St. Boniface Hospital

From the time of the first nuns

400 Taché Avenue

On April 24, 1844, first Sisters of the Grey Nuns congregation left Montréal in two Hudson’s Bay Company canoes. After a 59-day trip, they arrived in St. Boniface. They established a hospital in 1847 in their convent. In 1871, the Sisters opened a stand-alone four-bed hospital near the Red River, on the site of the actual St. Boniface Hospital.

From 1877 to 1938, the Hospital moved several times and added on to serve more people. It went from a health establishment with a capacity of 10 patients, to 50, then from 50 to 125, and from 125 to 300. Today, St. Boniface Hospital is one of Canada’s most prestigious medical research centres with amongst the most modern installations in the medical field.

Model of the First 1871 Hospital

The first four-bed hospital was in a 20 by 30 foot building.

The Hospital in 1888

Lacking space, the Grey Nuns had to refuse patients at their hospital. With no more place in the Convent, or the Orphanage, they undertook the construction of a new building which became the north wing of the hospital. Father Gabriel Cloutier, the hospital’s chaplain, was put in charge of supervising the construction. The architect was Henry Peters, and the building contractors were James Perrault, and Joseph and Ernest Cyr.

Finished in 1888, the new brick construction measured 80 by 40 feet and could house sixty beds. The wing was demolished in 1953 to make room for a new construction. It is interesting to note in the photo that the small building on the right of the new building is in fact the original hospital built in 1871.

The Operating Room

In 1891, the Grey Nuns purchased, through Dr. Dame, an operating chair that could be modified into nine different positions. The chair cost $70 and was purchased in New York. There were no operating rooms in the hospital built in 1887. The room with the bay window was used.

The Hospital in 1894

The transversal wing of the hospital was built in 1894 by the architect Joseph Sénécal. The Grey Nuns bought the necessary land for $2,000 and the new three-floor construction measured 140 by 50 feet, bringing the hospital’s capacity to 125 beds.

There were two operating rooms, one room for the dressing of wounds, a sterilisation room and a pharmacy. In 1894, 24 sisters, 8 lay nurses, 6 male nurses and 33 other employees worked at the hospital.

The Hospital in 1899

During the year, 2,035 persons received treatment at the hospital. Of those, 65 died (43 men and 22 women). The personnel was composed of one chaplain, 21 sisters, two novice sisters and one auxiliary sister, 8 nurses, 8 male nurses, 8 men for other duties and 25 female workers. The Grey Nuns also supplied room and board to five school-aged children.

The Hospital in 1910

St. Boniface Hospital in 1910. Founded by the Grey Nuns in 1871, the first small four-bed hospital was, by 1910, an important health services centre. The first brick structure was built in 1887, and additions were built in 1894 and in 1905. The construction of the south wing increased the hospital’s capacity by 350 beds.

The Laboratory in 1912

The laboratory facilities in 1912. An analysis of all the specimens used at the time could be done in this laboratory.

The Sterilisation Room in 1912

Before the construction of the sterilisation room, instruments were sterilized in a pot on the kitchen stove.

The Pharmacy in 1915

A Grey Nun working in the pharmacy in 1915.

A Surgery, circa 1922

Chloroform was used then to anesthetise patients, although other types of anesthesia could be used as was the case with Mrs. Gadbois. Suffering from an enormous tumour, chloroform could not be used because of her heart condition. Instead of chloroform, the doctors used cocaine. Gas was first used to anesthetise patients in 1919.

The Radiology Department in 1929

The Radiology Department was created in 1911. The X-ray machine was purchased from Ancel et Frères, from Paris, with the help of Father Rousseau. In 1916, the X-ray machine was moved to its new locale, specially built for its use.

The Nursery in 1930

The Maternity Department exists since 1895, although it opened its doors officially three years later.

The Hospital in 1941

Photograph of the St. Boniface Hospital in 1941.

The Hospital in 1955

Because it was deemed a fire hazard, the north wing of the hospital was demolished in 1953 to make way for a new construction. The new 8-storey building was designed by architects from the firm Green, Blankstein, Russell and Associates. The grand opening of the hospital was held on May 17, 1955.

With the new wing, the hospital’s capacity increases to 671 beds and 78 cribs. The hospital became the most modern institution in all of Canada. The wing had 13 new operating rooms and a new post-operation department.

First Open-Heart Surgery, 1959

The first open-heart surgery was performed in 1959 on a 5 year-old boy from Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes in Manitoba who suffered from a small perforation in the heart. The intervention lasted seven hours and was performed by a surgical team composes of doctors Cohen, Burrell and Culligan, assisted by the nurse Yvonne Daigle. The operation was a success.

The Hospital in 1968

A view of the St. Boniface Hospital from the other side of the Red River in 1968.

Extract of
Saint-Boniface Historical Tour

Saint-Boniface Historical Tour image circuit

Presented by : La Société historique de Saint-Boniface
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