessary health care to the region's infrastructure, the hospital quite likely made Fort McMurray's growth from a frontier town into a modern city possible.

For more information about the Grey Nuns, read, "Northerners Say: 'Thanks, Sisters,'" by Agnus Sutherland s.g.m, and published by Les Oeuvres de Mère d'Youville in 1996. See also "The Bishop Who Cared: A Legacy of Leadership," written and published by Agnus Sutherland s.g.m. in 1995, and "The Place We Call Home," written by Irwin Huberman and published by the Historical Book Society of Fort McMurray in 2001.

38

Girl in Examination Chair in St. Gabriel's Hospital
1939-1960
St. Gabriel's Hospital and outbuildings, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada


Credits:
Les Soeurs de la Charité de Montréal, "Soeurs Grises" (The Grey Nuns of Montreal)
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