A crew of the original nurses hired when the Fraser Canyon Hospital opened in 1959 ride on a parade float. (Submitted)

Hope’s Fraser Canyon Hospital turns 60

Opened in Jan. 1959, the FCH has become a hub for Lower Mainland hospitals because of its location

Mary Lou Jacobs was born and raised in Ontario, and had only been a nurse for a few years when she applied to work at Hope’s new hospital. In fact, she had applied to work at two hospitals, but thought to herself, “How often do you get to start your own hospital?” when she was offered a job at the Fraser Canyon Hospital (FCH), and decided to make the journey west to Hope, B.C., to a hospital that wasn’t finished being built.

The year was 1958, two years after Canada passed the Female Employees Equal Pay Act, and Jacobs was hired as director of nurses at FCH, earning “$300 a month for running the place.” She ordered every piece of necessary equipment for every department, decided on paint colours for every room—the patient rooms were all painted a different colour—hired staff, and set up the hospital, which was officially opened by Health Minister Eric Martin in January 1959.

“I can remember a week before the hospital opened,” said Yolande Anderson, one of the original nurses hired for the hospital by Jacobs. “All sorts of people coming around and visiting at the Open House.”

“We had 10 regular nurses on staff at opening … three doctors … 26 beds and an operating room,” recalled Jacobs, who went by her maiden name, Hasell, at the time.

“We did a lot of big surgeries,” said Anderson. “We removed tonsils, and did hysterectomies, and (even a few) c-sections. And a lot of babies were being delivered there where there isn’t now.”

These days, the difficulty in “having maternity services at a small, rural hospital is … that a lot of resources are (required if) things go awry (and) you want to have (patients) near those resources should things become challenging,” explained Catherine Wiebe, director of clinical operations in Hope, Agassiz, and Chilliwack for Fraser Health.

“But we have successfully delivered babies here, though it’s not the preferred option.”

At 60-years-old, the Fraser Canyon Hospital may not be one of the oldest hospitals in the Lower Mainland, but given its location, it has certainly become one of the most important in the region.

“It’s a hub of several hospitals because of the several motor vehicle accidents” that occur on the surrounding highways, said Wiebe.

When the Fraser Canyon Hospital was opened, one of its main purposes was to act as a stabilizing point in the region, which had recently been witness to a plane crash that killed 62 people, but that’s no longer its main mandate.

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YYolande Anderson (left) and a fellow nurse at the Fraser Canyon Hospital nurse’s residence in 1959. (Submitted)

“Our goal as health care providers is to find (our patients) services as close to home whatever their health care needs,” explained Wiebe. “While we certainly (transfer) anybody requiring a higher level of care, our medically-ill patients are admitted.

“The average length of stay is six days (because) we can provide that acute care. And we (also) provide end of life care in the hospital for those who can no longer manage at home.

“The hospital is definitely a key feature in the community and a well-valued resource,” continued Wiebe. “We currently have eight medical beds, two hospice beds, and an eight-bay emergency department, which is staffed 24/7.”

In 1959 “we only had two ambulances that were really station wagons driven by the doctors,” remembered Jacobs.

However, that matched the hospital’s emergency resources at the time, which was “one emergency bed and room, so it’s a big emergency room now,” said Anderson, who managed FCH’s OR, ER, and central service station.

“Things were different then than now,” continued Anderson. “I found we had more time with the patients. There’s so much paperwork now, (it seems like) nurses spend (a lot of) time on the computer.”

But when Anderson worked at the hospital, it “also had laundry and a cook. I really remember the food—I enjoyed those meals,” she said with a chuckle.

So while there’s no cook feeding the staff these days, Wiebe says FCH’s nurses are about to get an upgrade.

“There has been a fair amount of (money) invested in the hospital recently, and we’re going to be renovating the nurses station (shortly), which is sort of like like renovating the kitchen of a house.

“It really is the best little hospital in all of B.C. You should hear the compliments I get—I can’t tell you how proud I am to be part of this (team).”

“It really was amazing when you think back about it all,” said Anderson.

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