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Salute to the Girls of Grace Hospital

by Al Roach

It is 6:30 a.m. on a cold and biting January day in 1946. The frosty air has cleared the sleep from the heads of a group of breathless young girls hurrying into a basement dining room of the Sally Ann’s Grace Hospital on Crawford Avenue.

Tossing their navy blue capes over the backs of chairs, they bolt their breakfast. Juice, porridge, bacon and toast today. The clatter of silverware.

"Marge sure got hell for bumping a patient in the O.R. yesterday."

"I hear she lost her half-day."

6:50 a.m. Rushing down the hall for morning prayers. Led today by Major Doris M. Barr, Superintendent of Nurses. Finishing with a not-too-enthusiastic rendition of "Whiter than Snow".

And now the 12-hour day begins. With a two-hour break in the afternoon (if they aren’t too busy). Student nurses dashing off (everything is done on the double here) to duty in the Case Room, Nursery, Children’s Ward…

"Flora’s in Military today."

"She’d better watch her backside."

A long day of thermometers, bedpans, dinner trays, pills, injections, squaring of bed corners. A severe floor "super" who will, while chatting with patients, slyly run her finger along window sills to ascertain if our girls have dusted them.

Betty is on duty in Second South. Just a bit intimidated by the cantankerous old man in the Eager Room. Not unexpected. At $5 per day he has the most expensive room in the hospital.

Girls swishing about in their blue striped blouses (pink in the third and final year of training), highly starched white cotton aprons and bibs (no soft feminine curves allowed to show), cuffs, collars and caps. Black cotton stockings. Black, low-heeled oxfords. All very sensible and efficient.

Uniforms, one suspects, designed to eliminate any hint of sexual allure. In this respect they clearly fail in their purpose.

The day wears on for the girls in the Grace Hospital School of Nursing. No one is allowed to relax. There is a constant hum of efficiency. The hospital richly deserves its reputation as one of the finest anywhere in Ontario.

Practical lessons from nursing instructors such as Major Gladys Barker and Major Christine "Chrissy" Chapman.

This afternoon, down to the basement classroom for one of the formal lectures. Dr. Arthur Lyon is lecturing on gynecology. (One of the many subjects on which the provincial examinations will be based.) Tired young ladies fight off sleep. It isn’t the doctor’s fault.

Seven p.m. Or 7:15. Or 7:30. The day finally ends. Back to one of the five old houses on Oak, London [University] and Crawford, used as residences (before the central residence was erected on London Street, just west of the hospital, in 1954).

A few of the girls will go out with boyfriends this evening. But not many. And those who do will be careful to observe the 10 p.m. curfew. Well…most of them.

And the weekend is coming. Every other Sunday, time off from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. An entire four hours to do whatever they please (within the limitations of decorum). And, on the other Sundays, the coveted "two-off" — from 2 p.m. until signing-in time. Let the studying wait, it’s a holiday.

Any emolument? Certainly: $5 per month. For seniors, that is. For years One and Two, the stipend is $3 and $4 respectively.

A tough life? Perhaps. But when it’s all over, the march behind the Windsor Citadel Band, proudly playing "The Montreal Citadel". The new white uniforms. Capes thrown back over shoulders, scarlet linings dazzling in the May sunshine. Down London Street and up Ouellette Avenue to H.M.C.S. Hunter for the graduation ceremonies.

A dozen red roses on each girl’s arm. The graduate’s pin proudly displayed. The photographs by Josephine A. Smith. The provincial examinations in September. The right to write Reg. N. after their names.

Joining the alumnae of hundreds of girls trained under such leaders as Brigadier Alice M. Brett from the time the Sally Ann bought the old Ellis home on Crawford to turn it into a hospital in 1920 until the final graduation in 1974.

A salute to you girls. They don’t make ‘em like you any more.



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