The Calgary General Hospital
Submitted by Sharon McKendrick
In 1884, the population of Calgary was approximately 500 people. The town only had two physicians to attend the needs of the people, providing the people could afford to pay for the services of a doctor. Even if they could afford to pay, there was no hospital and it was not possible to obtain drugs and supplies. The first medical facility opened in 1877 for the care of the Northwest Mounted Police at Fort Calgary.
As the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) inched its way to Calgary, the population began to grow. A city of Bachelor and Homesteader tents, along with some shacks, became visible on the east side of the Elbow River. A public hospital was necessary; the majority of people were single men and epidemics of typhoid fever, smallpox, scarlet fever and red measles were common.
In 1886 a Hospital Committee was formed and it obtained a land grant from the territorial government of four and one half acres north of the Bow River, right here in present day Bridgeland. This land was not part of Calgary so it could not be used for a municipally supported hospital. Instead, a Cottage Hospital was opened in a 7th Avenue SW residence. The doors opened in October 1890 and began treating patients for pneumonia, typhoid, colds and the after effects of too much alcohol.
The second General Hospital was built in 1894, made of sandstone. The doors opened in May 1895. It was situated on 12th Avenue and 6th St SE and contained many “modern” features including five private wards, a telephone and an operating table that cost $117.00. Additional buildings were added as required. To overcome the recurrent epidemics of measles and typhoid fever, individual tents were erected on the hospital lawn.
By 1907, the problems of overcrowding needed to be addressed as the population was increasing substantially. Along with the increase in population, epidemics of diphtheria, scarlet fever and measles increased. An additional land grant was added to the land grant of 1886 to make it seven and half acres. Bridgeland/Riverside was now part of the City in 1907, so the building of the hospital began in 1908. The four-storey brick building cost $1.5 million dollars to build and took two years to complete. The official opening of the General Hospital was February 1st, 1910 and was attended by 1500 people. It was located at 841 Centre Ave SE, known as NE today.
By 1949, the 1910 building was inadequate so the fourth General Hospital needed to be built. The new seven-floor Calgary General Hospital #4 opened in May of 1953, which until the demolition of the hospital in 1998, was the central core. The new building provided the public with 626 beds and 110 bassinets. Expansion began almost immediately with a psychiatric ward in 1954, a nurses’ residence in 1956, a pediatric unit in 1958, the eight-storey rehab centre in 1962, the service wing in 1967, the Gertrude M Hall education wing in 1970, and the Centennial Wing, which included Canada’s first forensic psychiatric unit in 1977.
The Calgary General Hospital became an integral part of the city and particularly Bridgeland. It is important to remember the 1000 bed hospital and 3000 employees that helped define Bridgeland until its demolition in the fall of 1998. The Calgary General Hospital remains an important part of Calgary’s history even though the implosion wiped out the physical evidence of the hospital. The area is now home to Murdoch Park and the Bridges condo development. The wall that is erected in Murdoch Park was built to honour and remember the General Hospital.