Florence McWhinnie




Life and Work

Florence McWhinnie graced the hospitals of Wetaskiwin for 34 years. She demonstrated tremendous dedication and versatility as director of nursing service, operating-room nurse, x-ray technician and emergency nurse.

Florence graduated from Calgary General Hospital in 1926, and worked for a few months as a private duty nurse in Calgary and British Columbia.

She was later recommended by C.J. Hasp to apply for a position in Swift Current Hospital, Saskatchewan. Florence applied for the position and was accepted as Supervisor of the Operating Room and Maternity Ward where she spent the next two and a half years before returning to Calgary. She was advised by the Superintendent of Calgary General Hospital to apply to Wetaskiwin Hospital for the position of Matron. Ellen Johnson had been in charge but resigned to return to California where she had been working previously.

When her application was accepted, she assumed the position in August, 1929. At that time the hospital was located in the Prince of Wales Hotel at 4820 50 st., and could accommodate twelve patients plus the nursery. At that time the expenses were provided by the City of Wetaskiwin and the M.D. (Municipal District) of Montgomery. The Government gave $.70 per patient day. A few months later the M.D. of Bigstone accepted their share. Apart from the beds, there was very little equipment and provisions were almost negligible. Doctors had to provide their own instruments for surgery and the X-ray had been provided by Dr. Hoare (the dentist) and Dr. Shillabeer. Over the next three years, there was a great deal of discussion around the need for a suitable, well-equipped hospital to serve the community and became a prominent election issue.

It was not until 1932 that a new hospital was built. Florence and her fellow health care professionals were thrilled - the new hospital was fantastic! Gerald Howatt was the first baby born in the new hospital on November 13, 1932.

As Florence recalls, the new facility had two wards for seven patients in each, and one three bed ward for the maternity cases and four private rooms! The hospital had a good operating room and one small work room but, as a result of financial constraints, the nursing staff was small and the night nurse worked a twelve hour shift all alone! Furthermore, she did it for each month so she could have three days off duty at one time.

There were also two rooms in the basement for isolation purposes and Florence was the first patient to take advantage of the privacy! She had Scarlet Fever so severe that she was unable to work for two months.

When finances improved, more staff were hired and a Nurses Home was built. When it was completed, the hospital hosted a grand opening and people from both municipalities and Wetaskiwin arrived to inspect the nurses new home.

As the years went by, the cottage hospital had too few beds to serve its locality and, as Florence recalls, "Our training had taught us that the patient always came first! Regardless of how many patients we had we never refused an emergency. Beds in the corridor and extra beds pushed into the wards - No railway ever shuffled more cars than we did beds. With so many it made the 'care' more difficult to give."

Florence remained in Wetaskiwin until 1963. In October of that year she officially resigned her nursing duties after 34 years of serving the community. Florence took with her many good memories, and notes that "Our Hospital Conventions meant a lot to all those in charge and I attended almost all of them. Our contributions at the meetings meant a lot and each of us in charge tried to share what we had learned in our work."

Florence returned to Wetaskiwin to attend the opening of the present hospital and states that, " It is a far cry from the little old place in the Wales Hotel and I congratulate all those who have done their part in its success. May God bless them all!"

A sense of humour, devotion to her profession, and dedication to fellow human beings saw Florence McWhinnie through many difficulties: "There were ... numerous things we had to do, so often minus the proper equipment .... those were the good "old days"—I'm glad of all the many improvements now."

"She had an uncanny ability to recognize medical conditions before being diagnosed by the doctor. With her perception, caring and compassion, she was often teased that her surname should be Nightingale."
- Eanswythe Shillabeer