A Century of Caring: Volunteers Celebrate 100 years

We all know the friendly faces of hospital volunteers – they greet us in the lobby, direct us when we’re lost, and always have a helping hand available to push a wheelchair.

But did you know that back in the early 20th century, volunteers also planted vegetables, milked cows, and even sewed hospital linens?

At Lakeridge Health, we’re celebrating a special anniversary that has prompted us to take a look back at our roots. The Association of Hospital Volunteers – Bowmanville turns 100 this year. This 200-strong group of volunteers gives their time to support Lakeridge Health Bowmanville, a community hospital about an hour east of Toronto. Reaching the century mark is a significant milestone for anyone, and particularly special for a group that has filled those years working toward a healthier community.

“Lakeridge Health Bowmanville is known as the ‘little hospital with a big heart’, and we try to live up to that,” explains Diane Harness, Association President.

It all started back in July 1912 when a group of determined women formed as the Ladies’ Auxiliary, with the shared dream of bringing a hospital to their small town.

“The women were quite a force,” says Diane. “They canvassed the town for donations, held rummage sales, and sold roast beef dinners for 35 cents a person at the fall fair.”

A local businessman stepped in and donated a six-acre property with a large house, and the Ladies’ Auxiliary was able to renovate and equip it as a hospital with the money they’d raised. The hospital officially opened in March 1913 – less than a year after the women first came together.

Even though their original goal had been accomplished, the women continued to volunteer their time for the new hospital. However, their roles were much different than what we expect from our hospital volunteers today.
“They planted a large vegetable garden, and also maintained the apple orchards on the property,” says Diane. “They kept chickens and cows and preserved food for over the winter months.”

The volunteers even sewed hospital gowns for patients and work clothing for hospital staff.
Although we no longer expect volunteers to take on these specific jobs, they continue to contribute to their community hospital in many other ways.

“We no longer have to milk cows, but we’re still very active in the hospital,” says Diane.

Today, the volunteers (who are no longer exclusively female) raise money through their New to You Shoppe in downtown Bowmanville, the Treats and Treasures Café and Gift Shop at the hospital’s main entrance, and special events throughout the year. They greet patients and families who arrive at the hospital, and often guide visitors. They lend a helping hand throughout the hospital, from recreation therapy through to the ER.

“We receive compliments all the time on the volunteers’ friendliness and their willingness to answer questions,” says Diane. “People tell us it is wonderful to feel welcomed as soon as they walk in the door. It de-stresses them.”

If the Ladies’ Auxiliary of 1912 could see their hospital now, they would probably be shocked at its growth, new technology and equipment. But they would be proud that the work of their successors has helped fund this progress. And they would be delighted to see that the Association of Hospital Volunteers – Bowmanville is keeping the spirit of community and kindness alive and well at the little hospital with a big heart.