The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the March 09, 2011 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Wakefield landed neophyte doctor 100 years ago

by Norma Geggie

To those among us who have needed to make use of the hospital in our community, and that possibly means everyone, it may be of interest to note that it is 100 years ago this Easter since the young Harold Geggie, two months from graduating in medicine from McGill University, made the trip up to Wakefield by train to meet an ailing Dr. Hans Stevenson.

He wrote of the event:

"It was Easter break; I was to graduate in two months. I was looking to escape from a big city hospital, looking for a place to work where I'd have some backing, yet at the same time be up against some real medical problems on my own. It was ten days since I had read the advertisement on the notice board at McGill, and here I was in Wakefield, to be interviewed by Doctor Stevenson. When I arrived that Easter Saturday morning I was met at the station by a young girl..."

The Way We Were
Dr. Harold Geggie, 24, graduated from medical school at McGill University in 1911. He started his career in Wakefield and eventually founded the first Wakefield Hospital. Photo courtesy Gatineau Valley Historical Society.

Young Madeline Stevenson told him her father was away, had crossed the river to see a patient. There was no bridge, and a treacherous river with spring break-up beginning - a sign of things to come.

The two men got along, the trips around the country in the next day or so on medical calls were varied, some depressing, some encouraging. Before he returned to Montreal, the young man agreed that he would come and assist in the practice, learning as he went - thinking that perhaps after two years he might know his way around, or make a decision to move elsewhere.

By June 7 1911, the 24-yearold Dr. Harold Geggie, fresh from graduation, with a medal in clinical medicine but with no interning experience behind him, joined the practice. He would earn $100 per month and his "keep." Maybe he could be his "keep." Maybe he could begin to save and in time, if things worked out, be in a position to buy into the medical practice.

His hopes of a mentorship with the more experienced man were short-lived. Within four short months, Dr. Hans Stevenson, at the age of 59, had died, and Harold was left to struggle on alone. He felt trapped - he had no money, and nowhere else to go. Besides, his four months with the community had taught him that there was an immense need, of even one so inexperienced. He borrowed $500 from his mother so that he could buy the horses and Dr. Stevenson's medical books.

The Way We Were
Dr. Harold Geggie (right) overlooks the old Wakefield hospital in 1953. Photo courtesy Gatineau Valley Historical Society.

The years of struggle and service are legendary. He worked tirelessly. There were about 100 obstetrical cases per year, many complex, with multiple births, exhausted women, sometimes facing a tenth or twelfth delivery. He was fortunate to spend two nights out of three in his own bed, so much time was spent with horse and buggy, or sleigh, reaching remote, ill-equipped homes. It was some years before the first bridge crossed the Gatineau River.

His dream from those early years was to establish a hospital in the Gatineau Valley to serve all needs of a large population, but two world wars got in the way. It would be forty years before his dream became a reality.

For those new to the area, the building now housing Le Manoir Residence, was bought by public donation and government support, and served maternity, surgical and medical adult patients, as well as children, from March 1952, when it opened its doors. It was replaced by the present larger hospital, renamed Wakefield Memorial Hospital, which was completed in 1996.

Dr. Harold Geggie was an avid teetotaler, but perhaps we can be forgiven in raising a glass to toast the centennial of his brave initial venture.

Norma Geggie, a Wakefield resident, is Dr. Harold Geggie's daughter-in-law.

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