Guysborough Memorial Hospital marks 70 years of service

By Lois Ann Dort    

GUYSBOROUGH – On November 5, 1949 Guysborough marked a milestone in area history: the opening of the Guysborough Memorial Hospital on Belmont Hill, in the former summer home of Henry Marshall Tory, donated to the community for that purpose.

Through community efforts both in fundraising and physical labour, the large house was transformed into a hospital through extensive renovations.

Prior to the opening of the hospital, which was named in honour of those who fell in WWI and WWII, Guysborough was home to the first Red Cross Outpost in the province, known as a kitchen hospital, which was established nine years prior to the opening of Guysborough Memorial. It was common practice at the time for doctors to make house calls, although according the Guysborough Historical Society President Jamie Grant, very few people called for the doctor prior to the introduction of MSI (government-funded Medical Services Insurance) due to the high cost of medical services in a very poor region.

“The establishment of the Memorial Hospital…was a huge leap forward,” said Grant.

At the end of WWII, Guysborough Hospital board members decided the area needed more medical facilities and services than the Red Cross Outpost could offer. With the ravages of war still affecting the local economy and workforce, people rallied and got the job done on time and under budget. “They obviously made a sterling effort,” said Grant.

The Guysborough Memorial Hospital was originally staffed by one nurse who was paid by the Red Cross. “She was on 24/7 and what an undertaking for a very young, recent graduate…and yet they made it work,” said Grant.

And while it was a community effort to establish medical facilities in Guysborough, Grant noted there was one individual in particular who pushed hard for the service.

“Laurier Grant was there from the very beginning, from the establishment of the Outpost Hospital and, it is safe to say, was the leading light in the establishment of the Memorial Hospital.”

Speaking to the Guysborough Historical Society’s recognition of the 70th anniversary of the Guysborough Memorial Hospital, Grant said there were several goals, the first being to “celebrate a milestone of the Memorial Hospital providing medical service. And just as importantly, thanks to the staff and volunteers past and present, that make such a high level of service possible.”

Grant said they also wanted to highlight the ‘Memorial’ aspect of the hospital’s name. “The hospital was named in honour of those who did not return from the two world wars. In 1949 their absence was felt…time hadn’t dulled the pain.”

On Tuesday morning, November 5, members of the Guysborough Historical Society, Mary and Don Armstrong, and Royal Canadian Legion Guysborough Branch member Edith Walker gathered to present Leona Purcell, Facility Manager of the Guysborough Memorial Hospital with a card to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the facility.

The current incarnation of the hospital, located on Highway 16 on the edge of Guysborough Village, opened in October 1988. Purcell worked the first shift in the new building. “Originally it was planned for a bit later in November, but we were expecting a storm…I was very sick with my pregnancy and there was a promise that there would be nobody here; we kept both emerges open just because of the transition. But because of the pending storm, they moved all the patients. So, I definitely remember.”

Purcell also said it was wonderful to honour the ‘Memorial’ part of the hospital’s name. “It’s a reminder to our younger generation of the sacrifices and the value and pride put into this facility both historically and currently. We can look at our service campaign around the building of our new addition (the Dr. Anita Foley Health Services Centre, 2015). There’s lots of appreciation and pride in our facility…The community wraps its arms around this facility.”