A Town in Action: The Making of Our Hospital

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The original hospital committee members discuss the hospital plans on the present site (L to R): Tom Clarke, Dr. LaVerne Kindree, Stan Clarke, and Bernie Brown. (Photo courtesy of Norma Kindree)

By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: Sept 12, 2015

LAST year, the Squamish Hospital Foundation launched the Baby Wall program. You could celebrate the baby’s arrival by having their name permanently inscribed on the Baby Wall, which was installed in the hallway of the maternity ward of the hospital. These names are for all to see, and hopefully will be there for decades to come, evoking sweet memories and nostalgic association. They will cement their ties with Squamish. When they grow up, they will have one definite place to come and relive the past.
But we have no inscriptions for the lives that left their permanent imprints on the hospital. We have forgotten the exciting stories that dozens of Squamish residents lived out while struggling to build this hospital more than half a century ago. J. Moore…C. Marchant…D. Morrison…F Evans…Fraser…McRae…even the names have started fading from the public memory.
These stories are, however, still etched out deeply in the minds of people who had seen them unfolding. Norma Kindree, wife of late Dr LaVerne Kindree, the man who set up the hospital, smiles as old memories pay a visit and take her back to 1950. “Yes, I can see them all,” she says. The hospital was their baby and its name is permanently engraved on a wall in her mind. She is overwhelmed by a cascade of stories.
Building the hospital was no mean task when neither money nor qualified and trained professionals were easy to come by in Squamish, which was a small isolated community of 1,500 people in 1950. The town didn’t get the hospital because of government bounty. It came because for nearly four years the citizens of this community worked tirelessly to raise money on their town.
They sold cakes and lemonades and teas and chickens and they danced crossdressed and they boogied to the music on Klondike nights and they sent letters and travelled to faraway places to ask for money and they beseeched and threatened their government. By the end of it all, they had raised $33,000, the equivalent of a few millions today, and forced the provincial government to start a 24-bed hospital.
Norma remembers the very sentence that may have launched the hospital. Dr. Laverne Kindree had come back from Vancouver after spending a week there filling for another doctor. It was a stressful week as he went about from one hospital to another in the city treating patients and Norma still recalls vividly Dr. Kindree’s words as he came back that evening to Squamish: “Norma, either we are going to make it in Squamish or we are going to starve to death.”
And ‘making it’ meant a hospital for Kindree but more so for this small isolated community where patients depended on his medical service because the next best thing was a long boat ride to Vancouver.

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Dr. LaVerne Kindree with a performer at a Klondike night organised in 1951 at the PGE Hall to raise funds for the hospital. As much as $1150 was raised for the hospital. (Pic: Norma Kindree)

This may sound like an old wives’ tale but for the first part of the 20th century, a serious illness in Squamish meant a long and a tedious canoe trip to Vancouver.  Local historian and a member of the pioneer Judd family, Ellen Grant remembers stories from her childhood when people in this small isolated community of 300 helped each other in the absence of a trained doctor. Her grandma, Barbara Anne, acted as a mid-wife for many local women and she often told the story of how Ellen’s uncle, Earl Judd, had to be taken on a canoe on a long perilous journey to Vancouver when he was too sick to recover in Squamish. The only alternative to that canoe trip was to hold fast to the pioneer spirit of survival and toughen it out right here in Squamish.
By 1942, there was a steamship in operation but it was still a two-hour journey to Vancouver and the return trip would take a full day. George Behrner, one of the directors of the hospital board, remembers the long trip to Vancouver. “It was a two-hour trip on steamship and they stopped at Woodfibre and Port Mellon on their way to Vancouver. The boat left at 9. You may just have a few hours’ business in Vancouver but it won’t come back until the 9 pm,” he recalls.
The first doctor to set up a permanent practice in town was Dr. Norman Paul who came to Squamish in 1913 and stayed till 1942. The nearest thing to a hospital may have been a small nursing home in downtown Squamish but it was staffed mainly by pioneer ladies to help women with maternity. After Dr. Paul’s death, it was difficult to find a doctor as they were in high demand all over the country and few chose to relocate to rural communities where there were fewer patients and little financial benefit.

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Norma Kindree

An old retired doctor finally came to practice in Squamish but he may have liked fishing a tad better than medicine.
Ron McCormack remembers a house call the doctor made for his father, Reginald Ronald McCormack. The doctor opened his black bag of medical supplies and out came an eight-inch fish and landed on the table. He had been out fishing between house calls, he explained sheepishly.
“He would give you iodine to put on a broken angle. He was from the school of hard knocks,” says Ron McCormack, as he smiles at the memory of a fish, rather than medicine, landing at the table.
But this fishy situation for medical help in Squamish was brief. Soon, Dr. McDonald, a retired physician who had served in Britannia Beach, came to serve in town followed by a young doctor named Dr. Laverne Kindree.
Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Dr. Kindree first made the trip to Squamish in 1948. He was doing his medical internship in Vancouver and he came to look at Squamish and liked what he saw. Dr. Kindree loved the country and Squamish appealed to his love for horses and trains. Describing his first trip to Squamish, Kindree recalled a downtown that was just Cleveland Ave, two hotels, dirt roads and wooden sidewalks that floated when the tide was high. Dr. Kindree worked in the railways before joining the medical line and he was fascinated to see steam trains toddling up and down the tracks. He stayed in the Chieftain hotel and when he woke up he couldn’t step out because the door was blocked by four horses. “When the community is living in such close proximity to horses, it can’t be a bad place after all,” Dr. Kindree laughed as he recalled his first visit to Squamish in a video interview available at the local library.

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Part of a local parade, a float urges people to donate to the local hospital. The community raised $33000 and continued to raise more for hospital equipment. Pic: Norma Kindree

In June 1948, a newly wed Dr. Kindree moved to Squamish with his wife and nurse Norma Kindree. Dr Kindree made house calls and saw patients behind the Yarwood Drugs Store in a shared office space with a dentist. But as days rolled into weeks, it started to become clear to the Kindrees that the only way they could stay in Squamish was if there was a hospital. It was a time where there were no MSP plans and most patients had to pay for themselves: $3 for a house call and $1.50 for a visit to the clinic. Shortly after his arrival in Squamish, Dr. Kindree also found and treated some of his patients for brucellosis, a bacterial infection that spreads from animals to people. The young couple had purchased a home on Third Ave but as they crunched the numbers on the bills, they realised they would either have to move or the town would need a hospital.
In a video interview available at the library, Dr. Kindree reflects on that time: “When we had come we liked the town but I realised that for a young doctor to continue practising without a hospital was like ending your career without starting it.”
The choices were no less stark for the community. They knew they needed a hospital for the alternative was a tedious boat ride and an expensive stay in Vancouver. And now they were lucky to have a capable doctor who was available for 24 hours but may not stay for lack of a hospital. It was time for something to be done.
The rumblings for a need for a local hospital had started as early as 1940 but it was felt the town’s population was too small to support such an endeavour. In 1947, the local board of trade and workers compensation board thought of building a first aid station in Squamish. A year later, on October 9, women’s auxiliary members and concerned citizens met at the PGE hall to discuss the possibility of a local hospital. Perhaps they could start with a medical centre with three beds or should they aim for a fully equipped hospital, which could cost them $50,000 and would need $2,000 every month to run. Determined to get a hospital built in their community, a committee was formed with Jack Castle as the president, Tom Clarke as the secretary, Hannah McCormack as the campaign manager. Other members included George Stan Clarke and Mrs. Clarke, Bernie Brown, Sidney Bishop, George Behrner, Cyril Marchant, William Gedge and Dr. LaVerne Kindree, Mrs. McRae, Gerry Dent, Johnny Morrison, and Al Hendrickson.
When Ron McCormack came back from work one day, his mother, Hannah McCormack, had a proposal laid out for him: He could either give up a week’s worth of salary to the hospital fund or he’d have to pay for his room and board in the McCormack household. 
Hannah was the campaign manager and she began the charity from her home that day. Ron thought it best to part with the wages for he knew the depth of his mother’s commitment.
Hannah also had a role in incorporating the town and she was later appointed as the village clerk for her efforts. It was around this time that provincial government expressed interest in the hospital project but would cover only one-third of the cost. The community would have to match the rest. It was time for the hospital committee to spring into action and leading them on this seemingly audacious mission were Dr. LaVerne Kindree and Hannah McCormack, who didn’t accept defeat easily. 

“If she got her teeth into something, she would just do it, she didn’t play around,” her son, Ron McCormack remembers.

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Hannah McCormack was the town clerk and instrumental in incorporating Squamish. Along with Dr. Kindree, she led the efforts to raise money for the hospital. Pic: Ron McCormack

Hannah left no stone unturned. Ron recalls sometimes she was gone for days to Pemberton and Mt. Currie as she convinced the locals and the First Nations to donate and throw their support behind the project for they too would benefit from a hospital in Squamish. With lack of transportation and means of communications, these missions would frustrate and sometimes exhaust her but she wouldn’t hesitate to make the journey again so more people would donate to the hospital project.

Ron’s father, Reginald, meanwhile, encouraged his wife to canvass for donations and wouldn’t mind cooking food and taking care of the household when she was gone for days and sometimes weeks to ask people to donate for the hospital. Besides knocking far flung doors in Pemberton and Mt. Currie, Hannah also worked with local clubs and organisations to organise fundraisers for the hospital. And in this she was joined by hundreds of like-minded enthusiasts who shared her passion.  

The entire community, from children to men and women, were involved. While some volunteers like Kindree and McCormack travelled to outlying areas, there were others who worked the phone books of Vancouver, calling big companies, small cafes, laundries, pubs, breweries, lawyers and pretty much anyone else that could be asked for a donation. Newspaper of the time tallied the donations against the names of those who donated and sums as small as $2 and as large as $1000 were being given by Squamishers for this cause.

Fundraising turned one committer volunteer into a chicken salesman: When a chicken owner told him he would donate the proceeds of the sale of his chickens, the volunteer was seen asking around people if they were looking to buy chickens.

‘Support your hospital’ floats were in almost every local parade and just about every fundraising trick was being tried: There were garden and tea parties and contests and bake sales and turnabout dances and raffles draw and Bingo games and a memorable Klondike day and night where local men dressed as miners and stomped to the music with dance hall girls and raised $1150 for the hospital.

Also involved in these efforts were local churches and school children who organised several fundraisers through Parent Teachers Associations. Ellen Grant remembers one such event at Mashiter School where students and their parents gathered for a special fundraising event.  Grant remembers she had baked a cake for an auction which her father bought for $10, which eventually went to the hospital fund.

Many of these events were organised by the Legion’s Women’s Auxiliary and Norma Kindree laughs as she recalls the evening of July 25, 1950. There are women making sandwiches in the kitchen and out in the garden, there are booths being set up where you can buy a glass of lemonade from Mrs. Caldwell, sell your White Elephants to Mr. Wilmer, play some Bingo with Mrs. McCormack, buy a cup of tea from Cy Marchant and then show the leaves to the resident fortune teller May Gorusch.

Norma Kindree remembers it was an open invitation to the entire community was invited to this garden party fundraiser but the invitations may have gone farther than that.

This is how a member of the Legion Women’s Auxiliary remembers it: “We really went on the “bum” for this event and I doubt if there were any ex-Squamish people as far south as California, north to Alaska and the Prairie provinces who didn’t receive a parcel post letter from us…Perhaps some who come back to the old home town for a visit and see the hospital will say, “I’ve got my two-bits worth in there.”

original

The garden party raised $309 for the hospital, another example of how people got together to give whatever they could. Under the direction of Hannah McCormack and May Gorusch, the auxiliary also sponsored a variety show where Barber Shop Quarter, chorus girls and local actors came together all for the purpose of raising money for the hospital.

“We were a small town and everyone pitched in for the hospital,” Norma Kindree remembers.

“We put dances and card games and garden parties and women made sandwiches and men donated money and equipment and everyone just gave whatever they could manage to give for the hospital,” says Norma as she recalls the tireless spirit of Squamish.

Edith Illes remembers fondly a town imbued with that giving spirit. Her father, Cy Marchant, was a member of the original hospital committee and she remembers their home burned down while her father was attending a hospital related meeting. The community rallied to give them clothing and food but more strikingly, the family was offered a lot free of cost by another hospital committee member Stan Clarke. Cy Marcant, who built rail cars for PGE, also helped in the building of the hospital.

After two years of dogged fundraising, the community managed to raise $33,000, an astonishing sum for a community the size of only 1,500 people. And yet, the dream for a hospital was far from being realised. One of the biggest bottlenecks was dealing with the province. Norma recalls how Dr. Kindree had painstakingly done research on what exactly it would cost to buy the land, design and build the hospital.
In the recorded interview, Dr. Kindree laughs heartily as he recalls how they planned to sue the provincial government: “We had the problem of getting them (Province) to agree that we could build a hospital. First they said we could and then they said we couldn’t and it got to the stage where we went to the attorney general on how to sue the government for breach of promise.”
Frustrated with bureaucratic delays and lack of a clear response from Victoria, Dr. Kindree accompanied the then MLA Ernie Carson to Victoria to meet the premiere.
Just before MLA Carson was to meet the then premiere Boss Johnson, Dr. Kindree told him the $33,000 raised by Squamish would be equivalent to Vancouver raising $9 million dollars. “I pointed to him that if Vancouver raised $9 million and wanted to build a hospital, I don’t think you’d refuse them.”

MLA Carson made the same argument before premiere Johnson, who agreed and stamped his immediate approval to the project.
Those who knew Dr. Kindree won’t be surprised by his commitment; it was a crucial part of who he was. His son, Paul Kindree, remembers a father committed to his profession, so committed that patients who came from Pemberton and Lillooet would routinely stay at their home. “We wouldn’t blink if we came back home and saw a stranger sitting in our living room. It was a revolving door of patients and visiting doctors,” he recalls.

For a long time, Dr. Kindree was the only doctor in town which meant he had to moonlight as a dentist and sometimes even a veterinarian. Norma remembers how she came to the clinic one evening and found Dr. Kindree suturing a horse who had ran through a barbed wire. Dr. Kindree didn’t work in shifts but was on-call for 24 hours. Norma can remember numerous  disruptions to family dinner and gatherings when she wanted him to attend to it in the morning but he wouldn’t. “He would say, ‘no, I have to go… there is always that one per cent chance that this could turn out to be very serious’. There were times when he stayed the night at the hospital because he was attending an acute case. He felt very responsible for the community,” she says.
The government clearing of the hospital launched another community drive. Now it was time to find and clear land. The hospital committee finally selected four acres of land on Hospital Hill, a site considered appropriate because of its distance from downtown flood plains. Once again, people gave their time and equipment and machinery to clear the land. George Behrner donated his excavation equipment to clear the land, First Nation volunteers brought their power saws and others came with trucks and power shovels and even bulldozers to clear the land. Dr. Kindree worked round the clock, seeing patients in the day and clearing stumps in the evening.
The Squamish General Hospital finally opened on May 26, 1952, described by the newspaper reports of the day as a “modern building which will accommodate twenty patients, decorated in pastel colour and the children’s wards are particularly attractive.” The hospital was officially open but the fundraising and volunteer work was far from over. Once again the community took it upon itself to make the hospital work. The day it opened volunteer nurses and local women “went to work scrubbing, cleaning, waxing, hanging curtains, and doing a thousand and one things necessary before patients could be admitted.”
Four local nurses — Norma Kindree, Joe Budgell, Leonara Clarke and B. Goodale —  worked for free for the first month and donated their wages to provide for the salaries of the new nurses.  And then they realised the new nursing staff would need living quarters. As the committee petitioned the government for help, Stan Clarke took it upon himself to design the new quarters and even ordered the building material. There was no dearth of public-spirited champions. The chairman of the first hospital board, George Behrner volunteered to take out the garbage once a week. The government paid him for the garbage removal but he returned the money back into the hospital and purchased sewing machines for the nursing staff. The hospital kitchen was in the basement and Behrner worked with local blacksmith Ross Barr and Larry Dent to install a dumb waiter so the women wouldn’t have to carry the food trays up and down the stairs. Members of the local logging community, from Bill Manson to John Drenka and John Hunter, also pitched in with funds and equipment. The First Nations women gave baskets, leatherwork and souvenirs to the hospital. Meanwhile, clubs like women’s auxiliary and the Royal Purple spent countless hours making gowns, shirts, nighties, binders, bed sheets and wrapping blankets for the maternity ward. The Brackendale Women’s Club called for donations of wool from Brackendale residents and donated 25 blankets to the hospital.  Not to be left behind, children raised money through variety shows, typed letters, and collected wool to knit fireside slippers for the hospital patients. One young student sold rides on his new bike and gave the money towards buying an incubator at the new hospital. The Parent Teacher Association sponsored a tea booth and gave the money towards buying an inhalator. The local board of trade organised an auction, selling anything from puppy dogs to canoes to chamber pots and raising $1,400 for the hospital equipment.

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The original hospital

The new hospital proved to be a godsend a year after it opened when the town was hit with the plague epidemic. Dr. Kindree and Norma and other nurses worked round the clock to treat the patients suffering from polio. While treating patients, a three-month pregnant Norma was also infected but was lucky to recover from it. Even Dr. Kindree, Norma says, had aborted polio but he kept working, spending days and nights at the hospital. “We were lucky to have a hospital because the patients would have to travel to Vancouver with infectious polio and that would have been awful,” she says.
Leonard Marchant spent eight months in the new hospital as he recovered from polio and he remembers a determined, if a little frazzled, Dr. Kindree doing the rounds around the hospital. After he was released from the hospital, Marchant remembers Dr. Kindree came to their home to make a house call. It was late in the evening and Leonard’s parents urged Dr. Kindree to take some rest at their home and eat something before he went for his next call. Dr. Kindree politely refused, saying he would have to go because a patient was waiting for him.
Norma says it was hard to get Dr. Kindree to take a vacation. The town, he would say, might need him. Even in his death, he was thinking of Squamish.
On the early morning of September 26, 2010 Dr. Kindree turned his head and gazed at the Stawamus Chief and took his last few breaths. His son, Paul, describes the scene: “The sun was just beginning to rise and the Chief, in its wreath of clouds, was dancing in brilliant yellows, orange and reds. One of LaVerne’s final thoughts to Norma was that he hoped that he could soar to the mountain top so he could look down and watch over the community of Squamish.”

Comments

  1. Wolfgang Wittenburg says:

    An amazing story of the pioneering spirit in those days, It reminds me also of the similar remarkable efforts around about the same time of folks in the valley of Bella Coola and on the West Chilcotin plateau carving their own incredible mountain road to end their isolation.

  2. Ted Avery says:

    My sister was a nurse at squamish hospital and I have always been proud of her achievements, now I see why she was so proud of her job there. Real pioneering spirit and determination against bureaucracy and the no can do attitude of governments which won through to provide you with a wonderful facility that still provides the service to a wonderful community I love to visit so much.