Sherbrooke Hospital School of Nursing
August 29th, 2016
When the Sherbrooke Protestant Hospital officially opened its doors in 1896, its effective operation required not only trained doctors but also capable nurses. It was out of this need that the Sherbrooke Hospital School of Nursing was born.
The first two nurses to complete the ‘training’ were Jean Shirriffs and Blanche Thorpe, who were awarded certificates at a special ceremony in 1898. However, the first decades of the Sherbrooke Hospital’s nurses training program involved what has been described as something more akin to “bonded service” than a formal education. In the early years, a normal work day for a nurse was 19 hours and consisted of all manners of work, from carrying boiling water or patients in stretchers up to the third-floor operating room to washing linens and medical equipment by hand. In addition their nursing duties, it wasn’t uncommon for the nurses to be asked to go into Sherbrooke to seek donations.
Nurses seeking some respite from their long days were obliged to stay in less than pleasant quarters in the Sherbrooke Hospital until 1901 when the first nurse’s residence was built next door. Over the next two decades, the school continued to grow but it was not until the 1920s that standard exams were introduced and more formal training was established at the Nurses school. To help supplement what was offered in Sherbrooke, the school also began to foster affiliations with Montreal hospitals.
Following the construction of the new Park Street hospital in 1914, a new nurses’ residence was completed in 1919 to accommodate the growing needs. Despite various hurdles in professional programming and on-going ambivalence of hospital administrators towards the school, young women from across the region and even from other provinces continued to enroll in the program.
The Park Street nurses’ residence would remain their home until 1948 when the sale of the Sherbrooke Hospital property forced the nurses to be housed in military barracks until 1950, when a new residence and nursing school was built on Argyle Street. The building, called the Norton Residence, was partially the result of a generous donation from Harry O. Norton. The completion of the Norton Residence also marked a shift in the nursing program, as the academic curriculum was formalized and the administration of the school was reorganized.
Finally, in 1972, with the transfer of nursing education to universities and CEGEPs, the Sherbrooke Hospital School of Nursing witnessed the graduation of its final class and closed its doors. From 1898 to 1972, 798 nurses graduated from the Sherbrooke Hospital School of Nursing. Through the ups and downs its 75 years of existence, the school produced proficient nurses, taught life lessons that stayed with graduates for their lifetime, and forged lasting friendships. Reading the stories of early nursing, looking through photographs from their time during training (the serious ones with patients as well as those disclosing the shenanigans in the nurses’ residence), it’s impossible to deny the significance of this time in these women’s lives.
Photo credit : P190 Bessie J. Banfill fonds
Bessie J. Banfill, 1923 graduate, pictured in her training uniform, ca.1922