Chet Greason, Gazette staff
The Stratford General Hospital Nursing and Hospital Archive is one of the best kept secrets in Stratford.
The archive’s two rooms, currently housed in the Avoncrest building (Stratford’s former hospital), are full of memorabilia from the area’s medical past.
After walking down a high-ceilinged hallway framed with the kind of hard angles only found in an old hospital, one enters into a space that is orderly, yet filled to near-bursting.
Mannequins display the nursing uniforms worn by past generations, while small dolls model even more tiny replicas, one of which shows the uniform worn by Stratford’s first male nurse in 1962.
Beside the dolls is a cabinet that holds the china tea set that served the “private room” patients during the 1960s.
“Back then, there was a real differentiation between the classes,” explains tour guide Joan MacDermid, a retired RN who is also the volunteer archivist in charge of the collection.
Portraits adorn the walls, paying homage to the likes of Alexandra Munn, Ontario’s first female medical superintendent who introduced standardized testing for nursing exams, or Anna Fennell Chilman, Stratford’s first female administrator who held office from 1891 to 1898.
An enormous clock, which chimes every quarter hour, and a statue of two nude wrestlers were both donated by Dr. Lorne Robertson, a former Stratford physician who also donated the canine sentinels that guard the entrance to Upper Queen’s Park.
One corner of the room is dedicated to Florence Nightingale, who organized the world’s first secular nursing school and is often called the founder of modern nursing. MacDermid proudly displays a memorial card, brought back from Nightingale’s funeral in England by a local nurse.
Through the doors into the adjoining room are even more marvels, including a cigarette machine, Stratford’s first microscope, an ancient blood bank, and tools that once performed everything from dental surgery to rigid sigmoidoscopies (similar to colonoscopies).
MacDermid pulls out a long silver cylinder and explains that it is an electromagnet that was used to pull foreign objects out of CNR workers’ eyes. The railway company once paid for a permanent room at the hospital for its workers, who didn’t wear eye protection.
A great deal of the archive’s pieces reflect the history of Stratford General Hospital’s School of Nursing, which taught generations of young nurses from 1891 to 1971. It was then changed to the Perth-Huron Regional School of Nursing before the program was mandated into a community college course in 1975. Nursing is now a university degree course. One wall of the archive proudly displays portraits of the graduating classes of the nursing school’s past.
The archive itself began as a series of framed photographs held in what used to be the nursing residence adjacent to the hospital. When the residence closed in 1971, the archive moved to a single room in Avoncrest.
“It became so overcrowded you couldn’t see things,” says MacDermid, who notes it took an angry letter from a reunion of nursing school graduates to the hospital administrator to grant the collection its current space.
The archive is not open on a regular basis; access is granted by appointment. Interested parties are asked to contact MacDermid at 519-271-7982 to arrange a tour.