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Saint-Boniface Hospital: the oldest hospital in Western Canada


Expanding and Modernizing to Meet the Needs of Manitobans

The first hospital founded in Western Canada, the Saint-Boniface General Hospital is one of the few hospitals to remain in the hands of the Gray Nuns.

On January 18, 1996, as the establishment celebrated its 125th anniversary, journalist Maroussia Kishka looked back on the latter’s history.

The nuns, who arrived on the banks of the Red River in 1844, founded the hospital in 1871. The building only had four beds to accommodate patients.

Between 1871 and 1911, Manitoba’s population doubled every 10 years. The province goes from 25,000 to 400,000 inhabitants.

The Saint-Boniface Hospital had to grow rapidly and offer a greater number of beds because of the epidemics which raged at the end of the 19th century. Winnipeg receives at the time

the sad nickname of typhoid capital of North America .

During this period, the Saint-Boniface Hospital expanded and modernized. It reached 500 beds in 1914.

In particular, the Hospital has an electric power station and a heating system with thermostat in all rooms. Unheard of in Winnipeg in 1912.

A quote from Maroussia Kishka, journalist

While medicine is in its infancy in terms of surgery, the operating theaters and the laboratory at Hôpital de Saint-Boniface are at the cutting edge of what is being done at the start of the 20th century. The Gray Nuns constantly follow developments in medicine and health care.

In the 1950s, the Hospital was further modernized and acquired 13 new operating theaters. One of them will welcome the first open heart operated patient in Manitoba. Performed in 1959 on a 5-year-old boy, the operation, lasting 7 hours, proved to be a success.

The Hospital would become a leader in the research and treatment of heart disease with its renowned Research Center, inaugurated in 1987.

In 1984, Saint-Boniface became the first hospital in Canada to create a palliative care program.

The Gray Nuns’ contribution is not unconditional

On February 17, 1986, the journalist Jean Larin presents to the Point a report that deals with the impact of the Gray Nuns in the management of the Saint-Boniface General Hospital.

Le Point, February 17, 1986

The community of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, or Gray Nuns, was founded by Marguerite d’Youville in 1737 in Montreal.

Since its founding, the Gray Nuns community has set up and managed dozens of establishments working in the field of health and social services, in Canada and the United States.

For several years, the Gray Nuns reigned over many of our hospitals, but with the secularization of Quebec society, they gradually disappeared from the spheres that were once reserved for them.

In Quebec, we owe the Gray Nuns in particular the hospitals of Notre-Dame, Maisonneuve-Rosemont and the Montreal Heart Institute, which are now administered by the government.

With the advent of health insurance in the early 1970s, the Gray Nuns left the province of Quebec. But in Western Canada, particularly at the Saint-Boniface Hospital, they continued their work with the sick.

I think Youville’s mother really had a technique. She was said to have a charisma, a gift for others, and she was a good manager.

A quote from Sister Marie Bonin, Provincial Superior of Saint-Boniface, 1986

After more than 200 years, their reputation as hospital managers is solid and recognized. The well-being of the patient has always been at the heart of their mission statement.

When Gray Nuns run health facilities, they do so by imposing their conditions. Thus, in 1985, they closed the door to in vitro fertilization. Saint-Boniface Hospital does not perform abortions either, and requests for waterspout ligation or vasectomies are considered on a case-by-case basis.

In 2000, the Gray Nuns transferred to the Catholic Corporation of Manitoba the management and ownership rights of their health works, in particular the Saint-Boniface General Hospital.

Members of the Catholic Health Corporation of Manitoba are appointed by the Gray Nuns. The board of directors is made up of 14 members, who represent each of the establishments in the network. The Saint-Boniface General Hospital is also affiliated with the University of Manitoba.

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