Reproduced with permission from The Beacon Supplement

‘The Ole Hospital’

Adequate health care began in Gander with the opening of the Sir Frederick Banting Memorial Hospital, often referred to as “the ole hospital.”hospital

The presence of a segment of the No. 10 Bomber-Reconnaissance Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air force in Gander during World War II, justified the need to build the area’s first hospital –The Sir Frederick Banting Memorial Hospital.

Named after Frederick Banting, the co-discoverer of insulin who died in a plane crash near Musgrave Harbour, the hospital officially opened in 1941.

The hospital had 120 beds and a medical staff of approximately 15 doctors and 125 nursing and paramedical personnel.  It also had specialists in ear, nose and throat, obstetrics-gynecology, internal medicine, surgery and general practice, as well as a dental surgeon and a special dental clinic.

During the war, the hospital served the needs of mainly military or civilian personnel employed at the airport.  But after the war, many of the military were shipped out to another location, leaving the hospital to take care of civilian patients under the control of the Newfoundland government.

The Banting hospital was an institution that always had to be prepared for plane crashes or other disasters.  It faced of its most trying tests in 1946 when a Sabena Belgian Airlines Douglas DC-04 aircraft with 44 persons on board, crashed 22 miles southwest of Gander.

Rescue units responded quickly and 10 of the 18 survivors were flown to the hospital where they were cared for.  As a result of the effort put forth by the staff at the hospital, Dr. James Paton and six other officials involved in the rescue were awarded medals by the Belgian Government.  “The Order of Leopold the Second” is thought to have been one of the most prestigious awards given by the country of Belgium.

In 1961, the small staff hospital cared for the many elderly, bedridden patients who had to be evacuated from their homes because of a great fire that was burning in their area.

The staff increased over the years, however, the hospital became old and a new location and building would have to be established in the near future.

Patients came by freight train.  Eli Baker, former administrator of the Sir Frederick Banting Memorial Hospital, said people came to the hospital by way of freight train from Gambo, Eastport, Glovertown and St. Brendan's.

He said the train would arrive in Gander in the afternoon and drop off patients then come back at night to pick them up again, “but,” he says, “when they came in to see a doctor, the condition had to be serious.  It was a long trip on the freight train.”

One of Baker’s main responsibilities was to collect the fees each family paid under the Cottage Hospital Plan.  Each family was required to pay $20 a year but there was no charge for the wards and you could see a doctor at any time.  Drugs and semi-private rooms were extra.

He said almost every Newfoundlander belonged to the Cottage Hospital Plan.  He cannot remember many complaints about the cost of the Plan or any other fees.  The Cottage Hospital System offered health care to people at a moderate fee, something they had never had before and that could not have been offered any other way.

Baker left the hospital in 1956 to take over the position as Town Manager for the Board of Trustees who were planning the new town of Gander.

Researched by Carol Walsh


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