For more than a century, B.C.’s hospital auxiliaries have been giving the gift of time

The volunteers have helped pay for countless medical machines, supplies and new hospitals since 1911

Article content

One of the highlights that sticks out in Zella Rieu’s long and rich life was guarding the beer overnight up on Westwood Plateau, back when it was still a racetrack.

Advertisement

Article content

“We manned the gates at the Westwood track when they had the races up there, and we had a beer garden there at one time,” said the 94-year-old, a hospital auxiliary volunteer at Eagle Ridge Hospital. “That was exciting. We stayed overnight there and guarded everything.”

B.C.’s hospital auxiliaries turned 110 this year, and Rieu started volunteering with the Eagle Ridge Hospital auxiliary more than 40 years ago, before the hospital was even built.

“I saw it when it was nothing, just a patch of ground. They cut down the trees and we sold hot dogs and hot chocolate, and cut the wood up and sold it as firewood.”

Zella Rieu at her home in Port Coquitlam.
Zella Rieu at her home in Port Coquitlam. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

Provincewide, 5,066 volunteers — 256 of them youth — belong to the 70 hospital auxiliaries in B.C., and they put in 680,175 hours in 2020 while raising $8.1 million to donate to health care, despite the COVID-19 outbreak forcing in-hospital sales to be discontinued.

Advertisement

Article content

Life-long bonds have been formed at kitchen tables while boxes and bags were packed and wrapped by auxiliary volunteers. Even newborn babies, long before car seats were imagined, were at one time sent home in a cozy cardboard box supplied by local auxiliaries.

They are hoping to attract more, and younger, volunteers.

“I think most of the auxiliaries are suffering from the same problem,” said Debbie Tracey, a retired nurse who is president of the Chilliwack Hospital auxiliary.

“We do need new members. Our main objective for the next year is recruitment.”

Edna McDonald is 94, but a relatively new auxiliary volunteer in Langley, having joined five years ago, although she has a long history of sewing and knitting for cancer patients, and before that sewing pockets on soldiers’ uniforms back in northern England where she grew up.

Advertisement

Article content

“When I was 16, I saw an ad for seamstresses, and of course at 16 you figure you can do everything,” she said. “So I went in and applied. I had no experience. I’d never ever run a sewing machine.

“But they gave me a job, and my first job was sewing pockets into uniforms. Then it expanded from there.”

She came to Canada in 1948 and, with her seamstress experience, landed a job making children’s wear.

“Which I absolutely loved,” McDonald said. “I worked there until I got married.”

After marriage, she didn’t do much sewing — “Well, I made my own clothes of course” — focusing instead on raising her young son until he was old enough for school, then she joined the workforce again.

She retired at 58 and thought, God willing, she had a long stretch of retirement ahead of her, and she volunteered to make teddy bears to give to traumatized youth.

Advertisement

Article content

It was after her husband of 67 years passed away in 2016 that the idea of joining the auxiliary came to her.

“When I lost him, I had again a big space I had to fill in,” she said. “He had such good care I thought it was payback time. So I went up there and volunteered.”

Her sewing centre is her breakfast nook. The sewing machine almost never leaves the table and she eats dinners off a tray.

“I’m not somebody special, I’m somebody that tried to think things through so I can have a good life and a rewarding life,” she said.

“And that is what I’ve had. I’ve been very lucky.”

gordmcintyre@postmedia.com

twitter.com/gordmcintyre

Advertisement

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

This website uses cookies and asks your personal data to enhance your browsing experience.