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The Wilberforce Red Cross Outpost Hospital

April 29, 2023

Nurse Elsie Turner Metcalfe treats a young patient at Wilberforce Outpost Hospital

By Guy Scott

Wilberforce is the home of a unique museum, the Red Cross Outpost Hospital. The story of this operation dates back to 1922. A local resident of the area, Alfred Schofield, became concerned about the lack of primary medical care in his remote community. The nearest doctors were at Haliburton or Kinmount: a long trip that often had fatal results for the desperate local residents. Schofield was particularly upset by the number of young mothers who died in childbirth because no medical service was readily available. Schofield was involved with the Salvation Army & Children’s Aid Services and used his connections to attract attention to Wilberforce’s plight. When World War I ended, the Canadian Red Cross had a large surplus of money raised during the war left over. He suggested the Red Cross spend this windfall to help underprivileged areas such as Haliburton County. The result was the 3 “Outpost Hospitals” in Minden, Haliburton and Wilberforce.

These hospitals would contain a registered nurse, but no doctor (they were scarce back then too!). The purpose was the nurse could administer immediate aid for such common occurrences as childbirth, fractures, cuts, illnesses, etc. in the absence of a doctor. She was a primary triage person, who treated minor injuries, stabilized major issues and decided when to call a doctor. The trained medical professionals also dispensed advice, gave immunizations and even toured the local schools to inspect the children for health problems such as eye issues. Much of the travel was done by horseback or foot, but the local residents of Eastern Haliburton County deeply appreciated the efforts and were only too willing to help out the nurse in any way they could. You might say the area was ahead of its time with its outreach programs.

The Monmouth Charitable Association was organized to administer the hospital and provided the Red Cross with the building, today turned into a museum. The first nurse was a Miss Jackson (1922-1930) followed by Gertrude Leroy in 1930. In her retirement, Gertrude Leroy produced a memoir called “Mustard Plasters & Handcars”: a wonderful snippet of local history. The Outpost Hospital operated until 1963, when it was closed. In 1991, a local group acquired the site and slowly converted it into a museum. In 2003, it was designated a National Historic Site. Today the Museum offers a look into a little known aspect of Canadian history—medical care in rural areas.

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