BC physicians’ impact beyond the day-to-day practise of medicine

Photograph of Dr John Sebastian Helmcken, 1917. British Library / Public domain

A hospital, a school, a community centre, a park, a museum, a research institution, or any other public facility in BC that bears the name of a physician reveals the impact that doctors have in our society well beyond the day-to-day practise of medicine. This struck me when I was reading the review of Geoff Mynett’s Service on the Skeena: Horace Wrinch, Frontier Physician in the May 2020 issue of the BCMJ. Dr Wrinch’s story motivated me to search for BC communities in which a hospital was named/renamed to honor a physician whose legacy went far beyond the daily practise of medicine.

Wrinch Memorial Hospital
The Hazelton Hospital was founded by Dr Wrinch in 1904 with 20 beds. Over a span of 36 years he became a widely respected doctor, surgeon, hospital administrator, medical missionary, magistrate, farmer, community leader, president of the newly established British Columbia Hospital Association, Liberal member of the provincial legislature, and champion of publicly funded health insurance. Upon his death in 1939 he was called a “most influential and best liked man” and to honor him, the Hazelton Hospital was renamed the Wrinch Memorial Hospital.

Dr Helmcken Memorial Hospital
In Clearwater the community hospital is named the Dr Helmcken Memorial Hospital. Dr John Sebastian Helmcken (1824–1920) was a modest gentleman and a highly respected physician “from San Francisco to the North Pole.” He was the first speaker of an elected assembly in British Columbia, the founding president of the British Columbia Medical Association, and a leader who played a prominent role in bringing the province of BC into the Canadian Confederation.

The G.R. Baker Memorial Hospital
In Quesnel the G.R. Baker Memorial Hospital was built in 1956. Dr Gerald Rumsey Baker (1873–1953) was originally from Ireland, and completed his medical training at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in England. He came to Quesnel to attend to an emergency operation and stayed for the rest of his life. He made his house calls on horseback before purchasing a Model T automobile. He was an avid outdoorsman, participating in fishing, boxing, and football. He received an award for his heroic action in apprehending a wanted murderer. He and his first wife, Nellie, the “Nightingale of the Cariboo” were active in community life—a street was named in Nellie’s honor. Dr Baker and his family members were some of the area’s most valued and loved citizens.

The Mills Memorial Hospital
There is a medical facility in Terrace with about 40 acute beds serving nearby communities, including Kitimat. There is uncertainty about which one of two Mills’ is being honored. Some community members believe that the Terrace District Hospital was renamed after Dr Stanley Gordon Mills (1885–1961). Dr Mills arrived in Terrace in 1930 to take over a one-bed medical facility from a Dr Brummitt. He retired in 1957 and died 4 years later in a house fire. Other local residents believe the hospital was named after a Robert Mills, a UBC engineering professor, who helped build railway lines in the province and also worked on the hospital. 

The R.W. Large Memorial Hospital
The R.W. Large Memorial Hospital in Bella Bella was named in the memory of Reverend Richard Whitfield Large, MD (1874–1920). Dr Large was initially hired by the Canadian Methodist Church in 1898 to work at the Japanese Methodist Mission in Steveston. This mission served the needs of Japanese fishermen, providing medical assistance along with spiritual and moral guidance. A typhoid fever epidemic made it necessary to convert the mission into a hospital, with help of Japanese nurses. The hospital closed in 1899 and Dr Large was appointed to take charge of the mission in Bella Bella. In 1910 he was transferred to the mission hospital in Port Simpson. Dr Large was the only observer to document the Heiltsuk people and their principal village, which has been a cultural and trading centre of the central coast. His notes on the artifacts he collected (now in the Royal Ontario Museum) and his letters published in the Methodist missionary journals, contain personal and specific information about the history of the village. Dr Large’s son, Dr Richard Geddes Large, followed in his father’s footsteps, serving at the mission hospitals at Bella Bella and Hazelton. In his book, The Skeena: River of Destiny, he talks about his father: “He was a victim of the hardships and overwork of pioneer days and passed away in 1920 at the comparatively early age of 47. His exceedingly good baritone voice, his engaging personality, and his dedicated life served to make his another of the honored names in the history of the church on the north coast.”

The Brock Fahrni Pavilion
The Brock Fahrni Pavilion is not exactly a hospital. It is an extended-care facility in Vancouver, which includes a chapel, a greenhouse, and an art studio. Many of its residents are veterans of the armed forces. Dr Brock M. Fahrni (1913–1982) was a mentor of mine when I was appointed to the UBC Faculty of Medicine’s academic staff in 1966. He was also the founding director of UBC’s School of Rehabilitation, which at that time combined students of physiotherapy and occupational therapy. He was one of the original geriatricians. He taught me how important team work was in the health professions, and that aging is not a disease. He worked to keep elderly people in the community with the assistance of supporting programs. 

Carson Graham Secondary School
I cannot close this brief review without mentioning a doctor who is honored in the name of a school. In 1924 Dr H. Carson Graham (1899–1959), a graduate of McGill University, moved from Ottawa to North Vancouver to open a medical practice. He was the third or fourth doctor on the North Shore. Dr Graham was chief of medical staff of the old North Vancouver General Hospital, and a major force in planning the current Lions Gate Hospital. He was a member of the North Vancouver Board of Education and the North Vancouver Board of Trade, director of the Seamen’s Institute, and a ship’s doctor on the North Shore. He was my mentor when I entered medical practice on the North Shore in 1956. At that time there were only 18 of us practising physicians. On 14 July 1959 he suffered a massive heart attack at his home. I was called to attend him, and he died in my arms. Carson Graham Secondary School was named for him as a tribute to his contributions to the North Vancouver Community.

And the list of honored doctors will go on.
—George Szasz, CM, MD

Suggested reading
H. Carson Graham. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._Carson_Graham.
John Sebastian Helmcken. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Sebastian_Helmcken.
Large RG. The Skeena: River of destiny. Vancouver, BC: Mitchell Press Limited; 1962.
List of hospitals in Canada. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_hospitals_in_Canada.

This post has not been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board.

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