Former General Hospital, Forest Road
A turreted, castle-like building waits over on Forest Road behind the Miller Centre.
This was the Queen Victoria Wing of the old General Hospital, built as an addition in 1897 and named for the queen’s Diamond Jubilee year, celebrating 60 years of reign. Janet Story, retired nurse and archivist for the Lillian Stevenson Nursing Archives and Museum, tells me two buildings remain on the site of the old General Hospital complex: the Victoria Wing building, and the original British Military Hospital structure from 1851.
One of the oldest buildings in St. John’s, the Military Hospital was constructed by the same workers who gave us the Anglican Cathedral, the Basilica, and the Colonial building. In 1871 the Military Hospital was converted into a civilian hospital and became the General Hospital, shortly before the Riverhead Hospital, formerly on the site of Victoria Park, shut down in the 1880s due to public health concerns.
Before the creation of the Victoria and Alexander wards in the Victoria Wing, only men had been admitted. Newfoundland women, spearheaded by the Cowan Mission, raised funds for the construction. Some of the province’s first female doctors worked there, and the wing also housed our first operating theatre.
Story says that Agnes Cowan was the matron of the General Hospital for about 20 years, and “in that kindly way of women nurses” the mission was formed in her honour after her death in 1893.
The General Hospital was moved to the Health Sciences Centre in the 1970s, and some of the remaining buildings became facilities of the Miller Centre. Eventually the province sold the unique Victoria Wing and Military Hospital buildings to Myles/Leger Developers for $1, and much of the area has been slated for townhouse development with the buildings to be restored. The Lillian Stevenson Nursing Archives and Museum, formerly in Cowan Ward which closed in 1997, is now located on the fourth floor of the Miller Centre.
— Erin McKee
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