Remembering Helen Saunders 1917 – 2014

Photo Credit: VGH SON Alumnae Archives

Helen Saunders, who many will remember as an Instructor in the OR, died at age 97 in Victoria BC. She wished to stay in her home as long as possible, and this was achieved. I recall climbing up the circular stair case to the OR in the evening to practice draping and other OR procedures in order to be prepared for the next morning. One did not want Helen’s disapproval at not being ready. As one VGH graduate said-“I was scared stiff. She was stern and serious.”  My excellent skill in aseptic technique lasted throughout my entire career, thanks to Helen. In later years, she was rather puzzled by the image she created.

Helen was born in New Zealand and the family traveled internationally before settling in Victoria. She graduated from VGH in 1939 and from UBC School of Nursing with a BASc(N), in 1940.  Following graduation she worked in the slums in Chicago before joining the Army as a nursing sister in 1944.  Following the War she took the new Post Graduate Course in OR Nursing at VGH and then the Teaching and Supervision course at UBC.  She was hired by VGH and taught in the School for 11 years before resigning to obtain a Masters degree in Nursing Education at the University of Washington. Helen moved back to Victoria where she worked at the Royal Jubilee hospital as an In-service Education Supervisor.  She retired in 1975 to care for her parents. While in retirement Helen devoted herself to trying to improve available health care and was an integral contributor to the completion of the new Patient Tower at Royal Jubilee Hospital. She was a caring aunt and was fortunate in having many dear friends and neighbours who watched out for her.  It was said she would love nothing more than for all of us to reminisce with fond memories over a cup of Earl Grey.

Sources: Victoria Times Colonist, Dec 7 2014, Amazing Alumni Stories, UBC School of Nursing website.

By Ethel Warbinek

Verna Huffman Splane Passes Away

It is with deep sadness that we share news of the passing of Verna Huffman-Splane, one of Canada’s most noted nursing leaders and an honorary life member of  BCHNS. Verna died early Saturday, January 10, just weeks after her 100th birthday.

Photo Credit: BCHNS

Verna was an icon of nursing and a mentor to hundreds of nurses all over the world. After a career in public health, including short stints with the World Health Organization, she joined Health and Welfare Canada, becoming Canada’s first federal principal nursing officer in 1968 until 1981; she was the first nurse to be a key advisor to the deputy minister of health. During this time, she married Dr. Richard Splane, a social worker by profession who had served with National Health and Welfare in Ottawa from the 1950s to the early 1970s, becoming widely known as a chief architect of public social policies, such as the Canadian Social Assistance Plan. Their strong interests in international health and social welfare led to work with a number of non-governmental agencies, including UNICEF and the International Red Cross.

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Nov.16,2014 “Nursing on the Battlefield” presentation by Glennis Zilm

I was very pleased to represent the Canadian Association for Nursing History and to attend the presentation of Glennis Zilm on Sunday, November 16th at the Royal BC Museum Neucomb Auditorium.

Glennis’s presentation: Nursing on the Battlefields: Canada’s Military Nurses: 1885-1945 struck a timely cord to the standing room only crowd. Following the presentation Glennis fielded a half hour discussion that included some very poignent stories about relatives and friends who had been nurses in the war and a number of new connections were made and addresses and information exchanged. Glennis’s expertise in this area of historical inquiry skillfully guided the discussion which ended only because she had to get the ferry! What a pleasure!

Margaret Scaia”


June 3, 2014 Royal Columbian Hospital Alumnae celebration

Jessie Middleton was honoured at the RCH Nursing Alumnae mtg on June 3rd. It’s 75 years since she graduated from RCH.

Photo Credit: Jackie Ratzlaff, Photo: Jessie Middleton & Jackie Ratzlaff

Thank you to Jackie Ratzlaff for sharing this information, she tells us that her relationship with Jessie goes back a long way in that Jessie’s husband, Fred, was the school principal in Salmo where Jackie grew up.  Jessie was known as the go-to nurse in that small community, she delivered a couple of babies also.