vernon hospital’s founding mother

 

October 9. 2020

October is Women’s History Month, a celebration of the outstanding achievements of women throughout Canada’s history. Since its incorporation in 1892, Vernon has been home to a number of fascinating women, and this is therefore the perfect opportunity to explore how their legacies have shaped our city.

For any of us who have visited the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, we owe this woman our health; she was the driving force behind the establishment of Vernon’s first hospital, fondly known as the Cottage Hospital.

Clara Chipp came to Vernon circa 1888 after marrying the town’s first government official, Walter Dewdney. Walter had recently lost his wife, and Clara stepped up to act as a surrogate mother to his three young children. The young stepmom quickly became active in Vernon’s social scene, hosting picnics for local children and playing the organ at church services.

 

 

Clara & Walter Dewdney, 1889

Unfortunately, Walter was under a significant amount of stress from his job. He had little time for anything other than work, and spent long hours confined his desk. He began to suffer from bouts of depression, on top of chronic pain due to a kidney disorder. Just four years after marrying Clara, he took his own life.

Following Walter’s tragic death, Clara found herself alone with her three stepchildren. She moved in to a new house closer to that of her father, John Chipp, a local doctor, so he could help with their care. From this vantage point, Clara was also afforded a clear view of the handsome young shopkeeper, William Cameron, who worked across the street. In 1894, Clara and William were married.

In 1894, diphtheria broke out in Vernon, and underlined the urgent need for a local health care facility. At this time, Clara was Vice-President of the National Council of Women and used her position to canvas the district for financial support towards the construction of a hospital. In 1897, Vernon’s first Jubilee “Cottage” Hospital was opened in a boarding house on 28th Avenue—a temporary facility until the new building opened on Hospital Hill in 1909.

Tragically, Clara would never live to see this day. In 1898, she was diagnosed with cancer, and instead of suffering through her deteriorating health, she took her own life by drinking carbolic acid in 1900. A tribute to her in the Vernon News stated that “the establishment of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital was due almost entirely to the untiring efforts of the late Mrs. W.F. Cameron … It is eminently fitting that her memory should be honored in this connection.”

So next time you pass by or through the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, spare a thought for the woman who fought tirelessly for the health of Vernon’s citizens.  

Gwyn Evans

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