History of the Princeton Hospital Auxiliary

The Auxiliary to the Princeton General Hospital was formed in the autumn of 1910. Princeton, recently renamed from Vermilion Forks, had a population of approximately 300 people and the railroad had just been completed. As yet there was no hospital facility to meet the needs of the growing community. The founding members of the Auxiliary were Mrs W C McDougal, President, Mrs Lumsden, Secretary, Mrs Alec Bell, Mrs W S Garrison, Mrs A Priets, Mrs Grace Wardle, Mrs Brance Forsyth, Mrs Doris Gellatly, Mrs Mina Huston, Mrs D Saunders, Mrs Del Young and Mrs Agnes Waddell.

The Auxiliary’s first fund-raising effort was a banquet and dance held on New Year’s Eve. Members canvassed the area for cash donations and contributions of chickens and hams. After successfully ushering in the New Year of 1911, the Auxiliary began their long history of support of the Princeton General Hospital with a fund of $380.65.

Mr A E Irwin loaned the required money and built the first hospital, which opened March 3, 1911. The Auxiliary continued fund raising with a concert at the Oddfellow’s Hall, a Strawberry Social on the village green, and collections at the July 1 Sports Day. Their direct contact at the new hospital was with Matron Mabel Thomas.

The Auxiliary had varied meeting places in those early years: a room over the Max Wilson store, the area over the P W Gregory office on Bridge Street, and the old Court House. Winter months often required that meetings be held in the warmth and comfort of members’ homes.

Many changes in hospital staff occurred in 1914 as Matron Mabel Thomas left to serve in a field hospital in France and Dr Campbell joined the Medical Corps. In 1915, Mr Irwin was given the contract to enlarge the hospital. The Auxiliary continued to hold their annual New Year’s Dance during the war years, with each member donating 50 sandwiches and a cake. Several Auxiliary members also participated directly in the war effort by knitting socks for soldiers. These were sent to Dr Campbell for distribution.

As the war years drew to a close, the Princeton area suffered through the 1918 influenza epidemic. Not only did the influx of patients tax the facilities of the hospital, with many of the ill having to be placed on cots in the hallways, but hospital staff were also stricken. The Auxiliary ladies answered the call, making great pots of soup in their own kitchens and transporting them to the hospital.

In the immediate post-war years, shortages were still prevalent and the Auxiliary spent many hours mending and replacing linen supplies at the hospital. Monies continued to be raised from concerts, card parties and teas. In 1921, financial difficulties brought the hospital to the brink of closure. In August, most creditors and local merchants were willing to either cancel debts or accept partial payment. The Auxiliary loaned the Board funds to provide a temporary solution to their problems. Many requests came to the Auxiliary, as the hospital now required up-grading and renovations, as well as new equipment. The Auxiliary continued to meet these needs, as well as providing a further loan in 1923 to assist in paying off debts.

In 1925, the need for an X-ray machine was apparent. Matron Knowlton advised that a suitable one could be purchased for $1,350. The Auxiliary organized a public canvass for funds, netting $539, and the government contributed $500. The Auxiliary subscribed $400 for alteration and installation, as well as assuming the responsibility for upkeep and insurance.

The Depression years saw the Granby close operation in 1930 and the Blakeburn coal mine explosion that killed 45 men the same year. Relief camps provided shelter and food for men working on construction of the Hope-Princeton Highway, with medical services provided by local doctors.

In 1937 a nurses’ residence was completed and by 1939 Granby was back in operation with 800 employees. Just as prosperity seemed to be at hand, WW II was declared with resulting changes in medical staff and commodity shortages, which once again required all the ingenuity and resources of the Auxiliary ladies.

The Hospital Auxiliary continued their activities through the 1940’s, providing assistance in refurbishing an aging hospital structure. With the introduction of the BC Hospital Insurance Service in 1949 making the continued operation of the hospital more certain, the Auxiliary was able to concentrate their efforts on providing the extra equipment which the hospital required.

In May of 1970, the present hospital was opened, with the Auxiliary operating a gift ship and the hospital cart in the new building. During the 70’s, the Auxiliary purchased a snow blower and blood bank centrifuge for the hospital. Fund-raising efforts included a Burns Night supper, fashion shows and continued operation of the Thrift Store. The Auxiliary had opened the Thrift Store in 1969 on Bridge Street. They moved to the present location on Vermilion Avenue in 1978. Two Princeton businessmen underwrote the mortgage, which the Auxiliary was able to clear 18 months later.

Other activities sponsored by the Auxiliary during these years included candy stripers, blood donor clinics, tray favours for hospital patients and the Florence Nightingale Tea, and annual strawberry social.

In 1978, the Auxiliary became a society, with the stated objective of raising monies to defray the cost of equipment purchases at the local hospital. Since that time, the Auxiliary has provided the Princeton General Hospital and Ridgewood Lodge with much needed equipment, including a blood storage machine, portable oxygen apparatus, blood pressure machine and cuff, spectrometer, Guilford chemical analyzer, Jacuzzi bath, shampoo chair, hairdryer, flame photometer, television set, washer, dryer, stove, refrigerator, sewing machines, child car seats, incubator, ECG machine, bathtub chair-lift, and many other items. As well, they helped pay for the gazebo in the Ridgewood Lodge gardens, contributed funds toward purchase of a community bus for the elderly and handicapped and provided furnishings and interior decoration for the Birthing Room.

The Princeton Hospital Auxiliary Society continue their activities today with 41 members, generously supported by the community, providing assistance to the hospital and Ridgewood Lodge.