by the Sarnia Gazette

(1978) In 1880, there were about 6,000 people living in the Town of Sarnia which was described as a thriving railway and shipping centre having an extensive waterworks and sewerage system, a horse-drawn street railway between Sarnia and Point Edward, a number of industries, including a stove foundry, a woolen factory, a small oil refinery, a sawmill, a hub and spoke factory, a brewery, three weekly and two daily newspapers.

Its citizens owned about a dozen sailing vessels and two large passenger steamers. There were several doctors in the community but serious medical had to be taken by train or over rough roads to London, 60 miles away, because there was no hospital in town.

On July 7, 1890, a public meeting was called in the Town Hall, and a committee appointed to seek subscriptions for a hospital. By early 1895, some $13,000 had been raised and work began. On October 3, 1896, the hospital was officially opened by the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario. The three-storey structure was ready for patients. It had cost about $25,000.

Its total capacity was to be 40 beds, but due to lack of funds, only the south wing was finalized and equipped with a capacity of about 26 beds.

The Hospital was located on a two-acre site which was deeded to the hospital trustees by the Town Council and was formerly the location of one of Sarnia’s first “Grammar” schools. The staff consisted of a superintendent, a head nurse, a janitor, two nurses0in0training, a housemaid and a cook.

Rates for patients in the public ward were $3 per week (in advance), $4 per week for semi-private, and $12 for private (Today’s 1978 rates are a maximum of $165 per day!).

By 1899, beds had been set up in the office, sunroom, linen room and reception room, and still the Hospital could not meet the demand for service. To finish the North Wing, trustees raised $5,000 on their personal guarantees. This gave the hospital 14 much-needed additional beds and better accommodation for the staff. It was now possible to accommodate 40 patients.

For the next 20 years until 1920, the Hospital was operated by a Trust to which all subscribers to the hospital belonged. Numerous improvements were made, but no beds added. In 1920, the Trust voted to turn its assets over to the City and “The General” became a municipality-operated hospital.

The Hospital was admitting about 800 patients per year, and the strain on many facilities was severe. To cope with the increasing student nurse enrolment, a residence was built in the early ‘20s and a central heating plant constructed. In January of 1929, work began on a new south wing, which added about 80 beds to the Hospital (this, incidentally, is the oldest existing structure in the present hospital complex).The combination of old and new met the needs for nearly a quarter-century. By 1952, in a rapidly expanding Sarnia, it was time for a giant step forward.

It was decided to replace the original hospital with a new structure. On January, 1953, the doors that had opened 57 years before were finally closed. The original hospital building was torn down and replaced by the present 5-storey main wing. Official opening of this new hospital was in March, 1954. It contained beds for 266 adults and children and 50 bassinets for newborns and cost about $2,700,000.

Demand for hospital services continued to grow so rapidly that hospital officials knew a further expansion program was not far away. Around 1958, the planning began with emphasis on enlarged quarters for special services, a new ambulance entrance, a psychiatric wing as well as beds for medical and surgical cases.

In November, 1963, 67 years after the first hospital opened, another major expansion was completed at the General in the form of the East Wing. The bed complement was increased to a total of 315 beds for adults and children and 33 bassinets for newborns. It cost about $1,500,000 for construction and additional land.

From then until now, there was little change in physical facilities. However, the new Lambton County Cardiac Care Unit will open early in 1979.