Hospital Auxiliary: A commitment to caring

Long before women were allowed to vote, or could get away with talking back to their husbands, or were even considered 'people' under the law, there was a group of women in Chilliwack defying that hard hand.

Andrea Lister's book 'Commitment to Caring' celebrates 100 years of Chillwiack Hospital Auxiliary.

Long before women were allowed to vote, or could get away with talking back to their husbands, or were even considered ‘people’ under the law, there was a group of women in Chilliwack defying that hard hand.

Ever wonder how Chilliwack’s first hospital was built?

It was through the determination of the Chilliwack Hospital Auxiliary, a group of 38 women dedicated to getting a hospital built in their town.

“These women were forces of nature really,” said Andrea Lister, author of the new book Commitment to Caring, a detailed account of the Auxiliary’s first 100 years.

“They got what needed to be done done.”

Lister, who was born at Chilliwack General Hospital, was well versed in the Auxiliary’s storied past long before starting her research. Her mom has been a member for nine years, and her great great grandmother Julia Grossman and her great great aunt Elva Grossman were the Auxiliary’s founding members.

Following the birth of his first child on Dec. 19, 1900, Carl Grossman, a young farmer living in Chilliwack, wrote to his mother Julia Grossman in Hamilton, Ontario. The excited father detailed the at-home event telling his mother about the hour-and-a-half wait for the doctors in the snow, and how his wife “was a brick and only groaned,” and how the doctor ended up having to stay the night not wanting to brave the weather with his tired eyes.

Julia Grossman was aghast. She’d had a hospital in Hamilton for 12 years already. How could a community not have one?

She and her daughter Elva agreed to move to Chilliwack on the promise of a hospital being built, which got the fundraising ball rolling.

The Auxiliary was formed on May 1, 1911. The hospital was officially opened on Feb. 28, 1912.

Through her research, Lister soon found the Auxiliary’s story went well beyond her family’s roots.

“These women were amazing,” said Lister. “In the early years, they did a phenomenal amount of work.”

They raised chickens, provided eggs, fruit jars and made preserved jams all for the hospital, they sewed patient gowns and sheets, knitted blankets and baby clothes, and even made feather-down pillows from Christmas turkeys.

They held fundraising concerts, teas, bashes. They sold ‘Support the Hospital’ tags similar to today’s Livestrong wristbands. They stood on street corners and went door-to-door asking for support.

And they did it all through times of war and the Depression.

“These are things that just don’t happen anymore,” said Lister.

That early dedication has continued through the years.

The Auxiliary has served 50,000 fair meals, held three Feast of Nations fundraising bashes, knitted countless baby clothes, donated approximately $5 million, and from 1998 to 2010 its members served a whopping 276,332 volunteer hours.

“I think we take our hospitals for granted as something the government provides for us, and I don’t think a lot of people realize the work that the Auxiliary has done,” said Lister. “We spend a lot of time complaining that there’s not enough money when we could be donating our used goods, and clothes and money to this worthy cause.”

To purchase Commitment to Caring, Auxiliary members will have booths set up at Walmart from April 7 to 9, PriceSmart from April 14 to 16, Minter Country Gardens from April 28 to 30 and Cottonwood Mall, in front of Sears, from April 28 to 30.

The book is $20 with all proceeds going to the Chilliwack Hospital Auxiliary.

For more information, contact Sheila Lister at 604-792-4029.

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