From the Archives — Immaculata Hospital

By Mary Flynn, Archivist

I recently had the pleasure of looking into the early history of the Sisters of Charity’s first hospital outside of Nova Scotia. The Sisters founded Immaculata Hospital in rural Westlock, Alberta at the beginning of what would be a time of expansion in the community under Mother Mary Louise Meahan.  

On May 22, 1927, Mother Mary Louise sent a telegram to Sister Elizabeth Seton Belwood, Superior of the Halifax Infirmary in Nova Scotia, calling her to Alberta to start a hospital. Sister Elizabeth Seton packed up a case of surgical instruments and left Halifax with Sister Marion Francis Slattery. After a long cross-Canada journey by train, the Sisters arrived in the small town of Westlock, Alberta, 90 km north of Edmonton. 

A small wooden building that housed 10 beds served as the temporary site of the hospital. In the first month of operation, the hospital had its first patient, first surgery, and first baby born. By January 1928, the construction of the new hospital, now called Immaculata Hospital, was far enough along that the patients were transferred from the temporary building.  

The early years were tough, with tight finances, smallpox outbreaks, and lack of space. At times, some patients paid their hospital bills in produce. The annals recount times of vegetable crops lost to August frost or spring snow. 

SCHalifax Archives #6414D The first Immaculata Hospital, Westlock, AB. This building housed 10 beds for patients.
SCHalifax Archives #6413C The horse-drawn cart of the first dairy man to make deliveries to Immaculata Hospital, Westlock, AB.

SCHalifax Archives #6414B Immaculata Hospital, Westlock, AB, 1927. Two men wait on the porch of the hospital while their relative is treated for a broken arm.

In April 1929, the Ladies’ Auxiliary of Immaculata Hospital was formed and their crucial support shaped the hospital for decades to come. This group of local women immediately jumped into action to fundraise for the hospital, starting with a tag sale that raised $38.60. Their ongoing support enabled the hospital to receive monetary and equipment donations, from an operating table in 1948, to Christmas gifts for the patients in 1967, and a heart monitor and crash cart in 1970.

SCHalifax Archives #6940 Pioneer Sisters at Immaculata Hospital in Westlock, Alberta, 1927.

SCHalifax Archives #6202 Opening of the new Immaculata Hospital in Westlock, AB in 1928.

In December 1928, the Immaculata Hospital Sisters were approached by Doctor Verreau to take over a struggling small hospital in Barrhead, Alberta, about 40km west of Westlock. The Sisters agreed and on January 19th, 1929, the Sisters from Westlock took over management, changing the name to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. After three years of commuting between the two towns, the Sisters had to withdraw from the hospital due to lack of funding in 1932.  

In the Congregational Archives we have a four-minute, silent 16mm film from Westlock, likely shot between 1954 and 1964. The video starts with views of the exterior of the hospital, Sisters gathering around a statue of Mary, then tending to their gardens. The video continues with shots of the interior of the hospital, including the chapel, offices, x-ray room, laboratory, exam room, nursery, and kitchen. The film features Sisters and lay staff at the hospital. 

The 16mm film was sent to Halifax with a note on a prescription pad that reads “Dear Mother: – Since you cannot come to Westlock we are sending Westlock to you.” 

Over the decades, Westlock and the surrounding areas grew in population and the demand for services at the hospital were higher. The hospital expanded with new wings opening in 1950 and 1968. Due to a lack of personnel, the hospital transferred ownership from the Sisters to the government and on January 25, 1995, the new Westlock Healthcare Centre had its official opening. Over the 91 years that the Sisters ministered in Westlock, 85 Sisters served at Immaculata Hospital, taught catechism in the hospital basement and St. Mary’s School, and volunteered in the community at the food bank, Meals on Wheels, and visiting with the elderly. Though the Sisters’ presence in Westlock ended in 2018, their contributions to the town will not be forgotten.  

More Charity Alive – June 2023

Assembly 2023

In this issue of Charity Alive, we have asked some of our writers to recapture the Assembly experience from their perspectives.

Bridge Group 2023 Assembly

We met as a whole once again on the afternoon of June 1st, taking advantage of the free afternoon before the start of Assembly 2023.

Associate Assembly Meeting 2023

The best way to describe our Associate gathering on June 2nd is to celebrate it as our first Hybrid Associate Gathering: “Zoom and In-person”.

From the Archives — Immaculata Hospital

The Sisters founded Immaculata Hospital in rural Westlock, Alberta at the beginning of what would be a time of expansion in the community under Mother Mary Louise Meahan.

More Charity Alive – March 2023

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From the Archives — Sisters helping Sisters

In sharing the history of the congregation, the ministries in education, orphanages, and social services are often highlighted. In this article, I wanted to share ministries within the congregation – Sisters helping Sisters.  

More Charity Alive – December 2022

Bringing light into darkness

The soft darkness of winter night helps us to recall our communal gatherings, our contemplative prayer, our care for each other.

Renewal of Vows and Commitment

On December 7, 2022, the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception we joined together (via zoom) as members and associates in a prayer service to renew our vows and  commitment.

Christmas Cards

As the Christmas season approaches, we are filled with gratitude for the many benefactors who have joined us in giving Joyful Witness through gifts in 2022.

Charity Alive – November 2022

Ebony Etchings

I invite each of you to join me in my exploration of my home space, my heart space, my God space where I live my truth as an African Nova Scotian woman and a member of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent DePaul, Halifax.

Associate Retreat May 2022

A sense of peace and serenity welcomed fellow Long Island/Queens Associates Betty Erdos, Helen Ogden, Mickey Madden, Ann Masters and me when we arrived at the tranquil and cozy house on the eastern bay for the weekend of May 20–22, 2022.

Issues of Charity Alive

2023-06-14T18:04:24+00:00By |Comments Off on From the Archives — Immaculata Hospital
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