Mount Carmel: A clinic with a cause

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/01/2021 (618 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In the early 1900s, Winnipeg threw open its doors to immigration. There was a great need for manpower to help established businesses and factories survive and grow.

Thousands settled in the north end of town, where cheap housing was plentiful. However, in spite of a growing, vibrant community, affordable health care quickly became an urgent problem. Mount Carmel Clinic tried to fill that need.

I was four years old when I first visited Mount Carmel Clinic. Established in 1926, it had been operating for 12 years and proved to be a beacon of light in the city’s North End. It became the “go-to” place for Jewish newcomers.

File photo by Jesse Boily / Winnipeg Free Press Fenil Vekaria (left) and Sherri Derksen helped screen people before getting tested for COVID-19 at Mount Carmel Clinic last April.

In her biography for the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, Laura Richman recalls that when she worked at the Selkirk Avenue location as an X-ray technician in 1949, the facility was already open to the needs of the general public. Everyone was welcome.

Richman, now a senior, remembers training as a student tech on a primitive machine. The clinic’s goal was to X-ray all incoming immigrant children and the small facility buzzed with increased staff, nurses and doctors. 

As the population grew, the clinic transformed from a walk-in to a major community resource. People were able to take advantage of an amazing array of social and health services. Above all, it became a venue where people could feel welcome, understood and accepted, whatever their economic situation. The counselling and health programs proved to be a boon for this part of town, where many street people, homeless and low-income families lived. 

Available services are pregnancy counselling, a birth control program as well as a day nursery that serves thousands of people. When the clinic began to focus on pregnant girls who needed a home in order to finish their education, Sage House was born.

In 1982, after 10 years of negotiation with various levels of government, the clinic moved into a newly-built sprawling complex at 886 Main St. It transformed into a day hospital, with a dental clinic and a pharmacy that offered medication on credit.

Anne Ross was hired as a nurse, bookkeeper and director in 1950. She knew area residents needed help, so she tramped in and out of the Point Douglas community looking for needy immigrant families. Ross took into consideration environment, economics, housing as well as emotional and health needs. She envisioned a novel approach which covered all aspects of a struggling family’s life.

The longtime medical supervisor, who passed in 1998, directed the clinic for 38 years. In a 2008 Winnipeg Free Press article, Ross was described as “part Mother Theresa and part Dragon Lady”.  She never backed down from a fight with the many vicious  health care critics of the day, who couldn’t understand her altruistic views. In the face of this negative barrage, the clinic director would simply grin and keep asking for the needed funding. In spite of her charming smile and demeanour, Ross became known as a feisty social activist.

Mount Carmel has became a clinic with a cause, and continues to carry on the legacy of a unique and caring woman, who saw a community in desperate need and decided to do something about it.

Freda Glow is a community correspondent for the North End.

Freda Glow

Freda Glow
North End community correspondent

Freda Glow is a community correspondent for the North End.

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