Galt Hospital, Lethbridge, Alberta

Recently I bought this postcard of a hospital. The seller had it down as English, but I had never seen anything quite like it either in England or Scotland. On closer inspection it didn’t take long to work out why. As the postcard clearly shows, Galt Hospital was in Lethbridge, Alberta, in Canada.

A little bit of research revealed the gist of its history, although there is a fair amount of conflicting information out there, so apologies for any errors. According to an item in the Lethbridge News that appeared in January 1903, subscriptions had been solicited back in 1886 for a hospital but not enough was promised. Instead a small private hospital was established by the Alberta Rail and Irrigation Company (in some sources the Alberta Rail and Coal Company) which was used jointly with the Police. This seems to have had just three beds.

This postcard, post-marked 1909, showing the hospital with nurses’ home to the left, is from the Peel’s Prairie Provinces Collection. Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence CC BY-NC by University of Alberta Libraries.

In 1890 Sir Alexander Galt gave $10,000 to the build a new hospital, and afterwards, with some assistance from friends, another $7,000. ‘Thinking it would be a benefit to the public the hospital was thrown open, the town paying a stipulated sum per day for its patients, which was afterwards changed to a lump sum. In every year except one there had been a deficit ranging from $500 to $3,000.’ [1] Sir Alexander Galt was the founder and owner of the Rail and Coal company and a leading figure in Canada’s history. He was a politician as well as a wealthy industrialist, born in London, the son of John Galt – Scottish novelist and coloniser. My postcard shows the Galt Hospital building of 1890-1 which seems to have had around 15 beds.

A large and smart new wing was built in 1908-10 at the instigation of Sir Alexander Galt’s son, Elliott Torrance Galt, who gave $30,000 towards building costs on condition that the same amount was raised by the City of Lethbridge, plus additional funds for its maintenance. [2] By that time the hospital was struggling financially, and there were fears that it might have to revert to being a private hospital again.

Photograph of the opening of the Galt Hospital, reproduced courtesy of the Galt Museum and Archives

The new building was officially opened by the Prime Minister, Wilfred Laurier, on 1st September 1910. It brought the bed capacity of the hospital up to 65. A School of Nursing was established around the same time.

Photograph of the Galt Hospital in 1925, reproduced courtesy of the Galt Museum and Archives

This view from 1925 shows the 1908-10 building on the right, which survives as a part of the Galt Museum today. To the left is the 1890s hospital block with its two-tier wrap-around verandas and prominent roof-ridge ventilators. In 1930 additions were made to provide a further 35 beds.

Sunbeam Children’s ward, 1940. Reproduced courtesy of the Galt Museum & Archives

In 1955, with the opening of a new municipal hospital, the Galt Hospital became a long-stay rehabilitation centre. The centre lasted until 1965 after which part of the building was occupied by the Lethbridge Health Unit, and a part was given over to the Sir Alexander Galt Museum. [3]

  1. Lethbridge News, 7 Jan 1903, p.2
  2. Lethbridge Daily Herald, 24 Nov 1908 p.2
  3. Galt Museum & Archives Exhibits, Galt Hospital, 100 Years

See also: Canada’s Historic Places Register

Toronto General Hospital

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A recent e-bay purchase has prompted this brief post. I was drawn to the attractive tinted postcard showing this monumental hospital complex, and tickled by the short statement the sender had written on the back:
‘This is all one hospital, grand don’t you think’.

Former main building of Toronto General Hospital, now home to MaRS Discovery District. Photograph by Chjovans wikimedia commons  CC BY-SA 3.0

Much of the range fronting College Street survives, but was sold off by the hospital to the MaRS charitable trust around 2002. The impression from the postcard of gleaming white buildings turns out to be misleading, as they were built of a warm honey coloured brick with stone dressings. Perhaps the producer of the postcard, Valentine & Sons United Publishing Co. Ltd, was responding to contemporary comments on the choice of material – the brick came in for a good deal of criticism from ‘the man on the street’ while the buildings were going up. Valentine & Sons have corrected the error of the architect by painting the hospital white. [1]

Toronto General Hospital c.1913. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

The entire complex was designed by the Toronto architects Darling & Pearson, Frank Darling as executant architect. Darling had designed other hospitals, but was not the best-known hospital architect in Canada so the choice was not without controversy. However, from the time when the foundation stone was laid by Earl Grey, Governor General of Canada, on 11 April 1911 it took just two years to complete the buildings which opened in 1913.  The main range pictured above faced north on College Street with a frontage of around 620 feet, the administration block with its central domed tower was flanked by the medical and surgical sections (to the west and east respectively).

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Goad Fire Insurance plan from 1924, showing the extent of the hospital before expansion in the later 1920s. Reproduced by courtesy of Toronto City Archives

In all it was planned to accommodate nearly 700 patients. Three-storey ward pavilions extended southwards from the main range and had  24- and 16-bed wards on each floor as well as numerous smaller wards for different cases, at the south end were sun balconies or verandas. The separate blocks to the south included the square outpatients department and pathology department on the west side fronting University Avenue, and nurses’ home,  and obstetrics building on the west side.

Toronto General Hospital medical ward pavilion to south of main range. From the James Salmon Collection, Fonds 1231, item 206. Reproduced by courtesy of City of Toronto Archives
Toronto General Hospital,  Nurses’ Home. From the James Salmon Collection, Fonds 1231, item 205b. Reproduced by courtesy of City of Toronto Archives
Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 41 - Miscellaneous photographs
Toronto General Hospital view from the roof of Elizabeth Street School, across to the main building (right) with the Private Patients’ pavilion to the left. Reproduced courtesy of City of Toronto Archives. Fonds 200, Department of Public Works photographs
The Private Patients’ Pavilion 1928-30. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

A large and significant addition to the site was made in the late 1920s in the shape of the new pavilion for private patients. This giant T-plan building providing 321 private rooms, was erected on the south-east corner of the site. It was fitted up in the style of a well-appointed hotel, with soft furnishings unthinkable in a charity or municipal hospital. The aim was to attract patients whose fees would contribute not just to the pavilion but the entire hospital. [2]


  1. C. K. Clarke, A history of the Toronto General Hospital, 1913,  p.134
  2.  J.T.H. Connor, Doing Good: The Life of Toronto’s General Hospital, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000, pp.212-3.