Saving the World One Child at a Time

Friday, 27 October 1894 - Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Last week I visited the Lakeside Home for Little Children on Toronto Island. It is a summer retreat for convalescing patients of the institute I recorded today. The Victoria Hospital for Sick Children, which opened two years ago, and is a an impressive state of the art hospital with 320 beds. Quite a far cry from its very humble beginnings.

Victoria Hospital of Sick Children
Back in April of 1875, a 31-year-old housewife named Elizabeth McMaster stumbled upon the death statistics for Toronto. She noticed half of the deaths were children. This was common in the Victorian Age, but McMaster decided to do something about it. Many of these deaths might have been prevented if the children of poor families could have access to medical care. London had a children’s hospital. Why couldn’t Toronto?

Elizabeth McMaster
McMaster started a committee of eleven like-minded women, and collected enough funds to open the Hospital for Sick Children. They rented a modest house and installed six iron cots. The ladies volunteered as nurses, and McMaster also doubled as the manager, public relations, bookkeeper and anything else that was needed.

McMaster had her work cut out for her. Although she encouraged parents to pay what they could, it was never enough to cover costs. She didn’t want to turn away any child just because their parents were struggling. She went about the community begging for money to save the children.

Their first patient was a scald victim named Maggie. By the end of the year 44 children had been admitted and 67 had been treated as outpatients. The next year they moved to a larger house with 16 beds. Twice more they moved to larger buildings, but what they needed was a real hospital.

McMaster’s enterprise came to the notice of John Ross Robertson, publisher of the Evening Telegram. He became chairman of the Hospital's Board of Trustees and used his clout and own money to build Canada’s first pediatric hospital. McMaster handed over the command to the committee and earned her certification as a registered nurse (a rather new profession) so she could take over as Lady Superintendent.

I searched for McMaster but found she had left. Apparently she and Robertson had irreconcilable differences. Too bad. I was told she was now working in an American hospital. Still Elizabeth McMaster shall be remembered as the founder of the Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. The Victoria part never stuck. Instead it will keep the name McMaster gave it, although it will one day go by the nickname “SickKids.”

Lakeside Home for Little Children
The Hospital for Sick Children will not only become one of the leading pediatric hospitals in the world but also one of the leading research hospitals after it teams up with the University of Toronto. Although the first research laboratory won’t be set up until 1918, the hospital has already been on the forefront of innovation. A few of it’s milestones are or will be:
1883 - Opens Canada’s first a fresh air sanitarium for tuberculosis on Toronto Island (Lakeside Home for Little Children.)
1892 - First hospital to open a school for its patients
1899 - Opens first children’s Orthopaedic Shop to provide splints, braces and other specially designed prosthetic appliances.
1908 - Installs the first milk pasteurization plant in Canada
1919 - Pioneers blood transfusions for children
1921 - In partnership with University of Toronto, discovers insulin.
1930 - Invents Pablum to combat infant malnutrition
1934 - Demonstrates the value of enriching milk with vitamin D as a cure for rickets.
1951 - Develops a heart-lung machine.
1957 - Performs first Innominate Osteotomy, a surgical procedure to repair congenital dislocation of the hips.
1963 - Develops the surgery called the Mustard Procedure used to help correct heart problems in blue babies.
1979 - Invents continuous passive motion for use in reconstructive joint surgery
1987 - Identifies the gene responsible for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, followed by the discoveries of countless genes causing other diseases.

Elizabeth McMaster set out to help the poor children of Toronto. What she started will one day help sick children all over the world. In trying to save hundreds, she will save billions.

website for Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)

Commercial for the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children

SickKids--Together We Will

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