Our Story

The history of Providence Health Care stretches back more than a century.

In the 1890’s the Sisters of Providence opened St. Paul’s Hospital, a 25-bed “cottage” on the path to English Bay.The Sisters had arrived several years before, having been told the stories of suffering in this burgeoning coastal city. When they arrived, they listened to the community and made a plan to meet the needs expressed. This — in a nutshell — is the story of Providence Health Care.

That year, 1894, the great flood struck the Fraser Valley and gold was discovered on Lulu Island, foreshadowing the gold rush to come. Telephones were barely known, horses and trams were the primary form of transportation, and the immigrants who had arrived years before to work on the railway, hit hard times with its completion. It was a time of great need with modern medicine still many years away. The premier of BC died that year from a simple infection following a cut to his finger.

The Sisters of Providence saw this need and worked tirelessly to meet it. This compassion and work ethic was the origins of the organization we now know as Providence Health Care.

Our story really is a continuum — seeing suffering, feeling compassion, meeting needs. It was repeated when the Sisters of Charity founded St. Vincent’s Hospital, when the Missionary Sisters founded Mount Saint Joseph Hospital, and when the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul opened Holy Family Hospital. The Grey Sisters were similarly motivated to open Youville Residence.

Since the time of the founding Sisters, Providence has worked to retain the “why” of what we do — compassion, filling needs, making a difference, looking after the vulnerable. But, we have certainly changed “how” we do it — pursuing excellence in research and training, innovating through technology as a way to improve care and health outcomes, ensuring we are providing the best possible care, at the forefront of global medical knowledge.

And yet, some of “how” the founding Sisters did this work, has remained. They reached out to the community to consult and ask about their needs. This continues as Providence Health Care remains connected to our neighbourhoods throughout Vancouver and to our patient/resident communities with their circles of friends and family. Listening, staying connected, pursuing new ways to communicate and interact remains central to how we conduct our work.

Histories of our Founders

ST. PAUL’S HOSPITAL + the Sisters of Providence

St. Paul’s began when Mother Emilie Gamelin a widow, distinguished by her ardent charity towards the poor and unfortunate of all classes, founded the Sisters of Providence, a Catholic women’s religious order dedicated to heeding Christ’s call to compassionate services, in Montreal in 1843.

The Sisters of Providence established schools, hospitals, orphanages, homes for the aged and asylums in Canada and the United States and later in many other countries. In BC, St. Paul’s Hospital and Saint Mary’s Hospital in New Westminster are operated by the order.

Responding to the Bishop Paul Durieu, OMI, of New Westminster, who urged the Sisters to consider the needs of a growing Vancouver, two representatives of the Sisters of Providence came north from Portland Oregon in 1892. They bought seven lots on the outskirts of Vancouver for $9,000 and a 25-bed hospital was completed in 1894, and named after both the Bishop and Saint Paul. Mother Mary Fredrick from Astoria, Oregon became the first Superior and administrator of the hospital.

In keeping with the philosophy of the Sisters of Providence, the new hospital was founded on the pledge of providing compassionate care. The surge in Vancouver’s growth brought on by the Klondike gold rush severely tested that pledge but it wasn’t until later, in 1904, that the first of what seems an endless stream of additions was completed, adding 50 more beds.

September 1, 1907 saw the official opening of a School of Nursing at St. Paul’s Hospital.

Just 10 years after the first addition was completed, a modern fireproof structure with a new surgical department and 120 beds was added in 1914.

St. Paul’s was, from the beginning, keenly interested in using the latest medical technology. In addition to laboratory testing, the hospital became one of the first to have its very own X-ray machine, circa 1906. Using glass plate negatives the exposures took from 15 to 45 seconds, threatening to burn patients and electrocute operators in the process.

As Vancouver grew and the administration of health care became ever more complex and specialized, St. Paul’s kept pace.

In 1919, the Sisters of Providence responded to the challenge of the American College of Surgeons and the Catholic Hospitals Association to standardize hospital services with those of the larger centres throughout the US and Canada. The program established formal requirements for the efficient operation of X-ray and laboratory departments. Great emphasis was placed on the keeping of patient records, as previously few history and progress notes were written.

Until 1968, the chief administrator at St. Paul’s was a member of the Sisters of Providence. The first lay administrator was hired in 1969 and ran the hospital while the Sisters continued their involvement in the hospital and on the hospital board.

With the completion of the North Wing, in 1931, and the South Wing during World War II, St. Paul’s expanded to 500 beds. In the 1960s, as medical knowledge and treatments quickly evolved, St. Paul’s again kept abreast through the addition of ultra-modern diagnostic facilities.

But it wasn’t enough. In the 1970s plans were made to remake the whole institution to efficiently fulfill its new role as a referral and tertiary care centre with the ability to respond to changing needs in community care. Two 10-story towers were completed in 1983 and 1991.

St. Paul’s remains committed to providing comprehensive health care but it also recognizes that it needs to provide an atmosphere that encourages medical, nursing and staff excellence. To attract the best staff, it needed to involve itself in specialized education and research. As a result, St. Paul’s has identified the areas of heart disease, kidney disease, nutritional disorders, HIV treatment and the care of the disadvantaged for the establishment of major programs.

Finally, St. Paul’s wants to involve itself in programs that proactively move health care from the treatment of disease in hospitals, to the management of wellness in the community. To do this St. Paul’s hopes to stretch its hand of caring into the local community more effectively, and further strengthen the goals of the Sisters of Providence to provide compassionate, effective care to those in need, and to bring hope for tomorrow.

HOLY FAMILY HOSPITAL + the Sisters of Providence

Holy Family Hospital was founded in 1947 by the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul, who came to Vancouver from Kingston, Ontario at the invitation of Archbishop William Duke of the Vancouver diocese. Three Sisters arrived by train and took up residence on five acres of land on the corner of 62nd and Argyle. At the time, the neighborhood was little more than a mud trail through wooded farmlands and wilderness.

The land came with a five-bedroom house, which the Sisters immediately converted into a nursing home for elderly women. Once the first establishment was in operation, a second lot of land was purchased for ongoing development.

The Sisters, whose philosophy was to never turn anyone away, managed to accommodate 15 to 23 patients at a time in the original five-bedroom home. Their doors were always open. Needless to say, it was extremely crowded.

Yet the Sisters’ ability to manage the home as a self-sustaining operation was nothing short of miraculous. They worked hard night and day, tending the farm, cooking the scarce amounts of food reaped from the land or donated by generous benefactors, and laundering linens and clothes with antiquated equipment, including tubs and wash boards. They even sold lilies of the valley, which covered the two lots of land, to raise funds for patient care.

As Vancouver’s population of elderly people increased, more spacious and modern living facilities were needed. An early attempt to expand the nursing home failed in 1950 due to lack of funds. Undaunted, the Sisters continued to pursue their goal, and in 1953 a 52-bed facility was built on the north side of the larger lot facing 62nd and Argyle.

By this time, the growing need for rehabilitation of the elderly was becoming obvious and the Ministry of Health granted the Sisters a mandate to focus on the rehabilitation of arthritis and stroke patients. Beginning in 1953 the hospital received government funding, although it continued to run as a privately owned organization.

By 1955, the rehabilitation program was fully under way, with physiotherapists, recreation and occupational therapists, social workers, speech pathologists and nursing staff. As patient needs expanded, so did the services provided.

In the 1970s, in the face of an expanding community (due in part to paved streets) and in recognition of the need for different levels of care for the elderly, Holy Family expanded once again. In 1976 a combined extended care and rehabilitation facility was completed.

A year later, an ambulatory rehabilitation program for seniors was implemented. In 1994 the program was enhanced with the addition of the “Easy Street Environments,” the first installation of the program in British Columbia, and only the fifth in Canada.

In 1997, Holy Family Hospital, now recognized as a provincial leader in the multidisciplinary care of older people, joined with the other seven Catholic health care facilities in the Vancouver/Richmond region to form Providence Health Care. The Mission and Vision of our new organization illustrate our ongoing commitment to recognize the dignity and worth of every person and to provide quality, compassionate, holistic care to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of those we serve. In doing so, we will maintain the spirit of our founding Sisters.

MOUNT SAINT JOSEPH HOSPITAL + the Missionary Sisters

Mount Saint Joseph Hospital opened in Vancouver in 1946, but it really started with the dream of a young Quebec girl, many years before.

Délia Tetreault was born on February 4, 1865 in Marieville, a small country town near Montreal. In her memoirs she wrote that as a child she had a dream that marked her whole life:

All of a sudden I saw a ripe wheat field as far as the eye can see. At a given moment, the ears of wheat changed into heads of children and I understood that they represented the children of the world. I was struck by this dream and told no one about it.

The dream came true in 1902 when Délia Tetreault (in religious life known as Mother Mary of the Holy Spirit) along with two companions founded the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, the first missionary congregation for women in Canada. Mother Délia felt it was time for Canada to enter into the missionary movement of the Church, and she offered her life to this calling — reaching out to the poor, the underprivileged, and especially, those who did not know Jesus Christ.

In 1909, the young congregation sent out its first missionaries, a group of six Sisters who journeyed to Canton, China, via Vancouver. The Chinese people always had a special place in Mother Délia’s heart. So it was no surprise when she responded to Archbishop Casey’s request and sent four Sisters to Vancouver in 1921. They moved into a home on Keefer Street where they provided health and education services, including a four-bed infirmary.

In May 1924, the Sisters purchased another house at 236 Campbell Avenue and opened a dispensary. With the need for their services increasing tremendously, they built a new three-storey building next to their residence, and in 1928 opened St. Joseph’s Oriental Hospital. The Sisters started a second dispensary in 1936 at 795 Pender Street, which continued in operation until 1951, providing health services to the growing Asian community.

Soon the facility on Campbell Street was no longer suited to the increasing demands of a quickly expanding population. The Sisters decided to acquire a larger piece of land, at 3080 Prince Edward Street, and to start work on a new hospital. In 1946 — the 25th anniversary of the arrival of the Sisters in Vancouver — Mount Saint Joseph Hospital (MSJ) was opened.

From its humble beginnings, Mount Saint Joseph Hospital has come a long way. Some of the milestones in that time:

  • 1948: MSJ was recognized as a general hospital.
  • 1956: a 50-bed wing was added, thanks in part to the work of the newly created Ladies’ Auxiliary.
  • Early 1960s: a dramatic drop in maternity admissions led to a decision to close the maternity ward.
  • 1965: the chronic care department was converted to an Extended Care Unit, with state-of-the-art physiotherapy facilities.
  • 1969: a new three-bed Intensive Care Unit was created.
  • 1970: the Day Care Surgery Centre was opened.
  • 1979: the Short Stay Assessment and Treatment Centre opened, establishing the first specialized geriatric service of its kind in BC.
  • 1984: Mount Saint Joseph Foundation was established.
  • 1989: the Lifeline Emergency Response System was introduced. Now the second-largest program of its kind in Canada, the system allows at-risk individuals to wear a button linking them to an emergency centre 24 hours a day, allowing them to safely remain in their own homes.
  • 1991: an addition to the fourth floor paved the way for the new pediatric unit; two years later the hospital joined forces with BC’s Children’s Hospital to share expertise and to jointly operate MSJ’s expanded pediatric wing.
  • 1992: in response to increasing needs in the community MSJ added a new director of Multicultural Services and a coordinator of Interpreter Services. The hospital has become a leading voice in the development of public education sessions for ethnic communities and has taken a leadership role in hosting multicultural health conferences.

Today, Mount Saint Joseph Hospital is a 240-bed acute and extended care facility with an international reputation for excellence in providing for the needs of multi-faith and multi-ethnic communities. MSJ was founded on the principles of adaptability and responsiveness to ever-changing community needs, and continues to fulfill that mission.

During their 78 years in Vancouver, a total of 173 Sisters have served the people through health care, education, parish work and family counseling. Each and every Sister has tried to be faithful to the teaching of Mother Délia, who once said:

“Giving ourselves is our life! It is not enough to thank God in words…we must also transform our gratitude into actions…Let each of our lives be then through prayer, sacrifice and work a perpetual hymn of thanksgiving for ourselves and for all those who forget to thank the One to whom they owe everything. Let us be permeated with the thought, live by it thoroughly and leave it as a heritage to those who will replace us.”

ST. VINCENT’S HOSPITALS + the Sisters of Charity

To trace the history of St. Vincent’s Hospitals and the Sisters of Charity who founded them, you need to start more than 400 years ago in rural France. There, Vincent de Paul was born in 1581 into a poor peasant family in the village of Pouey. A friend, who recognized his ability, provided for his education and encouraged him to seek his career in the priesthood.

Ordained at the age of 19, Vincent experienced adventure early in his career. In 1605, while traveling at sea, he was kidnapped by Turkish pirates and sold into slavery. His second master was an alchemist who taught him about medicine and the use of herbs. The alchemist was also a former monk, and Vincent was able to convince him to let him return to France. Later he spent some time at the Vatican before being assigned to the court of Marguerite de Valois, former wife of King Henry IV of France, as an “almoner” — a dispenser of alms. As the Queen was very generous to the poor, Vincent was able to dispense a great deal of her money to those who most needed it.

This work had a profound effect on Vincent. In 1617 he began a new life when he founded the Confraternity of Charity. With Marguerite’s financial help he purchased a building near Lyon and encouraged ladies and peasant girls to join him in a life devoted to the care of the needy. Here abandoned children were cared for and meals were distributed to the poor and the elderly, to the galley slaves, and to the sick lying in the wretched hospitals of the time. The Confraternity served as the seed for the Sisters of Charity (co-founded with Louise de Marillac) and the Vincentians, a group of priests and brothers who continue his work to this day.

For St. Vincent, social commitment and the spiritual life were united. He founded seminaries to mould missionary priests for rural France, and established schools and hospitals for the people. He integrated acts of corporal and spiritual mercy. He combined unselfish commitment to the poor with his connections to the rich and powerful, up until his death in 1660. St. Vincent de Paul was canonized in 1737.

Across the ocean in Emmitsburg, Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Ann Seton founded an order of Sisters of Charity in 1809, using the rules that St. Vincent had drawn up for the Sisters in France. Her Sisters worked primarily in hospitals, schools and orphanages.

A great influx of immigrants, mainly Irish, in 1847 had brought to Saint John more than 17,000 of the poorest, most illiterate and debilitated immigrants ever to reach North America shores. The Roman Catholic population was largely impoverished and uneducated. Such were the conditions when Thomas Louis Connolly became Bishop of Saint John in 1852.

Bishop Connolly immediately took up the challenge of providing for the poor and orphaned, within a month of his appointment he was off to New York to seek assistance from the Sisters of Charity at Mount St. Vincent – on – the – Hudson, New York. Sympathetic to his cause, Mother Jerome, Superior wrote following his visit “I certainly did try to interest the Council by every statement I could think of to give sisters to the mission to have pity on the poor children there going to destruction, although candidly, I did not see who could be spared.”

As negotiations continued, Cholera broke out in Saint John, leaving a number of orphaned children. In 1854, Bishop Connolly appealed again on behalf of the homeless children. Although the Order was unable to provide professed sisters, it did permit the Bishop to plead his cause to the novices. He was not disappointed.

A group of four novices volunteered to respond to the call and arrived in the port city in September, 1854. Honoria Conway (Mother M. Vincent) was recognized as Superior.

Honoria Conway, a native of Galway, Ireland was born on June 18, 1815. In 1837, her family immigrated to Saint John, and eventually settled near Metegan, Nova Scotia. As the age of 37, Honoria entered the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul at Mount St. Vincent, New York, subsequently Honoria returned to Saint John, New Brunswick, as Foundress of the Sisters of Charity.

The work of these pioneer Sisters prospered and their numbers and institutions grew. In 1906 the sisters ventured outside the founding province. Their ministries, which were mainly education and health care, took them to several provinces throughout Canada and to Peru. To site one example, in Radway, Alberta in 1926 when they opened the hospital it indeed was a challenge. In a small and very inadequate house, the first three sisters literally “pitched tent” and set out to serve an urgent need the best they could at the time. Conditions were most unfavourable from the world’s point of view but Mother Alphonus viewpoint was we must go, there is great need.

His Excellency Archbishop Duke, then Archbishop of Vancouver was very much aware of the Sisters of Charity Ministry in Health Care and Teaching, and being very concerned about Catholic Health Care in his Dioceses approached the Superior General, Sister M. Clarice for sisters to open a hospital. On August 12th, 1938, the work of St. Vincent’s Hospital began, and on July 19, 1939 the Hospital was blessed and officially opened by his Excellency Archbishop Duke.

In 1939 one hundred beds were opened, but that was not adequate to meet the demands of the day. In 1952 an additional one hundred beds were added. In 1970, Extended Care and Geriatric Psychiatry were added. Expansion was approved by the Government. These one hundred bed opened in 1974. In 1976 we were asked by the government to administer a private nursing home of 75 beds, namely, Arbutus. In the late 1980s we were approached by the government to build and operate a 225 bed Extended Care Facility. We gladly accepted the challenge and St. Vincent’s: Langara opened in 1991. In 1993 when the Shaughnessy Hospital ceased operation we were approached to operate 150 Veterans beds at Brock Fahrni.

Let us give thanks together that we the Sisters of Charity have had the privilege to be so involved in Christ’s ministry of healing and reconciliation.

Let us give thanks for the opportunity of making Christ known and loved for over 145 years. May we continue to go forth, reaching out in hope and sharing with all we meet as we journey.

The Sisters of Charity of The Immaculate Conception was the first English speaking community founded in Canada.

YOUVILLE RESIDENCE + the Grey Sisters

Marguerite Youville, founder of the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, was born in 1701 in the little Quebec village of Varennes. Her life was marked by trials and sadness, starting when her father died when she was just seven years old. She later married and moved to Montreal, but her marriage was an unhappy one, her husband using her only for selfish purposes in his illegal dealings with the Indian people. She lost four of her six children in infancy, and then became a widow at age 28.

For the next few years Marguerite looked after her two surviving sons, who later became priests. It was during this time that she also began devoting herself to charitable works — reaching out to the poor, the outcast, the sick, elderly and orphaned. In this work she was strengthened by knowing that her God always provided, always guided her. She seemed called to make God’s compassionate love known to all. She served the needy with humility, gentleness and compassion. But in her dedication, she did not know that she had done anything great. All she saw was the real needs of the people and she helped where the need was most urgent.

In 1737, several companions who were inspired by Marguerite began to work alongside her, sharing her spirituality and good works. This was the beginning of the Grey Sister Community as we know it today.

After Marguerite’s death in 1771, the Grey Sisters moved beyond Montreal, carrying with them Marguerite’s selfless spirit as they worked to take care of the poor and homeless.

In Vancouver during the Great Depression, the need for such a spirit was great. Vancouver’s Archbishop William Duke sent a request to the Grey Sisters to come and open a home for elderly and destitute men on “Skid Row.” In response, four Grey Sisters from Pembroke, Ontario arrived in Vancouver on September 11, 1931, and took up residence at 853 East Pender Street. Within a short time, 15 needy men were admitted to the new residence, which was named St. Vincent’s Shelter.

During the hard years that followed, long lines of hungry and homeless men were served hot meals and given clothes and other necessities. In 1942 a new wing and chapel were added to the shelter, providing accommodation for an additional 51 men. Included in the construction were a dormitory and dining room for transients.

The East Pender location eventually became unsafe and too small to handle the increasing community needs. After many delays and difficulties, construction began on a property at the corner of 33rd and Heather. Finally, in June 1969, the 152-bed Youville Residence (Link to A5) opened its doors, organized and managed by the Grey Sisters. To this day, the residence and its staff strive to be the contemporary expression of Marguerite’s spirit of charity within the community.

Marguerite Youville was canonized by the Church on December 9, 1990. She served through caring, healing compassion and a loving presence. In the words of their founder, as quoted by Sister Elaine Reaume, the Grey Sisters of Immaculate Conception “are called to trust in God’s love and, in a spirit of simplicity, to reveal that love in a life of service.”

THE FORMATION OF PROVIDENCE HEALTH CARE

Providence Health Care was formed through the consolidation of CHARA Health Care Society, Holy Family Hospital and St. Paul's Hospital on April 1st, 1997. Providence Health Care became a single legal entity on March 31st, 2000, providing health care services on eight sites in Vancouver, BC.

The word providence at the root of our name is rich in meaning. All of our religious communities were founded on God's Divine Providence. To those of the Christian faith, it conveys trust in the care and benevolent guidance of God for those carrying out His healing ministry.

Providence from an everyday sense is about trusting we make the best decision we can to prepare for the future.

Working together, the five Catholic Founding Congregations of Sisters, the Boards of Directors and the Providence Senior Leadership Team are committed to a health care community that is focused on service and responsive to its patients, residents, families and the community.