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How St. Joseph Island got its hospital

This edition of Remember This looks back at the creation of Matthews Memorial Hospital
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Matthews Memorial Hospital is pictured in this photo from the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library archive

From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

Individuals living in an urban centre have the advantage of having access to medical services while those living in more rural areas sometimes have to travel great distances to access hospital services. 

After World War I, the Canadian Red Cross had a surplus and wanted to use the money to build “Outpost Hospitals”.  These hospitals would be located in rural areas that showed a need and would have little chance of having a hospital at all. 

Miss L. Grenville who was the Public Health Nurse at the time asked the Red Cross to consider St. Joseph Island as a site. Miss Wilkinson who was the Superintendent of Outposts went to St. Joseph Island and held two meetings, one at Richards Landing and another at Carterton Hall with the Women’s Institute Branches of the island.  

The costs involved in establishing a hospital would be split. Henry Fremlin, the Reeve of St. Joseph Island Township, and the town council agreed to find a suitable building with rent being paid by the islanders. The agreement also specified that they would cover the cost of fuel. The Women’s Institute would provide and maintain the equipment. 

Many of the people living on St. Joseph Island also donated generous sums of money to the Women’s Institute to help with these expenses.  

A hospital board was soon formed which was made up of two individuals from each Women’s Institute Branch on the island, with F.B. Kent as the president, Ira Holmes as the treasurer and Nena Ross as the secretary.  The town council rented the house of Fred Brason of Sault Ste. Marie and the three-bedroom hospital opened in late October of 1924. It soon became evident that a larger building needed to be purchased in order to accommodate the community’s needs.  

In order to achieve this goal the community began fundraising for additional funds for a new building with $2,472.82 being collected between the months of August and December of 1925.  Half of the money raised came from permanent residents of the island and the other half from summer occupants. Large donors included the residents of Llewellyn Beach and Mrs. M. Matthews. 

The residence of the late Mr. and Mrs. John Richards was purchased for $2,250 and after a few renovations became the new Island hospital. Unfortunately, a fire would destroy it in March 1929.

After the destruction of the hospital an emergency meeting was held at W.J. Armstrong’s store the following day. Fortunately much of the equipment had been saved and it was decided that the unused Anglican Parsonage would be used as a temporary hospital. The hospital board received $3,300 from the insurance company.

They set this money aside for the construction of a new building, however, more would be needed. At an annual meeting in August of 1929 Mrs. M. Matthews sent her son and Bishop Wise with the offer to build the new hospital in memory of her late husband who had passed away the previous year. 

Other generous donations for the new hospital also came from the Llewellyn Beach residents, Miss Mamie Grindley and Mrs. W.C. Orrell.

Between September 30, 1933 and September 30, 1934 the hospital treated 115 patients and in 1937 Mrs. M. Matthews gave the St. Joseph Island Association the deed to the adjoining properties on the southeast side. 

She also donated $1,000 to build a residence on the property which was built in the summer of 1938, to be used as a doctor’s residence.       

The Matthews Memorial Hospital continues to serve the residents of St. Joseph Island even though in later years its future was in doubt as ways to cut costs in the health system locally were explored.

Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Public Library has to offer at www.ssmpl.ca and look for more Remember This? columns here