A caring look back at nursing homes after the Second World War

(First of three articles)

Herman Thorvaldson
Herman Thorvaldson

After the Second World War, the focus turned to domestic issues back home, a major one being the care of the elderly. There already were a few long established non-proprietary (faith based) “nursing homes” in the city, such as Holy Family and Sharon Home, and also Deer Lodge, a military convalescent hospital for veterans.

As well, there were several private licenced nursing homes that were large private homes, many of them being owned/operated by nurses or retired nurses. Although these homes, housing anywhere from 10 to 16 residents, were licenced by the municipal government, they, like the non-proprietary homes, received no government funding or subsidy. All capital and operating costs were managed with what little rent the residents were able to pay.

There was minimal entry criteria or government approval needed to accept a resident. The aged and infirm, many wheelchair bound or bedridden, and the terminally ill were cared for around the clock by dedicated registered nurses, licenced practical nurses and nurses’ aides. The staff more often than not engaged in back-breaking work due to the fact that these homes had staircases and primitive, or no, lift/hoisting devices.

In the mid-1960s the provincial government under the leadership of Premier Duff Roblin recognized the great need to improve the system and started to provide approval and incentives for the construction of newer and larger buildings, such as Beacon Hill Lodge, Conquist and Heritage Lodge.

Thorvaldson nursing homes at Mayfair Place from 1959-1980.

Family purchases Mayfair Place homes
A new government financial assistance program was now in place – “means tested”, whereby the residents paid in accordance with the level of their incomes. As well, the nursing homes now started to receive a subsidy for each resident cared for. Though it was a step in the right direction, the subsidized rate was minimal, providing amounts as low as $3.75 to $5 per day per resident to the nursing home (Rates are currently up to approximately $60 to $70 a day.) This program was accessed through the Manitoba Health Services Commission.

In June, 1959, my parents and I purchased from my aunt, Ruby Thorvaldson Couch, two riverfront houses located at 5 Mayfair Place and 7 Mayfair Place, and opened the Thorvaldson Nursing Homes.

Ruby, a registered nurse, had opened a care facility in 1932 on Sharpe Blvd. in St. James, moving to Mayfair Place in 1940. These three-storey homes with 38 residents were connected by walkways and located at the foot of the Donald Street bridge overlooking Mayfair Park.

It became clear in those early days that, despite being licenced by them, the support received from the municipal government was virtually non-existent. Therefore by the end of 1959, the handful of privately run nursing homes formed the Nursing Home Association of Manitoba in order to create a group where ideas and support would be offered to each other and to provide a unified front for dealing with the municipal and later provincial government.

They were difficult times, and many homes struggled to make ends meet. I held the position of chairman of the association from 1962 to 1978. (It now goes by the name, The Long Term and Continuing Care Association of Manitoba.)

In the mid-seventies the nursing home associations across the 10 provinces came together to form the Canadian Long Term Care Association. I was fortunate to represent Manitoba and be one of the 10 representatives at the inaugural meeting here in Winnipeg. (The association is now called Canadian Alliance for Long Term Care).

The challenges were many and daunting
Our nursing homes operated from 1959 to 1980. (We continue to care for the elderly as a “lighter” level intermediate care facility on Stradbrook Ave.) As a family, we all contributed to the daily operations. There were many happy times with the residents: special events, birthdays and Christmases, along with the frequent musical times when my mother Lilja, the “matron” of the home, played the piano and sang for the residents. However, the challenges were constant and daunting, having to maintain the facility at acceptable standards and provide good care to the patients. A day often seemed endless.

Thinking back on those early years, most of the reward was in the feeling that, despite the hardships, we were making a difference to those who were at a vulnerable stage of life. We were able to provide a safe and caring environment for our elderly and felt our services were greatly appreciated by the hundreds of residents and their families over the years.

Herman Thorvaldson is president and owner of Thorvaldson Care Center.

2 thoughts on “A caring look back at nursing homes after the Second World War”

  1. Yes, those were the days when nursing homes really gave good care to the elderly. Unfortunately, things have really changed and elderly persons often suffer in some nursing homes with not enough staff or medical personnel. My mother was one that did suffer and this led to her untimely death. The current government has done very little to improve conditions for the elderly in these nursing homes.

  2. I lived in the Nightingale and the Mayfair Nursing Homes in the 50’s. My mother, an R.N. ran them both. One after Ruby Couch and her boys left. Interesting to read a bit of personal history.

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