On November 27, 1924, the Civic Hospital opened its doors to great fanfare. The world had just emerged from a pandemic and the community rallied together to make this new hospital a reality.

Though he was roundly ridiculed at the time, Mayor Harold Fisher pushed hard for the construction of the Civic and for a thoroughly progressive vision of medicine. 

That defining moment in history went on to improve the lives of every citizen of Ottawa and helped lay the foundation for a century of healthcare advances in Canada.

Today, we have our own ambitious plans to help reshape the future of healthcare and create a better tomorrow, together. From now until November 27, 2024 — the Civic’s 100th birthday — we will look back at 100 unique moments from the past century. 


Celebrating 100 moments

  • 1956

    45/100 – Cobalt 60 Beam Therapy

    The year 1956 marked a significant step forward in cancer treatment for patients across the Ottawa region when Mayor Charlotte Whitton officially opened an expanded Cancer Clinic — funded by the Lions Club of Ottawa — and new Cobalt 60 Beam Therapy Unit at the Civic Hospital. Built by Atomic Energy Canada, this innovative technology, dubbed the “cobalt bomb,” allowed gamma radiation to be focussed directly on cancerous cells and revolutionized cancer treatment at the time.

    Then Health Minister Paul Martin said the technology allowed the Civic Hospital to add “a powerful new weapon to its armory in the continuing fight against this disease.”

    Cancer care later moved to the General Campus of The Ottawa Hospital, expanding in 2009 with the opening of The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre, operating out of both an east and west site. Today, The Ottawa Hospital is home to one of best-equipped cancer treatment centres and one of the most advanced cancer research programs in the country.

    Photo credit: Courtesy of HSC Winnipeg

  • 1968

    41/100 – First adult male volunteer

    The Ottawa Hospital has long relied on volunteers to provide support in many clinical areas, offering assistance and companionship to patients. The very first male volunteer started at the Civic Hospital in the fall of 1968. James Hutchinson volunteered every Monday and Wednesday in either the admitting department or pushing patients in wheelchairs on their way to have casts put on. But his favourite job, according to an interview he did with the Ottawa Citizen 55 years ago, was working on the wards shaving male patients. He said it gave him the greatest satisfaction because many of the men were so sick, they couldn’t possibly shave themselves.

    Today, volunteers remain an integral part of the hospital community, helping with wayfinding, providing musical moments, and even offering pet therapy.

    Photo credit: Ottawa Citizen, a division of Postmedia Network Inc.

  • 1957

    43/100 – Nurse Nessa Bedward Sherwood

    If you live in Ottawa, you may be familiar with the name Brown’s Cleaners and Tailors. Established in 1957 by Herbert “Pops” Brown and his wife Estelle, the company has expanded to 26 locations across the city. Herbert, a former sergeant in the Canadian army during the Second World War, laid the foundation for the family business.

    Following his return from the war, Herbert’s family immigrated to Canada from Jamaica, and through their unwavering dedication, the business flourished. This commitment to hard work and success was passed down to their children, including their daughter, Nessa Bedward Sherwood.

    Nessa pursued a distinguished nursing career at The Ottawa Hospital, spanning more than 20 years. Known for her exceptional listening skills and ability to provide a calming presence in challenging circumstances, Nessa excelled in her role.

    But it wasn’t without its challenges. A 2017 Ottawa Citizen article about the Brown family shared that, at times, Nessa was ignored by hospital colleagues outside of work due to her race.

    However, Nessa’s resilience, instilled by her parents, propelled her forward. In addition to her professional duties, she was a published writer, poet, and mother to four boys. She also dedicated her time to various community organizations, such as The Elizabeth Fry Society, The Diabetes Association of Canada, Planned Parenthood, The YM/YWCA, Grannies for Africa, Funding for the African Caribbean Health Network, and support for the AIDS Community of Ottawa. Her remarkable contributions led to her being named a finalist for the Y-Ottawa Citizen Community Volunteers — Women of Distinction Award in 2009.

  • 1948

    42/100 – Mackenzie King’s phone numbers

    Built in 1978, Sandy Hill’s stately Laurier House housed two Canadian Prime Ministers — Sir Wilfrid Laurier and William Lyon Mackenzie King. At the time, there was no official residence for political leaders; that came after King’s death.

    In his time there — from 1923 to 1950 — King famously held séances and made other attempts to speak to spirits. More pragmatically, he also made sure to stay in communication with the living with a list of phone numbers next to his bed. Who graced the list? The Ottawa Civic Hospital, of course! We were right up there with King’s barber, the Canadian Press, and his doctor.

    The five-digit number King used dates from when switchboard operators manually managed calls coming in. Seven-digit numbers came about later in the 1950s, and the 10-digit number we now use came in 2006.

  • 2015

    44/100 – Ashley Ruelland rushed to Trauma Centre

    In March 2015, Ashley Ruelland was driving to a bachelorette party in Mont Tremblant when another car crossed the centre line and hit her head on.

    The 27-year-old was left with a long injury list of broken and crushed bones, including a fractured femur with an open wound and fractures in her lower spine. It took more than an hour for first responders to extricate Ashley from the car.

    Prior to her accident, Ashley had never really been sick and injured before. She had no idea where the Civic Campus of The Ottawa Hospital was located. Yet, its Trauma Centre, where Ashley was treated for her extensive and life-threatening injuries, played a critical role in her survival.

    She remained in an induced coma in the ICU for two months. She endured numerous reconstructive surgeries, 100 hours of orthopaedic and internal surgery, and more than 100 blood transfusions.

    Once she was finally out of the woods, Ashley faced a long road ahead of her through months of intensive rehab.

    “I was scared to think of the life that was waiting for me outside those hospital walls,” said Ashley, who needed to learn how to feed herself, walk, and brush her own teeth again.

    Ashley was eventually transferred to being an out-patient at the Rehabilitation Centre and, through hard work and persistence, succeeded in being able to walk, travel, and live independently again.

  • 1953

    40/100 – Civic nurses at the Tulip Festival

    Did you know that world-renowned photographer, Malak Karsh, was the one to first suggest creating the Tulip Festival, which has now been running since 1953?

    The festival’s main site is just down the street from the Civic Campus, and in this photo, taken by none other than Malak Karsh, you can see Civic nurses strolling past the tulips.

    Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada/Department of Employment and Immigration fonds/e010982231

    These flowers celebrate the memorable role of the Canadian troops in the liberation of the Netherlands and commemorates the birth of Dutch Princess Margriet in Ottawa during the Second World War. If you missed it, check out Moment #37 which contains a special video message from her Highness!

Stay tuned for more moments coming soon....