Friday, September 25, 2015

Nurses at Essondale

August 19, 1930, taken by Dominion Photo Co. The kitchen block under construction.

Dominion Photo Co. took this photo of an unidentified group at Essondale Hospital in 1931.

Stride Studio is responsible for this February 13, 1929 photo taken at Essondale.

January 20, 1930 photo of the Farm Cottage taken by Stride Studios.
This collection photos from the City of Vancouver Archives

The training of nurses at Essondale hit its peak in the 1950s. In 1953, the Nursing School had its largest graduating class of 200 nurses. The training was rigorous, combining experience on the wards with classroom studies. Female students stayed in the residences, under the watchful eye of House Mothers. The male students were on an honour system and allowed more freedom. They were also paid more than female students were.

The Nursing Program in the 1950s was a three-year course with 300 lecture hours that included teachings ranging from first aid and fire precautions to pharmacology and psychology. The students gained practical experience by rotations in the wards at Essondale and Woodlands schools.

In 1957, the Nurses' Home and School of Psychiatric Nursing Building was completed. Female students now had single rooms, for the first time. Male students were housed at West Lawn on the top floor.

If male students wanted to visit the female students, they would wait at the front door of the Nurses' home when they came calling. Sometimes, the men would be invited to a sock dance in the reception area. Some of the better experienced dancers managed to stay upright while dancing in their socks on the slippery, hardwood floors.

The staff at Essondale also experimented with different therapies for their patients since they didn't always have the guidance of established methods. Some of those experiments had dramatic results - like the lead up to a Music Therapy program.

“One day I was invited to the ward at West Lawn where there were a number of patients in a catatonic state—they were frozen in one position. They would eat three times a day, but they were terribly inactive. They weren’t walking in the airing courts; their cardiovascular condition was terrible. I was asked if I could get these men moving. I thought of the Pennington Hall dances and how patients would react to music. They would tap their toes, move their hands or even get up and dance. So I brought a turntable into this ward and put on marching music. A complete metamorphosis took place before my eyes. The patients started moving and jogging around the room. I thought all this activity was going to put a few of them into cardiac arrest! As soon as the music stopped, they froze again. But we could see it had an impact. This experiment led to a music therapist being hired.” 

Don Cunnings Recreation Therapist, 1953-57

There were also sports days held at Essondale. The annual event was an important day. Patients, staff and family members would participate in the usual such as the three-legged race, the sack race and the softball toss. There were also unique events such as the doctor’s bandaging race. The patients and doctors would usually compete in a softball game, bands would play, a picnic would be held on the lawn. A big outdoor dance would complete the day.

Thanks to the PDF, Riverview, A Legacy of Care and Compassion for the information above.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill


  1. Music calms the savage beast. I love music when I am down or need a pick-me-up. Sometimes I even use it to help me fall asleep. Your pictures are always awesome. Thanks for your posts on Escondale.

    1. Thanks Lee. I know I love music whenever things get tough.