1858 engraving of Victoria

Colonial History Vancouver Island

Maureen Duffus - Author and Historian


Women's History

Royal Jubilee Hospital Nursing School - the anniversary reunion

Royal Jubilee nursing students
The first students of the Royal Jubilee Hospital Training school surrounding matron Grace Mouat, centre, are Nellie Good, Daisie Hardie, Marie DeBout, Agnes Crickmay and Isobel Atkinson. Mabel Hardie was the sixth student in the class.


A small class of young ladies sat for the photograph at right in December, 1891. Two years later they became the first graduates of the Provincial Royal Jubilee Hospital's training school for nurses, the first west of Winnipeg and north of San Francisco.

700 Jubilee graduates from all over the world gathered in Victoria on May 28, 2011 to mark the 120th anniversary of the school's inauguration.

Provincial Royal Jubilee Hospital
This early 1900s photo shows the long driveway from Fort Street that led to the original hospital. The earliest students resided in the administration building, right, until the first nurses residence was built in 1909. Corridors connected wards to the central administration building (men's medical and surgical shown left; women's ward barely visible at right.) Strathcona Ward, far left, was added between 1900 and 1904. The land bordering Richmond and Fort Streets is still the site of a medical complex of the Royal Jubilee hospital. "Provincial" was dropped from the name long ago.

The hospital opened its doors on May 20, 1890, with only three graduate nurses to care for the 40 patients. To alleviate this serious staffing shortage the Hospital Board of Directors voted to establish a school of nursing which opened on December 16, 1891.

Like several similar residential training schools established in eastern Canada a few years earlier, it followed the example of the Florence Nightingale Training School and Home for Nurses which she opened in 1860. It was attached to St. Thomas's Hospital in London, an arrangement that greatly impressed the medical profession in Canada.

The objective was to replace the untrained, unsanitary, uneducated (and often alcoholic) 'nurses' who were no longer acceptable in the greatly improved hospitals of the late 19th century. In John Murray Gibbon's Three Centuries of Canadian Nursing Sir William Osler is quoted on the subject:

"When I entered the Montreal General Hospital, where I began the study of medicine in 1868, we had old time nurses, generally ward servants who had evolved from the kitchen or backstairs to the wards. Many of them were the old type so well described by Dickens ..." (Sairey Gamp in Martin Chuzzleworth)

The quality of nursing improved quickly, though each new training school devised its own curriculum until course requirements were standardized. By 1914 the graduates qualified for the Canadian Army Medical Corps: more than 40 Jubilee nurses served overseas as nurse/lieutenants in the First World War, and many more enlisted for World War II.

As professional nursing training evolved to keep pace with scientific developments of the medical profession, contributions of the highly trained nurses played an increasingly large part in patient care.

Residential nursing schools attached to hospitals gave way to university faculties by 1984. The Jubilee school closed in December, 1982, when education of nurses moved to colleges and universities. Before it closed 3,247 nurses graduated from the Royal Jubilee Hospital School of Nursing.

But, as indicated by the overwhelming response to the 2011 reunion, graduates of hospital schools like The Jubilee still celebrate their close connection with the hospitals with pride - and nostalgia.

Further information:

  • The Royal Jubilee Hospital School of Nursing, 1891-1982 (Anne Pearson)
    A comprehensive history of the Jubilee School and its nurses, with class lists.
  • Battlefront Nurses in World War I (Maureen Duffus)
    Four years of wartime nursing in Salonika, France and England, including RJH graduates in the Canadian Army Medical corps (www.maureenduffus.com/battlefront-nurses.php)
  • RJH School of Nursing Archives/Museum (www.rjhnursingalum.com)

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