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North Battleford, SK

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Doctor's Home

Fi Smythe
October 2012

WDM North Battleford Doctor's Home

The home of Dr Joseph Jules Hamelin, one of the first doctors to practice in North Battleford, stands at the Western Development Museum.

Dr JJ Hamelin was born on a farm in St Polycarpe, Quebec, in 1882, into a family with six boys and three girls. Family stories record that at age five, because his mother was a school teacher, he already knew how to read and write. At age 11, he entered Rigaud College. Of 30 boys who began at the College in 1893, only seven obtained their degrees. Jules was one of the seven.

Upon leaving college, Jules yearned to be a doctor, choosing to study medicine at Laval University in Quebec City. The four-year medical course was followed by three years of internship. He graduated as Dr. J.J. Hamelin, BM (Bachelor of Medicine), MD (Doctor of Medicine), CM (Chirurgiae Magister – Master of Surgery).

Hamelin moved west to Montmartre, Saskatchewan. For two years he was the only doctor in the area, ministering to French, Scottish, Irish, Belgian and German immigrants, spanning a distance from Regina to Brandon. In a buggy in the summer and in a sleigh in the winter, he visited patients across this broad area. Stories claim that he and his redoubtable horse formed a great team, crediting the horse for always managing to find the way home whatever the weather.

During the Christmas season in 1911 Dr Hamelin visited relatives in North Battleford, a town of 5000 people at that time. Apparently he liked the friendly people of the area so much that he decided to stay.
In 1911 North Battleford was in the middle of a boom. The town had electricity and running water. Dr. Hamelin opened his office in the Post Office building on Main Street. The only other doctor was Dr Jackson. The town did not yet have a hospital so Hamelin asked Father Paille, pastor of the local parish, for permission to allow the Sisters of Providence to open a hospital. In response, Sister Heliodorus and two other nuns arrived and turned an unoccupied rectory into a 20 bed hospital. Next Dr Hamelin approached the Mayor of North Battleford to set aside land for a proper hospital. In 1911 the foundations for a hospital were laid; construction began in 1912. By 1913 the 70 bed Notre Dame hospital had been completed.

There was not an immediate groundswell of patients. Women still preferred to birth their babies at home. The small population seemed healthy and accident-free. In time people began to realize the importance of hospital care during illness. Eventually extra beds were lined up in the halls to accommodate the sick and injured. The growing population pushed the capacity to 170 beds. Dr Hamelin was associated with the hospital for 43 years and during this time was the pioneer and guide of the hospital’s continuing development and expansion. Dr. Hamelin found it hugely satisfying as medical and surgical procedures and discoveries progressed.

The influenza outbreak in 1918 tested the mettle of Dr Hamelin. Many people in the city and area died, especially from September to December. Doctors worked around the clock to treat the sick, but there was no effective treatment for this strain of flu. A temporary hospital was set up in the Beaver Hotel to help deal with the overflow of patients from Notre Dame.

The Great Depression lasted from 1929 until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. While it hit Canada hard, it was especially devastating on the prairies where farmers were affected by drought and the collapse of wheat prices. For doctors, while their workload didn’t alter, their pay dropped dramatically as patients had no cash to pay for treatments.

Dr. Hamelin was civic-minded. He was an alderman of the city for 11 consecutive years, from 1924 to 1934. He was President of the Canadian Legion in North Battleford. He was elected President of the Saskatchewan College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1949, and awarded the Canadian Efficiency Decoration.

He completed 50 years of service as a prairie doctor in 1955, retiring to Vancouver where he died on February 24, 1956 at age 74.

His former home at 1202 - 99th Street was donated to the Western Development Museum by the Pioneer Home Committee of the Association Culturelle Franco-Canadian (The French Canadian Association). It had been owned by SaskTel since 1960 and used as the head office of district plant operations, until the building was offered to the Association. It was gratefully accepted and the home moved at a cost of some $3,000 to the WDM Heritage Village in July 1970.

No furniture remained from when Dr Hamelin lived in the house, so an appeal went out by Louis Bandet, Chairman of the Dr Hamelin Pioneer Home Committee, requesting age-appropriate furniture from the French Canadian Community with which to furnish the home. Bandet himself donated several artifacts to the home, which rapidly filled with furnishings.

The house at the Museum stands as a testament to the pioneering spirit of a prairie doctor who devoted his life to his community and to the wellbeing of others. Today the house requires significant work to preserve it and to preserve the memory of this remarkable man. Visit your Western Development Museum to discover, understand, appreciate and enjoy the home where a stalwart pioneer doctor once lived.

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Heritage Village Doctor's Office and Drugstore 

About the WDM Collection