Western Hospital’s history launched

Eric McCarthy
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ALBERTON -- The sharing of excerpts from a much anticipated history book, Through the Years: A History of Western Hospital, only served to whet the appetite of the large crowd in attendance for the book’s launch Thursday night. 

Many in the crowd who hadn’t stepped up to the sales table prior to the book launch ceremony got in line once it concluded.

Several of the speakers spoke of the Sisters of St. Martha who opened the hospital in 1945 and operated the facility into the 1980s, telling of their hard work and dedication.

Some workers, including Anita Arsenault, went to work there in their teen years. “That was a very steep but pleasant learning curve for this young girl from St. Edwards,” she reflected. “The Sisters were always encouraging me, praising me, and also challenging me to do better when I needed it. They taught me to always do my best at whatever I was doing, because everything about hospital work was very important.” Once she finished high school the Sisters offered to pay her way through nurses training on the condition that she give them at least one year of service upon graduating. She stayed an additional 42 years for a total of 47 years of service.

“It was hard work at times but one thing it was not was boring,” Arsenault, who was one of 10 retired staff members who researched the history, said of the years at Western.

Joan Barbour, read from her Dear Diary excerpts in the book, telling of getting off the train in Alberton with her belongings in a paper bag and walking over to Western to live and to work. Indoor plumbing, one excerpt revealed, was one of the new luxuries. Fear of the Sisters soon gave way to admiration and respect.

Marlene Bolger, a former administrator at Western, took on the role as lead writer on the committee. What started out to be a 150-page history book, she said, grew to 560 pages.

The book, she noted starts out telling what health care was like in West Prince before the Sisters turned a former hotel into a hospital. She noted, as well, the hospital once performed surgeries and had a busy obstetrics unit. Those services, of course, are no longer performed in Alberton and she suggested that in some ways health care has gone full circle.

But she reminded the crowd that a circle has no beginning and no end, suggesting that health care will continue to evolve. “It is our hope, and indeed, our belief that Western Hospital can and will continue to contribute in a very significant way to the healthcare of the people of West Prince well into the future,” Bolger read from the book.

She presented a copy of the history book to Paul Young, the hospital’s new administrator, entrusting not only the history book but also the hospital’s future to Young and staff.

Young admitted the responsibility of helping to carry the torch forward is extremely humbling. He was also reminded of words spoken by US president Theodore Roosevelt early in the 20th century and how they apply to a rural hospital: “We do what we can with what we have, and where we are.”

“It’s incredible what Western Hospital has been able to accomplish over 70 years. So, going forward, as the next chapter for Western Hospital is yet to be written, we can only imagine that we have such a tall ladder to It was hard work at times but one thing it was not was boring climb; we have such a history to follow and build upon, and we certainly know that the years and the strength that has been built upon in Western, surrounded with a foundation of caring, dedication, sacrifice and fortitude will certainly write the next chapter of this book.”

It was former administrator Andrew MacDougall who raised the idea of writing a history book and helped assemble a committee to do the work. He thanked them for their contribution. Besides chronicling the hospital’s history, MacDougall said the book serves as inspiration to future generations.

“It’s not a hospital like any other place,” MacDougall reflected on Western. “You get this sense that you’re part of something bigger.”

Organizations: Western Hospital

Geographic location: Western, Alberton, West Prince US

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