Hotel Dieu Hospital (1869-1996)

The First Hotel Dieu

This historic little dwelling, 36' x 25', situated between St. Thomas College and the Hotel Dieu building (1931-1979), already referred to as the cradle of all the parochial institutions, was the first Hotel Dieu. On the first floor of this small house were four rooms, two on the right and two on the left of the entrance hall. The first room on the left was destined for supplyroom and parlour, the second was the chapel. The hall served as parlour for the sick during the day - at night it was the sleeping apartment of a little orphan boy received a few days after the arrival of the sisters. In case of need, this hall was used as a hospital ward. The first room on the right (containing three beds), constituted "the hospital"; the second served the purpose of refectory and pharmacy; at need, this room too was used as a ward. The three rooms on the second floor - more properly the attic - were occupied by the sisters. The kitchen was in the rear - the attic above this apartment being divided into two rooms - one occupied by an old gentleman who had placed himself at the service of the sisters -the other, by an old lady, an invalid, and a little orphan girl. In the latter, the chronicles tell us it was very often filled with numbers of poor, who came for medicine, or with whole families of Indians, who entered without ceremony to warm themselves, or "visit the sisters."

The sisters were obliged to suit themselves to these circumstances while awaiting the construction of the hospital.

It may be interesting here to note that the first to come to our sisters for relief were three - a little boy with his father, and at the same time a poor woman - "a fact", say the chronicles, "that reminds one of the little family of Nazareth" - the more so since the woman's name was Mary. The first Acadian who came to the hospital was by the name of "Joseph". The first who died bore the name of the venerated Bishop Rogers, "James". During the one year spent in the first Hotel Dieu, sixty patients were received and treated, and between four and five hundred were given relief and medicine.

The Second Hotel Dieu

In 1870 the sisters moved to a second Hotel Dieu. This allowed for accommodation to start an education program, and classes begun on October 2, 1871. These quarters consisted of a wing adjacent to the then existing Church. It was occupied by the sisters from July 1870 to 1876. This building had no furnace and was heated by stoves, and to save fuel, fires were only lighted in the sisters' quarters at night.

In 1871, Bishop Rogers proposed to transfer the sisters to Bathurst, but after prayerful reflection the sisters preferred to stay in Chatham.

The Third Hotel Dieu

In 1876, continued progress necessitated a move for the hospital and the Academy to a third Hotel Dieu. This was an elaborate "T" shaped construction, which also contained several other services. Wood and water had to be carried up to the third floor by the sisters. There were thirty-nine stoves altogether in the hospital, and the academy and the sisters who sat up at night to watch the sick also had to watch the fires. It was not uncommon for water to freeze in the basins at night. In 1877, six sisters died of tuberculosis. Twenty-eight sisters died in those early years due to privations, and intense cold, the lack of food and warm clothing.

In 1890, a furnace and hot water heating system was installed and the sisters' health improved. In 1902, the town obtained water service and upon request, the hospital was supplied free of charge. In 1905, an epidemic of smallpox broke out and the Board of Health wanted these patients admitted to the hospital. The sisters would not assume the responsibility of exposing the patients and boarding pupils to the disease. Instead they offered staff to care for these patients if the Board could provide a building for an isolation hospital. The Board erected a building on the western limits of the town and three sisters with two female workers moved in to care for the sick. They not only had to look after the patients, but the kitchen, laundry and other household duties as well.

The civic authorities hired an orderly for the male patients but the hospital staff received no remuneration. The staff remained at this isolation hospital from May 12th until the end of June, when the epidemic subsided and they returned to Hotel Dieu.

The Fourth Hotel Dieu

The hospital was desperately in need of an operating room, but it was penniless and the estimated cost was $11,000. A man from Newcastle by the name of John McKane came to the rescue and gave the sisters $11,500 for he construction of the operating room.

The architect engaged to draw up the plans, said the wing would not afford facilities for the light necessary for operating rooms. He surveyed the ground on Lobban Avenue and considered the site ideal. Thus the idea of erecting an entirely new structure unexpectedly presented itself. It was clearly the only solution feasible but the cost was estimated to be $85,000 and the sisters only had $11,500. However, trusting in Divine Providence and with Mr. McKanes's donation, work was begun and the 4th Hotel Dieu Hospital was completed. Patients were moved to the new building on January 8, 1913. Bed capacity was 70. In 1917, a training school for nurses was opened. The same year, a steam laundry was installed. In 1920, the inauguration of the Hospital Aid, now called the Auxillary, took place. It continued to serve the hospital until 1993, when it became the Auxillary for Mount St. Joseph Nursing Home exclusively. In 1923, a central heating plant was installed. In 1924, the hospital employed a V.O.N. nurse, who accompanied by a student nurse would visit the poor sick each day. Unfortunately, the hospital could not continue to pay the nurse, and without support from the civic authorities, this service had to be discontinued. In 1927, the Nurses' Alumni was established.

In 1938, a new nurses' residence was opened on Lobban Avenue. The 53rd and final graduation exercise was held in September 1973.

The training school was phased out and Nursing Education allocated to larger centers. In 1949, a training school for Nursing Assistants was opened and continued to operate until 1964. Approximately three hundred R.N.A.'s were trained in Mount St. Joseph's and Hotel Dieu. In 1949, an Advisory board for the hospital was established, which subsequently evolved to a Board of Directors. The Board was functional until March 1992 when the government phased out all local hospital boards replacing them with Regional Boards.

In 1958, a new wing added to the Hotel Dieu was opened, bringing the bed capacity to 127. In 1959, Medicare came into effect and government funding became available to operate the hospital.