It was in 1921 that the Canadian National Committee for Mental Health Hygiene issued the following statement to newly established hospitals across our rapidly growing nation: “While the nurses are apparently faithful in the conduct of their duties, there is an urgent need for the establishment of a training school!” In following up with this urgent mandate it would be in 1930 that Dr. C.A. Baragar, the superintendent at the Provincial Mental Hospital near Ponoka established the first psychiatric nursing course at the centre.
That first training program was for six months but became so popular and successful that during the same period, a three-year course was introduced to encourage men and women to pursue their basic training in psych nursing as well as a registered nursing affiliation in both a mental hospital and general hospital setting. This longstanding and proud nursing tradition has carried on to this day at Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury and throughout Alberta.
Along the way thousands of men and women have graduated and pursued exciting careers that serve the vital needs of clients at both psychiatric and general hospitals, as well as throughout their communities.
Alberta Hospital class of 1972
The 36 men and women who were members of the 1972 Alberta Hospital graduating class would be the last group to complete the two- and four-year nursing training format. Of the successful candidates, 27 received their diplomas in psychiatric nursing from the two-year program, while nine achieved their psychiatric/registered nursing diplomas after completing the four-year provincial training course.
Following the always glitzy graduation ceremony in Ponoka, many of these excited new nurses went out on a new adventure to pursue careers throughout the province and beyond, while others who had been born and raised in this area went to work at the Alberta Hospital or in other medical centres and capacities in our community. Over the past 40 years many of these 1972 nursing grads raised their families here, took part in many year-round activities and watched in awe the countless changes at the Centennial Centre, all other health services, and of course in personnel. While many have retired, some of these grads continue to work in the mental health and medical professions, or enjoy proudly watching, admiring and supporting the generations who have followed in their footsteps.
There is no doubt that the evening of Saturday, Sept. 22 was a special occasion for those members and their spouses who were able to attend the gala 40-year reunion of the Alberta Hospital Psychiatric Nurses graduation class of 1972. The event was held at the Ponoka Stampede Grounds, with 15 members of the class in attendance and featured a delightful evening of camaraderie and memories, as well as the sharing of photos and updates of what direction everyone’s life had taken after their graduation from the Alberta Hospital. Special tributes were made to those who were unable to attend the reunion, as well remembering classmates Scotty Nichol, Pat Webber and Delores Hoffman, who have passed away.
Following are some of the highlights recalled by that rambunctious class of ’72.
• Those long hard days of training and work on the wards were made a whole late easier by a fun loving group of young men and women who were never afraid to play lots of tricks against each other, or to get together on many occasions just to let off steam, have a few laughs. and maybe even a few beers. Who would ever forget giving needles to oranges and trying not to faint at the first sight of blood in the OR?
• Dr. James Byers was the Medical Superintendant at the Alberta Hospital from 1965 to 1972, and Mrs. Muriel Thumlert was the Director of Nursing. Some of the Instructors who led this class of 1972 through their paces were Midge Culham, Lorraine Way, and Henry Matejka, along with many others, that they will likely never forget.
• One of the biggest challenges for the nursing students was trying to hide from those strict house mothers at the popular nurses’ residence, or trying to sneak in or out after curfew. There was of course always a steady stream of eligible young gentleman from Ponoka and districts vying for the attention of those young students, and in some cases, their evening and weekend flings turned into a life-long commitment. As class member Dianne (Oness) Hughes expressed, after a long and busy shift at the hospital, it was always nice to go home to the hubby and kids.
Treatment and training methods, as well as hospital procedures and facilities have changed a great deal over the years, but that longstanding nursing tradition of excellence in patient care and understanding has always remained the same. Those who may be wishing to pursue a nursing career are welcome to contact the Grant McEwan University psychiatric nursing program at the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury, phone 403-783-7801.