Reproduced with permission from The Beacon Supplement July 29, 1987

Nurse Rose Sheppard recalls her days at the old hospital

ros sheppardThough she served only a short time at the Sir Frederick Banting Memorial Hospital, Rose Gallaher-McGettigan, now Mrs. Doug Sheppard, has fond recollections of the institution and of the spirit of good will that prevailed among its small staff.

A native of Ireland, Rose received her nursing training in England and, because of the nursing shortage here, was recruited in 1953 to serve at the Banting Hospital on Gander Airport.  At that time, she says, there was one doctor, Dr. James G. Paton, and three or four registered nurses on staff.  Dr. Paton was later joined by Dr. A.E. Shapter.

The nurses worked a 60 hour week and had one weekend a month and one half-day a week off.  The doctors worked practically around the clock.  They were always on call, attending to the medical emergencies that occurred after hours, many of which were maternity calls, considering that Gander was made up essentially of young married couples.  Rose Sheppard

Nursing assistants at the hospital were untrained, but, says Rose, did a wonderful job.  They were quite a help at the facility with such a small staff and large area to serve.

The staff was so limited, in fact, that only one nurse would be on night duty.  This nurse would handle all admissions and needs that would crop up during the night. 

The hospital served not only Gander but the entire area and was usually filled to capacity.  People from Gambo or the Gander Bay area would sometimes arrive in the middle of the night and wait until they could see the doctor the next day.  “They accepted the long wait and never complained,” says Rose, “They realized how busy the doctor was.”

The facility contained male, female and children’s wards as well as an operating theatre.  The patient wards were open, but there were a couple of semi-private maternity rooms.  The doctor and nurses residence adjoined the building which was painted a “terrible” green, Rose remembers

Rose Sheppard

Left: Sometimes the stork races a plane in to Gander. This German wife of a U.S. Army Sergeant, while enroute to join her husband, deplaned at Gander to become a mother.  She is shown here with her baby being helped aboard an A.O.A. plane to resume her journey to the United States.


The maternity and children’s wards were the busiest, although a lot of minor surgeries were performed.  Anesthetic was ether given by the nurses as there was no anesthesiologist on staff.    “Considering the basic facilities, there were very few complications resulting from these surgeries,” she says.

The hospital provided other services such as pre-natal care known as a well-baby clinic.  Children were inoculated at the hospital and dental services were provided every few month when a dentist would visit from St. John’s.  Dental service was very poor at that time and receiving dental care usually meant getting the bothersome tooth pulled. 

The hospital also contained a “crash ward.”  This ward was never used while Rose was working there but she remembers it being always kept sterile and ready in case of an emergency.  No one was allowed to use the ward as she found out innocently enough a short time after arriving at Bunting.

Rose was working night duty alone on one occasion when a group of people showed up, prepared to wait and see the doctor the next day.  Not believe that these people should have to sit up and wait all night, she put them all to bed in the Crash Ward.  The nurse arriving on duty the next morning nearly had a heart attack, Rose chuckles, when she saw the people sleeping comfortably in the Ward.  Needles to add, Rose never put anyone to bed there again.

Rose spent approximately a year and a half working at the Bunting Hospital.  She served a few months before moving on to Placentia Cottage Hospital to become nurse-in-charge there.  She later returned to Banting to finish out her planned two year stay in Newfoundland.  In 1965 she moved to Nova Scotia but later moved back to Gander with her new husband, Doug Sheppard, now mayor of Gander.

The years that followed continued to be a very busy time for the hospital.  In 1961, when terrible forest fires threatened many places in northeast Newfoundland, the hospital played a major role in caring for the many elderly, bedridden patients who had to be evacuated from their homes.

Conditions improved at the institution staff wise but the old military building was gradually deteriorating, almost beyond repair.  The town of Gander was growing rapidly and all buildings near the runways, as was the hospital, were being demolished.  It was inevitable that the old hospital should be replaced and planning for the new building began in 1960. 

Dr. Paton spent many hours searching for the ideal site for the new building and was deeply involved in its planning up until his untimely death in February of 1962. 

The first sod for the new hospital was turned by Premier J.R. Smallwood august 7, 1961.  Construction and furnishings were completed in May of 1964.  Recruitment of additional staff had been ongoing for several months under the supervision of the first Administrator, George Cummings.

On May 25, 1964, patients were transferred from Banting Memorial to the new hospital which was officially opened later that fall and appropriately named the James Paton Memorial Hospital.


Researched by Carol Walsh


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