In September 1940, nineteen year old Evelyn Wigmore began her training at Royal Jubilee Nursing School in Victoria BC. In December 1943, Evelyn began to fulfill her calling to nurse when she sailed up the west coast of Vancouver Island to start work with the Nootka Mission Hospital. For ten years, Evelyn nursed in Esperanza and Tofino. Her daughter Carolyn Morrison, a long-time family friend, has shared her Mom’s snapshots and letters.
Evelyn grew up in Esquimalt BC in a Plymouth Brethren family. Evelyn was an outstanding student, skipped a grade and won a Bronze Governor General’s Medal for High School entrance examinations. She had a lovely singing voice, and one year she was chosen to be the lead in a Esquimalt High School musical. Evelyn’s strictly devout father would not allow it. However, Evelyn’s mother appears to have pressured him to compromise, and Evelyn was allowed to take a minor role. After matriculation from High School, Evelyn, still very young, worked in housekeeping for a couple of years before she was accepted into the Royal Jubilee Nursing School.
“Forty girls will constitute the probationer class entering Royal Jubilee training school for nurses on Thursday morning”Probationers enter Jubilee, Victoria Daily Times September 17 1940
The Royal Jubilee Hospital School of Nursing 1891-1982 by Anne Pearson gives a description of the nursing school and residence in the early 1940s. The cost of attending is not clear for 1940, but the school entrance fee in 1936 was $40. Nurse Probationers were supplied with two uniforms and six aprons. Evelyn lived with other probationers in the nurses’ residence at the hospital. Sheila Rankin Zerr, “Beyond the bricks and mortar: the role of residences in opening doors to nursing education and practice” (2006) writes about how the nurses’ residences created a home-like atmosphere: “By the 1920s, the nurses’ residence at the Royal Jubilee Hospital included a suite for the lady superintendent and increased control and supervision of the students’ social life resulted. Both humble and privileged families trusted their daughters to the care and discipline of the nurses’ residences.” (Given the Wigmore’s religious convictions and Evelyn’s close upbringing, this safe atmosphere would have been appreciated)
Evelyn attended lectures and had practical training. Anne Pearson learned from former 1940s nursing students that students had experiences in the isolation ward, venereal disease and x-ray departments, and two months with the Victorian Order of Nurses (community nurses). Nurses also had to spend time in the kitchen, located in the basement of the administration building. Anne Pearson refers to the kitchen as a “culinary horror”. In 1942, a formula room was connected with the diet kitchen and the students were given a week’s experience in preparing and sterilizing infant formula. However, there was some fun, as “during the early 1940s the main kitchen baked birthday cakes which students lit with candles and presented to children and to elderly patients.” (This kitchen work would probably have put Evelyn into good stead in later nursing, as at the Tofino Hospital she prepared meals.)
Evelyn had lot of hands-on nursing. Records for 1944 that show students spent three-quarters of their training in nursing service. A 1946 graduate told Anne Pearson she had two night terms of eight weeks and one night term of six weeks. Students staffed the hospital at night with two on each floor. (In effect, being the only nursing staff, and basically unqualified and unpaid!)
“every girl who has a propensity for guiding is a leader and she is endowed with the spirit of Christ.”Victoria Daily Times feature on Girl Guide Camp, August 8 1942
In summer 1942, Evelyn (then two years into her nursing training) was the nurse for the Girl Guide Camp. The Victoria Daily Times ran a photo essay on the Girl Guides, including photos of Nurse Evelyn Wigmore.
Evelyn’s experiences at Girl Guide Camp may have been a welcome break from wartime nursing. Anne Pearson writes: “The Second World War brought many extra duties to students such as the hospital food rationing, civil defense classes, and blackout measures.” A former student recalled that following the bombing of Pearl Harbour (December 1941), they had to black out the operating room and sun rooms. Hospital grounds were patrolled at night. Muriel Shaw, a 1944 graduate told Anne Pearson: “As a wartime evening precaution, students had to have all the bathtubs filled with water by 7:00 p.m. [no explanation given, but maybe so they weren’t filling them in the dark and letting water overflow?] and had to put boards over all the windows. They also learned how to put out incendiary blazes with a stirrup pump and to keep gas masks ready in their bedrooms at all times. Simulated gas attacks were staged in the old fumigation shed behind the V.D. clinic.”
It was not all training and wartime precautions. There was time for fun too! Other former Jubilee nurses recalled attending dances with servicemen at the Hostess Club, where they were honorary members (though given Evelyn’s upbringing, she probably did not attend). However, Evelyn had an active life, as reported in social notices in the Victoria newspapers, such as Victoria Daily Times February 22 1942, a Valentine social held by members and friends of the Quest Club “community singing was enjoyed.”
“Standing on the flower-banked stage of the Royal Victoria Theatre Thursday evening, 44 young nurses made the Florence Nightingale Pledge of devotion and entered the noblest profession open to mankind as members of the 1943 graduating class of the Royal Jubilee Hospital.”Victoria Daily Times May 7 1943
Nurse Evelyn Wigmore graduated from the Royal Jubilee School of Nursing on May 6 1943. In an address to the graduating class, the Lieutenant-Governor said: “You will be called upon to make great sacrifices, some at home, some overseas.” While many Jubilee nursing graduates served overseas with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, Evelyn Wigmore chose to serve in another challenging field — mission work on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Evelyn Wigmore, newly graduated from Royal Jubilee Nursing School, now began to work in her chosen field. Her daughter Carolyn Morrison notes: “Mom was a devout Christian who viewed missionary work as the highest form of service. Thus, she was drawn to the Nootka Mission Hospital in Esperanza on the west coast of Vancouver Island.”
Nootka Mission Hospital at Esperanza
“God is certainly using [Dr McLean] for the blessing of others as He is using the whole missionary and medical activity here”Nurse Evelyn Wigmore, Nootka Mission Hospital at Esperanza December 4 1943
The Nootka Mission Hospital was located on Esperanza Inlet on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island. The hospital had been started in 1937 through the efforts of Dr Herman McLean, a medical missionary. Rev. Percy Wills of the Shantymen’s Christian Association, who operated an evangelical mission on the west coast, had alerted Dr McLean to the need for a hospital and supported the organization (though did not run it) over the next decades. Patients included loggers, miners at Zeballos and sardine/pilchard cannery workers at Ceepeecee. Many of the patients were First Nations, mostly Nu-Chah-Nuulth.
Evelyn Wigmore may have first heard about the Nootka Mission hospital during one of Dr Herman McLean’s visits to Victoria. For example, Dr H.A. McLean gave a talk on the night of December 16 1940 at the Y.M.C.A. under the auspices of the Shantymen Christian Association. Here are comments from “Nootka Mission Described,” The Daily Colonist December 17 1940: “Dr Mclean described by word and motion picture the background that surrounds the work of the mission which was opened in 1937 with a small shack and now embraces a three-story building with wards, operating room, chapel and dining hall. Pictures of logging camps, mines and groups of people at work in hospital and at Sunday services were shown, together with scenes depicting Dr Mclean at work in the operating room. Many interesting stories were told concerning various characters and experiences met with in work among the camps and among the native Indian population. Mrs Mclean also spoke briefly, emphasizing that the value of the hospital lay in the spread of the Christian gospel.”
In late November 1943, nurse Evelyn Wigmore travelled by steamship Princess Maquinna up the West Coast of Vancouver Island. She described the journey in a December 4 1943 letter to her grandmother:
“We had a lovely trip coming up here to Ceepeecee except for the times when the weather was rough. We had some very nice sunny weather too. One thing that provoked us was that the Maquinna always entered stormy seas just before meal times. The C.P.R. evidently were trying to economize. We arrived here at Ceepeecee about 2.30 pm on Tuesday afternoon November 23rd. The hospital is a mile from the village of Ceepeecee on Esperanza Inlet. It is situated in very pretty surrounding with hills all around.”
“One certainly grows spiritually in such an atmosphere, ‘in love forbearing one another.’”Nurse Evelyn Wigmore, Nootka Mission Hospital at Esperanza December 4 1943
Nurse Evelyn Wigmore entered an active and collegial atmosphere at the mission, headed by mission director Dr Herman Mclean, who lived there with his growing family. Not long after meeting Dr Mclean, Evelyn enthusiastically wrote: “The doctor here is a wonderful man, he never stops working. He does everything from medical work to cleaning chimneys.” George James, mission staff from Fall 1944 to summer 1945, recalled: “The doctor was a strong energetic man, often working outside, never knowing when he may be called out of his overalls and scrub up for an emergency operation on some unfortunate fisherman or logger. Or perhaps deliver a baby.” (Memories of Nootka Mission Hospital, Islander September 16 1984)
George James recalled “The Nootka Mission Hospital was a beehive of activity. There was a group of about 12, including Dr. H.A. McLean, the superintendent, and Mrs. McLean and some of their children. There were the nursing and housekeeping staff, an elderly lady who did gardening and there were sometimes other helpers of undefined responsibility…We all sat around the table at regular meal times in a big family. We didn’t talk shop but I think I have never laughed so much in my life at a mealtime occasion.”
“a lighthouse on the west coast bringing peace and healing to both mind and body through the Grace of Jesus Christ.”Dr H.A. McLean of the Nootka Mission Hospital, The Daily Colonist December 17 1940
“[Esperanza Hospital] was committed first and foremost to an evangelical mission. Its motto was “to preach Christ and heal disease,” writes Robert K. Burkinshaw, Crossroads for a British Columbia Mission: Esperanza Hospital and Ministry Centre (2012), (copy available online Canadian Society of Church History August 2022). Burkinshaw’s article is an academic overview of the mission based on archival research in the Shantymen Christian Association (SCA) archives. The main history of Esperanza is Louise Johnson’s Not Without Hope (1992), based on extensive oral history interviews held over many years with former hospital staff and the McLean family.
Prayers were held before surgery and nurses were encouraged to talk with patients about spiritual issues and pray with them, if desired. There was also opportunity for staff and patients to attend religious services.
Evelyn Wigmore wrote to her grandmother on December 4 1943: “We are going to have a meeting in the hospital chapel in a few minutes.” (Evelyn wrote the next day: “We had a very good service in the chapel last night, with a good attendance.”) She continued: “there is a little chapel belonging to the hospital in Ceepeecee, where a gospel service is held on Sunday evening.” These are snapshots by Evelyn of the Esperanza Hospital chapel on left and the Ceepeecee chapel on right.
“We do all of our travelling here by boat. Very different to the city”Nurse Evelyn Wigmore, Nootka Mission Hospital at Esperanza December 4 1943
Much of the Nootka Mission medical work was to surrounding areas like nearby First Nations villages and the mining community of Zeballos. The nurses travelled by boat (sometimes Messenger II, the Shantymen Christian’s Association boat). The journey could be dangerous. Louise Johnson in Not Without Hope recalls that Evelyn’s colleague, nurse Hilda Richardson (Royal Jubilee School 1942), was tired, fell asleep on deck and rolled off the boat! Fortunately Hilda was a strong swimmer and was safely found on a local beach.
Missionary George James recalled a story about Evelyn Wigmore: “The sea was forever looking for a victim. One of the nurses, a buxom, good natured girl, missed the dock one night on her leap from a boat and we watched her go under and down and down following her with our flashlight. We watched her come up again spluttering while we fished her out. When she took a plane one day to Tofino, Max George, a local Indian, took it upon himself to give her some advice. He had helped me pull her out of the water that night. “While you are in the air,” he said in his slow drawl, “hang on tight because if you fall out there will be a big splash.” Evelyn didn’t fall out.” Carolyn Morrison says that this is the same story she remembers her mom telling. “She always told it with some level of embarrassment even years later. Mom was a city girl who had lived a very sheltered life before going up to Nootka Mission. She was never an outdoors person and life in those surroundings must have been a bit of a challenge.”
For a number of years hospital in Tofino operated by Mission. This work started by Dr Andrew Korsgaard, now in Pakistan.Evelyn Wigmore Morrison notes for a talk in the 1950s
In May 1945, Evelyn Wigmore moved south to Tofino Hospital, operated by the Nootka Mission Society. “[Dr Herman Mclean] persuaded Dr Andrew Korsgaard to move to Tofino to operate a mission hospital in a building constructed by the community several years earlier but never opened for lack of a doctor,” writes Robert K. Burkinshaw, Crossroads for a British Columbia Mission: Esperanza Hospital and Ministry Centre (2012) The Tofino Hospital operated as a branch of the Nootka Mission Society from 1944 to 1949 when the Society’s annual meeting voted to operate it as a community hospital. (Richard G. Foulkes, The Tofino General Hospital 1935-1985)
Tofino in Clayoquot Sound was a larger community than the Esperanza / Ceepeecee area. The village had been established in the early 1900s as a fishing community, but by the 1940s also had other industry, as this advertisement from Victoria Daily Times March 24 1942 shows:“Wanted – doctor for vacant practice at Tofino. Two mining camps nearby and a large number of men employed at large construction project.” (During World War Two, there was a large air base being constructed at Long Beach.) Tofino was still not connected by road (that was not until the 1960s) but was accessible by the BC Coast steamships and float plane and connected by telephone and telegraph to the city. There was also an established community life with stores, two halls, a church and later, a Shantymen mission.
The Tofino hospital was very short staffed. In addition to her nursing duties, Evelyn also spent some time as cook. Carolyn Morrison recalls: “Mom was very thrifty and believed in ‘waste not, want not’. She told me she would make soups for the staff that included the leftovers from other meals. So, if an egg was leftover from breakfast, it went into the soup for that day! (Comment: part of Evelyn’s nurse training at Royal Jubilee Hospital had been in the hospital kitchen) Often, Evelyn had to work double shifts, which took quite a toll on her health. At one point, she contracted a form of hepatitis but didn’t realize it at first and continued to work the double shifts. Evelyn’s energy level was never the same after that episode and her low energy level continued to haunt her for the rest of her life.
In Tofino, Evelyn met Ed Morrison, Tofino Hospital Board member and Dominion Telegraph operator. (The Tofino telegraph office was kitty corner to the old Tofino Hospital). Edward Grey Morrison, whose father was Manitoba Metis and mother was Northern Alberta First Nations, spent most of his early life in the Yukon as a trapper and later telegraph operator and linesman. Ed’s family story is shared on historian Gord Allison’s Yukon History Trails website.
Ed Morrison and Evelyn Wigmore were married in September 1949. Several of the missionary nurses who worked with Evelyn at the hospital also married men who were living in Tofino. Hilda Richardson, who had come from Esperanza to Tofino, married Andy Ryttersgaard of Ucluelet. Another couple were Esther Swanson and Frank Rae Arthur, whose sons were close to Carolyn Morrison in age. Carolyn comments, “I think there was a shortage of young women in the community at that time.”
On the morning of Sunday May 11 1952, the Tofino Hospital caught fire. Patients were rescued but the building could not be saved. For the next two years, the Tofino community raised money (combined with government support) and a new modern hospital was opened in August 1954.
The Daily Colonist August 6 1954 — The cost of the hospital and its equipment is in the neighbourhood of $220,000. The provincial government contributed $123,000 and the federal government $21,000. Raising the balance was a tremendous task for the Tofino Hospital Society, Tofino’s 500 residents, and the thinly populated district which the hospital will serve. To get the fund started, 100 loggers, fishermen, and others each contributed $100; later they helped clear the land, hauled lumber, and helped with the construction.
Evelyn did not attend the official opening of the new Tofino Hospital. That same day, she was on a “mercy flight” to Vancouver with newborn Jennifer Highfield, the daughter of Shantymen missionary Wilfred Highfield. Jennifer had developed breathing problems a few hours after birth, and a float plane was called but could not land because of the fog. Community members worked to administer the “kiss of life” on the baby until a float plane could land. Evelyn and the baby flew to hospital in Vancouver, where the baby rallied, but then died at four days old. Evelyn’s daughter Carolyn was four years old at the time, and still remembers the strong impression this incident had on her at the time.
Other nursing trips were more successful, as Evelyn travelled to outlying communities. Many of Evelyn’s patients were Tla-o-qui-aht neighbours from Opitsat. Carolyn Morrison says “Mom was an exceptionally kind and compassionate person. She was given some Indian baskets to show their appreciation. Also a wonderful sweater.” (Carolyn still has these baskets and the sweater.)
Not long after the new Tofino Hospital was opened, Ed Morrison retired from the Dominion telegraph service. The Morrisons moved to the BC interior, where Evelyn took a job at the Salmon Arm Hospital. The move to the Interior meant getting their first car – and winter road conditions. It was difficult for Evelyn to drive to and from work in the snow. Evelyn was an “island girl” at heart, so they returned to Vancouver Island. Evelyn worked at the Cumberland Hospital from 1956-1964.
After Ed’s death in 1964, Evelyn read of a nursing opportunity at King’s Garden, a retirement community and youth home (school) in North Seattle, Washington State. Evelyn nursed in the Seattle area until Fall 1972, when she moved back to Vancouver Island. Evelyn ended her nursing career back where she had started – at Esperanza, where she helped in the closure of the Nootka Mission Hospital.
In May 1974, Evelyn was diagnosed with terminal cancer and spent the last months of her life at her family home in Esquimalt. On April 15 1975, Evelyn “passed into the presence of her Lord,” as her family wrote in her death notice. At Evelyn’s funeral, Nootka Mission founder Dr Herman Mclean gave the eulogy and described Evelyn as “love and humility personified.” Carolyn Morrison says “Coming from Dr. Mclean, who had made so many personal sacrifices himself, I thought it was high praise indeed.” (Dr Herman Mclean died later that same year in October 1975.)
Thank you to Carolyn for sharing her mom’s stories and letters and to Diane for scanning Evelyn’s snapshots (especially Evelyn’s handwritten notes on the back of each photo!) To learn more about about experiences at the Esperanza Hospital, please see “Not Without Hope” by Louise Johnson (Evelyn worked with Earl and Louise Johnson at Esperanza in the 1970s).