Winnipeg General Hospital (WGH) Training School for Nurses (“School of Nursing”) began operation in November 1887. It was the second nurses’ training program in Canada and the first in Western Canada.
Within the first two months, six young women enrolled in the training school – rules stipulated that applicants be between 21 and 34 years old and it was understood that they would be female and unmarried. Initially, the students were housed in spare beds in the hospital, but in 1889 a “three storey building, forty feet square, of brick and stone” was erected east of the hospital. It served as a residence only ̶ all teaching took place on the wards. That same year the Winnipeg General Hospital Board decided that the school which had been under control of the Medical Superintendent should have its own Lady Superintendent and the position of supervising or head nurse was created in part to oversee the operations of the Training School for Nurses.
By 1894, it was announced that the training period for nurses would be extended from two years to three and that nurses would be taught all aspects of nursing and care that were practiced at Winnipeg General Hospital. Three years later a formal curriculum had been developed, however the School did not yet have classrooms or a library.
By 1899, more changes took place: a demonstration room was set up in the hospital and regular lectures were delivered. The hospital itself was growing quickly and by 1900 a new wing added 75 beds. 50 students were enrolled in the school, which precipitated the need for a larger residence. In 1906, the new nurses’ residence opened. It included rooms for the students, a suite for the Lady Superintendent, classrooms and demonstration rooms.
Students worked very hard – they were on the wards during the day and attended lectures given by medical staff in the evening. The Training School was regularly required to meet health crises and disease outbreaks including typhoid, smallpox, tuberculosis, influenza and many others.
The outbreak of World War I presented another challenge with many of the graduate nursing staff enlisting to serve overseas. This resulted in the teaching program being temporarily suspended in order to keep nurses on the wards.
During the Great War, more than 140 graduates from the WGH School of Nursing served overseas and in Canada as nursing sisters with the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) and Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS).