Grenfell Mission Nurses

Nurses working alone in the isolated outports of Newfoundland and Labrador did the work of doctors, dentists, and veterinarians.

Written by Heidi Coombs-Thorne

Posted July 27, 2017

The nurses of the Grenfell Mission of northern Newfoundland, Labrador, and Quebec’s Lower North Shore were the backbone of the philanthropic medical organization. Established in 1892 by British physician Sir Wilfred Grenfell, the organization operated well into the twentieth century, providing medical care to isolated communities.

Prior to Grenfell’s arrival, the region relied on occasional doctors sent north by the Newfoundland government, as well as basic medical services provide by the Moravian Mission. The medical missionary vowed to help “the unhappy souls that were imprisoned in ice for half the year, and cursed with privation and sickness always.”

He developed a network of regional hospitals and nursing stations staffed by highly qualified doctors and nurses from around the world.

Nursing stations were often staffed by nurses alone, who often had to deal with medical emergencies without physicians being present. It was routine for the Grenfell Mission nurses to pull teeth, sew up wounds, save animals, and deliver many, many babies. They also travelled long distances by dog sled, boat, on foot, and, later, by airplane, to see their patients.

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The complete article by Heidi Coombs-Thorne appeared in the August-September 2017 issue of Canada’s History magazine.

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