By Cole Parkinson
The Taber Hospital you know today wouldn’t be the same without the early pioneers who fought to bring a facility to the town.
Through information gathered by the Taber Irrigation Impact Museum, a look back at how the Taber Health Centre came to be as it is today is possible.
Taber’s first hospital was constructed through debenture money raised by the Town of Taber in 1914 to construct and equip the hospital, originally located a half block north and east of today’s location of Central School.
It was operated by the town and province but due to insufficient tax funds to operate in 1919, 1920 and 1921, the decision was made to close the hospital.
“The Taber General Hospital will be closed at the end of the month. The patients will have to be moved by Saturday and the closing will be done as soon as possible,” reads an article from an Aug. 24, 1922, Taber Times article.
In 1937, the Taber Times reported the Lions Club was pushing for a 15 bed, fully equipped hospital at the cost of $30,000.
Talks went away after a couple of years until 1941 when the Times reported $23,000 in funding had come in, though they estimated $50,000 would be needed for the new hospital.
In early 1943, the foundation for the new building was poured and the building was described as “going to be brick and modern in every way.”
In May 1943, the $50,000 worth of debentures were sold and fundraising efforts turned to the furnishing of the 53 rooms within.
In September 1943, the Taber Municipal Hospital was officially opened and the total cost was $70,000 to fully construct and furnish the facility.
Three Taberites were pointed at as having fought hard to bring a hospital to the region.
“There was really three at the time who really drove the whole impetus to get a hospital and to develop the hospital over 20 years,” explained Keith Jones of Rowland Farms.”There was Doug Miller, who was the mayor of Taber at the time, R.F. (Brewin) and a fellow by the name of Ted Allen. It was those three and the thing that blows me away is they started in 1942, they did all the work to convince people to do it and then they continued to serve on the board.”
All three would serve on the board for over 20 years.
The hospital board included Mayor Douglas Miller as chairman, T.M. Allen Sr. and R.F. Brewin as directors, and George H. Savage was the first secretary/treasurer.
Dr. John Much was the medical superintendent and Claudia Tennant was the first matron.
Dr. A.A. Gorman, Dr. J.R. Enman and Dr. C.R. Bradford, along with Dr. Muth, made up physician list.
The hospital was designed to handle up to 20 residents with an additional room for a nursery and two large solariums.
It also included a case room, major operating room, doctor’s scrub room, high-pressure steam sterilizing equipment, an X-ray room, lavatories and utility rooms.
The basement held the main kitchen, diet kitchen, laboratory, boiler room and a well-equipped laundry.
In the book ‘From Tank 77 to Taber Today. A history of Taber, its District and its People’, R.F. Brewin detailed his experiences in getting the hospital built in Taber.
“I also started action for a hospital, I had taken some of our ratepayers to the big hospitals in Lethbridge,” reads a passage from the book. “We called a meeting with the council of (M.D. of) Eureka (now the M.D. of Taber) to investigate the matter and I was selected to look after the interest of Eureka and Doug Miller for Taber. We found that there was strong opposition in both places due to higher taxes to build a hospital. It had been voted on twice in Taber and been voted down.”
Brewin further detailed how support was eventually garnered to build a new hospital.
“We now felt that it was opportune time to hold a plebiscite that was done, the outcome and the results were favourable of the hospital scheme as presented for the ratepayers. Taber results were very favourable for the hospital. Eureka results were very extraordinary, over 90 per cent casting their votes with only four deserters husband and wives of two families,” reads another passage.
After the hospital was complete, Brewin would serve for over 30 years on the hospital board, and he looked incredibly fondly back on his time serving.
“I loved my hospital work, it gave me an aim in life. The welfare of the hospital and staff was my prime objective in life and I served over 31 years on the board, chiefly as chairman, I only wish I had another 31 years I could give to them.”
The Taber Times listed in their Oct. 7, 1943 edition some firsts at the new hospital which included the first baby born at the Taber Municipal Hospital was Marilyn Rose, a nine-pound baby daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Wesley Cradduck on Sunday.
Edwin Palmer of Cranford was the first patient in the hospital.
While the new facility was modern in the early 1940s, the hospital saw regular additions throughout the next several decades.
In August 1952 a new X-ray machine was purchased while in the fall of the next year, a new medical-surgical wing was added which saw the hospital extend to another 38 beds, 70 in total.
In 1960, construction for a top floor addition to the north wing of the hospital had begun and was completed in 1961 and the hospital’s name changed to the Taber General Hospital.
In 1985, the Taber and District Health Care Complex opened.
The new hospital was designed to provide the community with active treatment, auxiliary care and a nursing home.
The active wing held 44 beds, 20 medical pediatric beds and 24 surgical obstetrics beds.
Later in 2015, the medical clinic moved into the building using up space once designed for long-term nursing care.
While the hospital continues to be a staple in the community, Roy Brewin points to the first board and pioneers as the reason Taber has had a dedicated medical facility for nearly 80 years.
“For a town the size of Taber, we are very fortunate to have the hospital that we have. A lot of towns bigger than Taber don’t have a hospital that we do. I think it is important to support and help them out in these tougher times,” he said. “Without these pioneers starting that hospital, I’m sure that we wouldn’t have the hospital that we have today. I think we should be thankful for the size of the hospital that we have.”
With the dedication needed to not only build the hospital but also keeping the board running and discuss the several expansions in the early years, Brewin also points to the fact today’s ease of travel was not nearly the same as it was in the 1940s and 50s.
“I remember as a kid grandpa having to stop work and go to a hospital meeting. I’d go ‘Grandpa, we’re right in the middle of harvest.’ That was important to him and his farm probably suffered because he was so dedicated to that,” continued Brewin. “It’s not like they were jumping in a heat or air-conditioned car. Grandpa was coming 20 miles across the prairie on a saddle horse when it’s 30 below. It wasn’t like nowadays, that’s a lot of commitment if you ask me. Even after the horse and buggy days, he was jumping into a beater Model T which still wasn’t very nice. I’m sure he shovelled his way out of a few snowbanks to get to a few hospital meetings.”
Much like any other Albertan or Alberta-owned business, the Taber and District Health Foundation has been hit harder than usual in 2020.
They saw their annual telethon fundraising event for the Taber Health Centre cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, they were able to set up a drive-in concert this past weekend featuring George Canyon and Aaron Pritchett as a way to recoup some of that funding.
Those still looking to contribute to TDHF and the Taber Health Centre can visit http://www.tdhf.ca/donate.