TALES AND LEGENDS OF THE MOUNTAIN KINGDOM: Mater Misericordiae Hospital
I was inspired to write this after coming home for the holidays and finding a great pamphlet in the Bank of Montreal building about a heritage walking tour around points of interest in Rossland. I have some fond memories of the Mater Misericordiae, and I thought that an article about this place was well overdue.
Between 1895 and 1896, Rossland grew from a disorganized mucky mining camp to a full-fledged town, complete with all the amenities one could hope for. Except for one fairly significant piece of infrastructure: a hospital. With disease outbreaks, mining injuries, and the back alley brawling, not to mention the fact that there were children in town needing treatment for ailments and babies being born needing midwifery or the care of a doctor, the town in its early days needed a hospital. And it got one.
A certain Father Lemay, who founded both Rossland’s first Catholic church, Sacred Heart, and one of Rossland’s first schools, also called Sacred Heart, was instrumental in starting up what would eventually become Mater Misericordiae Hospital.
He had connections–in New Jersey of all places. And in April 1896, he recruited a pair of nuns from the Convent of St. Joseph of Peace in Jersey City to come to Rossland and get a hospital up and running. Trained nurses, they arrived and set up an infirmary in a rented house.
These two nuns, Sisters M. Stanislaus and Mother Teresa Moran, have to be two of the great pioneering women of Rossland’s history–right up there with Mrs. Allan, for instance. Imagine getting some telegram or letter from an obscure priest located in the middle of nowhere, pleading for you to come and set up a hospital. These women went far from city life and worked hard to do what they could for the injured and suffering in their rough and tumble new home. They were brave women indeed.
The little infirmary was much needed and much appreciated, so much so that more staff were needed to run it as Rossland’s population continued to grow rapidly. Another group of nuns arrived: Sister Superior Teresa Kiernan and Sisters Ursula, Carmelita and Joseph Marie. It’s not clear where they came from, if it was another convent in New Jersey, or somewhere else. But with a staff of six nurses and a population boom, the rented house on Columbia Avenue had outgrown itself and new digs needed to be found.
After some successful fundraising, a location for Rossland’s first full-fledged hospital was found at the eastern end of Columbia Avenue, at the corner of Georgia Street. Construction began on April 16, 1897, and the doors to the hospital officially opened just a couple of months later, on June 4.
Obviously, the large and imposing edifice of several floors that we know and love now is not what was originally built in that rather short time frame. Over the years, with need and funding, the building morphed and evolved after many renovations into the rather stately affair it is now.
The nuns continued to run the hospital until 1969, at which point a local board took over from them after a run of over 70 years. We owe a lot to those Sisters.
Mater Misericordiae hospital used to be the full deal hospital, with an emergency room, surgical ward, and even a maternity ward, though the maternity ward was closed before my time and babies of the 70s were born in Trail’s maternity ward. But I have some interesting memories of that hospital.
When I was five, I fell and hit my head on the cement stairs that led up to my house on Thompson Avenue, and I had a significant gash in my forehead as a result. My mom whisked me off the emergency room at Mater Misericordiae where I was stitched up by a kindly, seemingly elderly doctor who was so deft at stitching I didn’t feel a thing. I remember chatting with him during the procedure, in fact.
But the bigger incident that I will never for the life of me forget was when I was seven years old and in Madame D’Oust’s grade 2 class, still in the McLean School annex after the fire the year before. I came down with a severe abdominal pain the afternoon of November seventh. My mom was in Ontario visiting relatives, so my dad came and got me from school and took me to a doctor in Rossland I’d not seen before, a lady named Dr. Hawe. She pronounced it appendicitis and off I was taken to Mater Misericordiae.
I was seven, so the severity of the situation was quite lost on me. All I know is that I was about to have surgery and there was a group of nurses fussing over me from the time I arrived to the time I was wheeled into the operating room. It was exciting, actually! In fact, I so thoroughly enjoyed my time there that I didn’t want to go home. I was very well taken care of–pampered in fact. Until they came to take the staples out…then we had a problem. But overall, that was an exciting time for me.
A few years later, the services provided by the hospital were reduced and reduced further, so that eventually only one wing of the building remained open, and this was the long term care wing.
Now the old hospital has been renovated again to house a series of condominiums, but you can get some paramedical services there from the physiotherapy clinic.
You can see a mural celebrating the history of Mater Misericordiae on the outer wall of the Thrift Store on Washington Street. The hospital auxiliary still exists, actually; the funds raised at the Thrift Store go to the hospital in Trail now.
3. “Rossland: The Golden City Heritage Walking Tour” pamphlet put out by Tourism Rossland