On April 29, 2022 the Ashcroft Hospital and Health Site celebrated its 50th anniversary. The milestone went unnoticed and unremarked by Interior Health, which now operates the site.
The Ashcroft and District General Hospital — as it was originally known — is the second hospital to serve Ashcroft and the surrounding area. The first hospital was the Lady Minto, which was officially opened on Aug. 8, 1913 and was located on the site of what is now the Ashcroft village office on Bancroft Street.
That hospital had been a long time coming. Ashcroft had come into being in 1885, following completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the presence of a CP depot and station meant that the town soon became a major centre in the area, with shops, hotels, restaurants, and more. When the B.X. Express Company moved its headquarters to Ashcroft from Yale in 1886, the town soon found itself with blacksmith shops, livery and feed stables, a saddlery, and more.
As the town grew, so too did calls for a hospital to serve not only Ashcroft, but the vast district around it. The Ashcroft Journal did not start publishing until 1895 (as the B.C. Mining Journal), but the need for a hospital became a regular feature of the paper starting in 1897.
It was not until 1911, however, that the push for a hospital really gained traction, thanks to Dr. George Sanson. He had been appointed to Clinton in 1889, and in 1911 moved his practice to Ashcroft, where he was the medical health officer for the region. Sanson wrote to the Journal to advocate for a hospital, and in March 1912 the first Board of Trade (a precursor to Chambers of Commerce) was organized in Ashcroft. At its first meeting, the most urgent business discussed was the need for a hospital, and a hospital committee was formed.
Shortly after this meeting, B.C. Premier Richard McBride was in Ashcroft, where he was presented with a “persuasive” petition outlining the need for a hospital. It read in part “We consider it absolutely imperative that some provision be made immediately to provide a hospital in the town. There is no hospital north of Ashcroft until Quesnel is reached, 220 miles away, and all the district south of Quesnel would be more or less served by a hospital at this point.”
In September 1912, a delegation from Ashcroft went to Victoria to again make the case for a hospital, taking with them plans for the proposed facility. Their efforts were successful, and they came away with provincial funding of $6,000; a further $2,000 was quickly raised by donations from residents in and around Ashcroft. Robert Stoddart, a builder in Ashcroft, was the successful bidder for the contract, and work started in spring 1913.
On July 4, 1913 the first meeting of the board of directors of the Ashcroft and District General Hospital — as it was originally called — was held. The directors affiliated the hospital with the Victorian Order of Nurses, which agreed to make a perpetual loan, without interest, of $2,000, “provided the hospital always remained affiliated to the order and that its name be the ‘Lady Minto Hospital of Ashcroft, B.C.’”
Lady Mary Minto was a well-known philanthropist, and the wife of Gilbert John Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, 4th Earl of Minto, who was Canada’s Governor-General from 1898 to 1904. She instituted the building of cottage hospitals in remote areas across the country; one of them was the Lady Minto Hospital on Salt Spring Island, which still exists and operates under that name.
A new wing was added to Ashcroft’s Lady Minto Hospital in 1938, which included more rooms, nurses’ quarters, radiology and lab facilities, and a new pediatrics ward. Another major addition was officially opened in May 1956. Built at a cost of $70,000, it contained 14 new beds, a children’s ward, and $5,000-worth of new equipment.
Development of the Bethlehem Copper and Lornex Mines at Highland Valley in the 1960s brought more people to the area, and in 1971 work began on a new hospital in North Ashcroft. It officially opened on April 29, 1972, with hundreds of people touring the facility, which included an operating room and an obstetrical room.
When the new hospital opened, the Lady Minto was left empty. In May 1981 the original part of the hospital was destroyed in a fire, thought to have been caused by arson. The 1956 wing sustained only minimal damage and was able to be salvaged; today it houses the South Cariboo Elizabeth Fry Society and the Ashcroft/Cache Creek Seniors’ Centre. Shortly thereafter, new offices were constructed on the site of the original Lady Minto Hospital, and in 1987 the Village of Ashcroft moved into the space, which now serves as the municipal building.
Fittingly, the downstairs portion of the village office is now the headquarters of the Ashcroft and District Health Care Auxiliary, which was formed in 1913 to support the Lady Minto Hospital. Its thrift store — located on the site of the original hospital — is run by dedicated volunteers, who raise tens of thousands of dollars each year to continue to support the current hospital, as well as health care for Ashcroft and area residents.