Victoria Hospital, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, ca. 1905-07.
Saskatchewan Archives Board R-A1679-2

The first hospital in what is now Saskatchewan was at Ile-à-la-Crosse; it was founded in 1873, thirteen years after the arrival of the first three Grey Nuns. North-West Mounted Police hospitals followed, at Fort Walsh in 1875, Qu'Appelle in 1881, Regina and Maple Creek in 1883, and Battleford and Prince Albert in 1884. During the North-West Resistance in 1885, temporary military hospitals were operated at Moose Jaw and at Saskatoon.

The first public hospital in the newly settled south opened at Saltcoats in 1897 but was short-lived. It was followed by the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) cottage hospital in Regina in 1898, and the Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert in 1899. As the year 1900 dawned, southern Saskatchewan had two hospitals, each with seven beds, to serve about 90,000 people. The Regina Victoria Hospital opened in September 1901, and began a nursing training school at once; it has been the largest hospital in Saskatchewan ever since. The Moosomin hospital and the Queen Victoria Hospital at Yorkton opened in 1902, Maple Creek in 1904, and Indian Head in 1905 - all three with nursing training schools. Nursing training continued until 1925 at Indian Head, 1935 at Maple Creek, and 1969 at Yorkton.

In 1906, hospitals opened in Moose Jaw, Lloydminster and Wakaw, followed in 1907 by the Grey Nuns hospital in Regina and the Lady Minto hospital in Melfort, in 1909 by Saskatoon City Hospital, in 1910 by Holy Family Hospital in Prince Albert, in 1911 by Notre Dame Hospital in North Battleford, and in 1912 by Swift Current, Weyburn, St Elizabeth's in Humboldt, and Providence Hospital in Moose Jaw. The number of rural hospitals increased slowly after the advent of the Municipal Hospital Act in 1916 and the Union Hospital Act in 1917, and more quickly in 1945 when Saskatchewan became the first province to provide grants for hospital construction, followed by federal grants for the same purpose in 1948. The number of beds per thousand population increased from 4.8 in 1946 to 6.5 in 1951, and peaked at 8.46 in 1977-78 - more than in any other province. By 1984-85 the ratio had dropped to 7.00, falling below Quebec and Alberta.

On April 15, 1993, Health Minister Louise Simard announced the impending closure of fifty-two hospitals in rural Saskatchewan: Arborfield, Beechy, Bengough, Birch Hills, Borden, Cabri, Climax, Coronach, Craik, Cupar, Cut Knife, Dinsmore, Dodsland, Eatonia, Edam, Elrose, Eston, Fillmore, Gainsborough, Goodsoil, Grenfell, Gull Lake, Imperial, Invermay, Ituna, Kincaid, Lafleche, Lampman, Langenburg, Leoville, Loon Lake, Lucky Lake, Macklin, Mankota, Milden, Montmartre, Neilburg, Nokomis, Norquay, Oxbow, Pangman, Ponteix, Radville, Rockglen, St. Walburg, Smeaton, Spalding, Theodore, Vanguard, Watson, White Bear, and Whitewood. Twenty-eight closed on September 30, and the other twenty-four early in 1994. At the same time, all large hospitals were downsized. The number of acute care beds (a more restricted definition than for the examples given in previous years) dropped to 2.54 beds per thousand by March 2002.

In Saskatoon in March 2003, 638 acute care beds were divided as follows: Royal University Hospital, 315; St. Paul's Hospital, 175; Saskatoon City Hospital, 148. In Regina, 520 acute care beds are divided between the Regina General, 322, and the Pasqua, 198. The Plains Hospital, built in the early 1970s, was decommissioned in 1998. Six regional hospitals include: Prince Albert, 98 beds; Moose Jaw, 85; Yorkton, 85; Swift Current, 79; North Battleford, 75; Lloydminster, 48. Nine district hospitals are Estevan, 53; Weyburn, 40; Melfort and Humboldt, 39 each; Nipawin and Meadow Lake, 32 each; Melville, 30; Tisdale, 24; Kindersley, 19.

Forty-two community hospitals are: Rosthern, 30 beds; Moosomin, 27; Leader, 22; Esterhazy and Kamsack, 20 each; Wakaw, 19; Broadview, Maidstone, Maple Creek and Shellbrook, 18 each; Kipling and Wolseley, 17 each; Rosetown and Shaunavon, 16 each; Indian Head and Kelvington, 15 each; Canora, 14; Biggar, Herbert and Loon Lake, 13 each; Assiniboia, Fort Qu'Appelle and Wadena, 12 each; Arcola and Redvers, 11 each; Big River, Hudson Bay, Outlook, Preeceville and Unity, 10 each; Gravelbourg, Lestock, Paradise Hill, Porcupine Plain and Spiritwood, 9 each; Wynyard, 8; Balcarres, Central Butte and Kerrobert, 6 each; Lanigan and Watrous, 4 each; Davidson, 2.

Four northern hospitals are: La Ronge, 29 beds; Ile-à-la-Crosse, 20; La Loche, 11; Stony Rapids, completed late 2003, with closure of the Uranium City hospital. Three hospitals operating as health centres are Foam Lake, Hafford, and Wawota.

C. Stuart Houston

Further Reading

Houston C.S. 2002. Steps on the Road to Medicare: Why Saskatchewan Led the Way. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press; Taylor, M. 1978. Health Insurance and Canadian Public Policy: The Seven Decisions that Created the Canadian Health Insurance System. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.