With this book, award-winning journalist and author Marty Gervais dips into the diaries, private letters and documents left behind by the nuns who founded Windsor, Ontario’s Hôtel-Dieu Hospital. He emerges with stories that will surprise you. Gervais recalls the tough 19th century days when the hospital nuns went begging in the streets of Windsor to survive, the visits by whisky merchant Hiram Walker and the anti-French bishop of London, Ontario who threatened to send the nuns back to Montreal. He delves into tales of the diseases that gripped the community, like typhoid, smallpox, polio and the Spanish Flu that took more lives than the First World War. He chronicles tales of devastation, like deadly gas explosions and the 1946 tornado that ripped through the city. There are amusing tales, too, like the sisters waking up at dawn—not for prayer—but to watch the televised royal wedding of Britain’s Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.
The women who ran this hospital were far ahead of their time. As Luann Kapasi, Senior Communications Officer for Hôtel-Dieu, says these first five francophone sisters “made history” in Windsor when they purchased six vacant lots on Ouellette Avenue as the chosen site for the city’s first hospital. She writes: “They were here less than a month when construction began on October 14, 1888, to build a three-storey hospital with a capacity of 100 beds. That was 125 years ago. As the sisters saw the health care needs of the community change over the years, they endeavored to meet those needs—much the same as the Boards of Hôtel-Dieu Grace and Windsor Regional Hospital are doing today.”