Book Review: The Life and Destruction of Saint Mary's Hospital


Book JacketThe author of this book, Jaimie McEvoy, is a New Westminster historian. He was heavily involved in the unsuccessful campaign to save Saint Mary's Hospital, and was elected to the New Westminster City Council in November, 2008.

This book is well written. If you're one of the thousands of people who were involved in the effort to save Saint Mary's, or one of the hundreds of thousands of people who were treated at Saint Mary's, or had a relative or close friend who was treated there, you'll get something out of this book, particularly chapter ten, "The Last Betrayal", which covers the hospital closure and the massive community effort to stop it.

What if you don't fall in one of these categories? The first chapter provides a pretty good overview of what health care was like in the early days of British Columbia, in particular the effect of the Cariboo gold rush.

Not particularly interested in B.C. history, or the Great Fire of New Westminster in 1898? The story of Saint Mary's Hospital actually started in Vancouver, WA; the Sisters of Providence who built and ran Saint Mary's originally moved west from Montreal in 1857 to build a hospital in Fort Vancouver. They put up schools, orphanages, and hospitals all over the Pacific Northwest and Montana. There is a statue of the leader of the Sisters of Providence, Mother Joseph, in the U.S. Capitol, and she is the only Canadian and only the fifth woman honoured in this fashion.

The strongest overall impression I got from reading this book was how Saint Mary's kept up with technology, and the importance that they place on nutrition and cleanliness.

As mentioned earlier, the closure of Saint Mary's by the provincial government is an important part of this story. The steps in this process and the people who made them are spelled out carefully. McEvoy draws attention to the removal of local control from B.C.'s health care system, and characterizes this as a step backward.

The profits from the sale of The Life and Destruction of Saint Mary's Hospital go to the Saint Mary's Health Foundation, the successor to the Saint Mary's Hospital Foundation. Availability is limited at this time. The publisher is Harbour Publishing, and it's possible to mail order it from their site. It's listed on, but they don't have it in stock. Black Bond Books at the Royal City Centre in New Westminster has it, or you can get it at Shiloh Sixth Avenue United Church, 1111 Sixth Ave. in New Westminster (phone (604) 522-3443 first).