B.C. Healthcare on Open Collections


As we continue to push through the COVID-19 pandemic many questions are raised. What pandemics have affected British Columbia in the past? What was their effect? How were they dealt with? We might wonder what the health care system was like over a century ago. We might be tempted to see what hospitals existed in the late 19th century, and what they looked like. We may also be curious to know how certain conditions were treated. As we eagerly await the development of a vaccine for COVID-19 our curiosity might be piqued as to how vaccination efforts were carried out in the past and for which diseases.

For the next few blog posts, we’ll investigate some of the materials available on Open Collections dealing with these subjects. To start, we’ll do an overview of some of the sources of information dealing with health care in British Columbia.

The BC Sessional Papers <https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/bcsessional> contains the annual reports of the various iterations of the Ministry of Health. The first report of the provincial board of health <https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0063684> was released in the 1896 edition of the BC Sessional Papers. Also available in the BC Sessional Papers are the registrars of births, deaths, and marriages. The following image is from a table in the twenty-fifth annual report of the registrar, published in 1899, showing the registered deaths due to various diseases.

Table of registered deaths from disease in the 1899 edition of the BC Sessional Papers.


The history of hospitals can also be found on Open Collections. In addition to the BC Sessional Papers, the BC Historical Books Collection contains plenty of information on the origins and development of various hospitals in the province. A particularly excellent example is the title “Royal Jubilee Hospital: 1858-1958”, which traces the origins of the hospital to its mid-20th century form. The following image from 1890 of the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria is among many images of the hospital found in this item.


Images of the past abound on Open Collections. Whether in dedicated photograph collections or in collections consisting of mixed, or primarily textual materials, you can find images of hospitals, their grounds, and the goings-on inside. The image below, from UBC Archives Photograph Collection, shows a patient in an oxygen tent at Vancouver General Hospital sometime around the 1950s.


The History of Nursing in Pacific Canada collection can also be found on OC. This collection includes photographs of instruments that were used in nursing practice in the past, the Vancouver Medical Association bulletin, and the Lyle Creelman fonds. Creelman (1908-2007) was a Canadian nurse who attained her nursing degree from Vancouver General Hospital and UBC in 1936. She later went on to achieve her masters at Columbia University. She worked to improve health care around the world and served as the Chief Nursing Officer of the World Health Organization from 1954-1968 (B.C. History of Nursing Society).


The BC Historical Newspapers collection is an excellent source of information on outbreaks and other health issues in British Columbia; providing in the moment reports and commentary on the events of their times. The following article, from the July 20, 1892 edition of the Hot Spring News, gives details on a smallpox outbreak in Victoria and other parts of the province.

Article from the July 20, 1892 edition of the Hot Spring News giving details on a smallpox outbreak in B.C.


We hope this brief overview provides you with some useful starting points for research on the history of health care in British Columbia. Stay tuned for further blogs where explore specific outbreaks, their management, and treatment.


B.C. History of Nursing Society. “Dr. Lyle Creelman (1908-2007). Accessed September 22, 2020 <https://bcnursinghistory.ca/dvteam/dr-lyle-creelman/>.

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