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.

This July marked the 120th anniversary of the official inauguration of the Sherbrooke Protestant Hospital, which had its beginnings rooted nearly a decade earlier, in 1887.  The impetus for the hospital was two-fold:  Chiefly, fast-growing cities, such as Sherbrooke in the 1860s and 1870s, with their closely-populated neighbourhoods and lack of city-wide sanitation, were especially good places for contagious disease epidemics, such as smallpox and typhoid fever.  The establishment of hospitals allowed for the treatment and quarantine of infected people.  Secondly, and more specifically, the prominent Sherbrooke businessman Richard W. Heneker felt strongly that the Protestants of the area should contribute to the health care of their fellow brethren with the establishment of a hospital.

These things came together so that by 1887, the general public sentiment was in support of a Protestant hospital to complement the work being done by the Catholic Hospice du Sacré-Coeur. A site for this new hospital was chosen, consisting of 13.8 acres overlooking the St. Francis River on Pine Street (later Park Ave. and now rue du CEGEP), and funding-raising began in earnest.  However, it was not until Heneker, himself, gifted over half of the funds necessary that the hospital Corporation could finally purchase the property. 

The Sherbrooke Protestant Hospital was officially incorporated in 1888 but it would be seven years before the building was completed and yet another year before it was officially opened.  After nine long years, the grand opening was met with excitement as long-time supporters gathered on the hospital lawn on July 8th,1896 to see how their work had finally come to fruition.

The original hospital consisted of two wards, with a capacity of 14 patients, an operating room, a nurses’ and servants’ quarters, dining room, electricity, hot and cold water, bathrooms, and a modern laundry.  The first doctors of the hospital were A Norreys Worthington, Frederick J. Austin, W.D. Smith, and William A. Farwell.  Notwithstanding its name of the “Sherbrooke Protestant Hospital,” the governors emphasized that it would serve the people of all the Townships, regardless of their religion.

The hospital governors spoke with pride of the public contributions and generosity that was the source of the vast majority of the funds, totalling $20,826, needed to bring the hospital into being.  In the following years, fees paid by patients covered only one third of the expenses and, so, it was a continual exercise through private donations and philanthropic organizations to keep the hospital in good financial standing.

For 18 years, this first hospital building served the population until the region’s needs outgrew its capacity.  In 1914, a new hospital was inaugurated as the “Sherbrooke Hospital,” again largely the result of donations and special gifts. This building was followed by a third and final building in 1951, built on Argyle Avenue.

A little metal case, showing  only a string of numbers through a small window.   On the other side, one half of the document can be seen through a plastic jacket.   Once opened up, the small piece of paper warns that “this certificate must always be carried upon the person of the registrant.”  The date recorded identifies it as being from 1918.

The card was a certificate issued as proof that the holder had been registered by the Canada Registration Board.  In 1918, the Board set out to register all individuals in Canada over the age of 16 for the purpose of creating an inventory of people that were well-suited to be recruited for military service or for work in essential wartime industries.  The registration questionnaire asked general questions such as name, address, and age along with specific questions pertaining to employment history and state of health.

Despite its rather innocuous appearance, this item is a small symbol of a larger, more significant movement that was afoot in the later years of World War I.   From early on in the war, various voices in government and the military had been calling for a more effective way to recruit capable men for the Canadian troops and for a way to ensure that vital sectors of the economy were not lacking in labour.  These appeals were met with two recurring suggestions to rectify the situation: national registration and/or compulsory  military service.  The first attempt at a national registration was done in 1917 by cards distributed by the post office.  In the effort to avoid adding fuel to the heated question over conscription,  the completion of the registration card was voluntary and the returns were not as high as they had hoped.

As the war pressed on, however, Prime Minister Borden and his government decided to go ahead with a compulsory national registration in June 1918.  The questionnaires completed through this registration would have provided rich information for genealogists and researchers today.  Unfortunately, the records were not retained so that these little certificates are all that remain from the 1918 national registration.