NOTE: A more detailed, documented history of Gabriola's ambulance society, "Gabriola's ambulance society—the first 25 years " by Jenni Gehlbach, has been published in Issue 21 (July, 2009) of SHALE, the journal of Gabriola Historical and Museum Society.

Gabriola's ambulance society—
the first 25 years, 1969-1994

The early settlers on Gabriola were a tough bunch, birthing their babies alone or with a neighbour’s help and surviving (or not) the various illnesses and injuries they suffered while clearing and farming their land. Roads were few and very rough, horses were slow, and reaching the medical services in Nanaimo required the help of those who had boats. Most families used home remedies when sick and rarely if ever saw a doctor or a dentist. Neighbours helped neighbours, and before there were first responders and an ambulance, whoever came upon the scene of an accident or illness would take action. If transportation was needed, someone with a pickup truck would be called to take the patient to a boat and thence to the Nanaimo hospital. Jimmy Rollo recounted:

“In those days, people travelled to Nanaimo by their own boats, or had a ride with someone else who had a boat… There used to be boathouses and stables at the wharf at Descanso…It used to cost 25˘ to go both ways… The southenders would go their way to town, and the northend settlers their way.”

Even after the ferry service started in 1931, with no doctor on Gabriola, getting to doctors or hospital could be a problem. When Bea Meyer went into labour in 1949, the ferry was out of service. Her husband Lou fetched two neighbours who were nurses to help, but after the baby was safely delivered, there was a complication, so they called Dr Blott in Nanaimo, who came straightaway across to Gabriola on a tugboat and was driven to the Meyers’ house by a neighbour. After tending to Bea, the doctor packed her and the baby up and took them back to Nanaimo on the tugboat and drove them to the hospital.

By the 1960s, first aid was well organized. Two phone numbers were used for routine first aid calls: one at the north end of Gabriola and one at the south. Stretchers and blankets were stored with Catherine Coats (Bill’s wife) near the ferry terminal. The Women’s Institute was in charge of a First Aid Station at Twin Beaches, which was the commercial hub of Gabriola’s north end. It was financed through donations and Heloise Johnson, the nurse, tended minor injuries from burns to barnacle cuts with bandages, ointments, icepacks, and 222s. More serious cases were sent to see a doctor or driven to the hospital. Caroline Atkinson performed similar services at the south end of Gabriola—both women being on call for 24 hours a day.

Until the late 1960s, fire fighting and emergency medical care were performed by volunteers as needed, without formal organization and operating on donated money using personal vehicles. When an accident or fire occurred several phones at key points on the island would ring (at Henry Halverson’s store at Silva Bay, Lois Rowan’s house, Sheila Bradley ’s store at Twin Beaches, and the T&T service station owned by Ted Easthom and Ted James near the junction of North and South Roads). Whoever was closest to the emergency would deal with it—including everyone going over to Mudge to fight a fire if necessary.

Gabriola's first official fire service

In 1967 the informal group of volunteer fire fighters on Gabriola acquired an old firetruck from Diamond Improvement District. An official Gabriola Fire Protection District was first proposed that year, and, as always on this island, controversy and rumours of hidden agendas abounded. Increased taxes were feared.

Nevertheless, in May 1968, 35 men and women adopted a constitution for the Volunteer Fire Department. Harrison “Burk” Burkholder was elected as Chief and Gerry Rowan and Ted Easthom as Captains. Volunteeers raised money to pay for and maintain their fire truck, planning to hand it and its equipment over to an Incorporated Fire District if and when it was formed.

But the referendum that summer about creating “Gabriola Fire Protection District” failed. People at the north end of the island voted 147 to 42 in favour but those in the south end voted 73 to 23 against (there were only about 400 people living on Gabriola then). After two years of conflict, amidst petitions and counter-petitions, the “North Gabriola Fire Protection District” was established by plebiscite in August 1969 (187 to 47 in favour).

The new fire district covered only the portion of Gabriola “lying north of a line drawn from the top of Brickyard Hill Road in the West, to the centre of the Island on the Gulf side.” Victoria notified the North Gabriola Fire Protection District that their equipment could not be moved out of their own district (except by the Civil Defence or Department of Forestry), though nothing could prevent individual fire fighters helping to fight a fire outside of their district. Peter Boorer, one of the early volunteers, says that when there was a fire at the south end, they would take the firetruck to the edge of their territory, then “chuck all the gear into the back of a truck” and just go fight the fire unofficially.

Gabriola's first ambulance

The volunteer fire crew was well aware of the need for emergency first aid and for getting the sick and injured quickly and safely to the hospital, so they took action. A letter circulated to Gabriolans early in 1970 by Fire Chief Harrison “Burk” Burkholder said:

“Quite recently the members of the Volunteer Fire Department decided they would like to become the god-fathers of an Ambulance Corps complete with ambulance, oxygen equipment and First Aid equipment, to be at the disposal of the residents of our Island.

No sooner said than done, the Island is now in possession of an Ambulance; not fancy, but it runs. A small group of interested firemen compose the nucleus of the Ambulance Corps, a small group because we do not…have too many men to spare.”

They immediately ordered oxygen equipment, vowing to acquire First Aid equipment as soon as possible. They had borrowed $1000 from CIBC in the name of the Volunteer Fire Department to buy what was needed to equip the ambulance until a new organization could be formed to provide emergency ambulance service to the community.

Gabriola's first ambulance and fire truck in the north end firehall

ambulance & firetruck

The ambulance donated by the firemen was a decommissioned hearse—a 1950 Buick Roadmaster Straight-8, which Burkholder had bought from Norm Nash for $125. Burkholder took out comprehensive vehicle and liability insurance for the Buick on May 7th 1969—for a total premium of $252.

The Straight-8 was creamy white and Bob Castell recalls that it had a purple velvet interior. It looked smart, though being nearly 20 years old it was in pretty rough mechanical shape; but mechanic George Hague soon put it into working order. Burkholder proudly announced:

“The boys on the Fire Department reached into their own pockets and dug up the Ambulance, the licence and the necessary basic repairs… George Hague promised faithfully that our new baby…shall receive tender loving care and shall be watched over like a hen watches over her one chick.”

This Buick made its first emergency call on Gabriola at two in the morning of April 7, 1969 (was it uninsured at this point?) after a man had a heart attack. According to the accident record, he was given nitro pills and oxygen and was: “…taken to Nanaimo in Mr Burkholder’s station wagon by Bob Castell accompanied by wife. Transferred to Nanaimo Ambulance at Ferry Dock Nanaimo".

Right from the beginning, the ambulance service covered the whole island. By the end of 1969, the Straight-8 had made 14 calls to tend four heart attacks, one stroke, a back injury, a car accident with undetermined injuries, a near drowning, two arm injuries, a bee sting, lung trouble, a suspected hip fracture, and abdominal pain with vomiting.

Volunteer Bob Castell recalled that after one emergency call, Ted (“Fats”) Easthom more or less “came straight out of the greasepit” at T&T and into the hearse to pick up a patient, who said that when she saw him she wasn’t alarmed—she thought he was “a big black angel”.

Other volunteer ambulance drivers and attendants in that first year of service were William Thorne, Dan Brake, Heloise Johnson, George Hague, Pam Fairchild, Herb Kittel, Burk Burkholder, Jim Brown, Dmitri Chernoff, George and Dave Mathieson, William Hastings, Gerry Rowan, Charles Hague, Frances MacDonald and Mrs Caroline Atkinson.

Forming the ambulance society GVAC—1969

At a full public meeting on October 15, 1969, Daryl Bate reported on the finances of the temporary ambulance committee and it was decided to form a permanent ambulance society. Its first Board of Directors, elected for a three-year term, was:

President: Robert (Bob) B. Castell, a shipwright who lived on Horseshoe Road
Treasurer: Henry C. Halverson, retired, of Silva Bay
Secretary: Dan S. Brake, a consultant, of North Road
Directors:  George Hague, a mechanic, of North Road ; Frank Hiley, the postmaster, of Berry Point Road; and Mrs Joan Hopkin, a housewife, of Bevmaril Crescent

Lieutenant Bob Castell had taken an active leadership role from the beginning and was to serve on the GVAC Board for 17 years, mostly as Chairman.

By November 28, 1969 the Gabriola Island Volunteer Ambulance Corps (GVAC) received its Certificate of Incorporation, No. 8584, under BC’s Societies Act. The society’s name was not officially changed to Gabriola Ambulance Society until April 11, 1995.

GVAC's 1969 incorporation certificate

incorporation certificate

GVAC’s stated objective was “to provide ambulance service to the residents of Gabriola Island” and its operations were to be “chiefly carried out between Gabriola Island [and] Nanaimo Regional Hospital”. Membership dues were to be $5 per annum per family, entitling them to free emergency ambulance service to the hospital. Non-members would be charged an ambulance fee of $20. The ambulance attendants would all be volunteers.

Gabriola's first doctor—1970

During the early days of the fire and ambulance services on Gabriola there was no full-time doctor on the island though several of the women volunteers were trained nurses and both the Hileys, who operated the post office, were trained midwives. But many GVAC volunteers responding to emergency calls did not have any first aid training and efforts were made to improve this situation. A notice appeared in the June 1969 Sandstone News about St John’s Ambulance First Aid classes to be held at the Community Hall in July for “all interested”.

In November 1970 Dr Leonard J. Williams, a retired chest surgeon, was a guest at a GVAC meeting where he gave suggestions and advice on carrying patients. His retirement didn’t last long and he soon became Gabriola’s first practising physician. He was very highly thought of by the GVAC crew and other islanders.

In 1971 GVAC bought oxygen equipment to be carried in Dr Williams' car for just over $200, $80 of which was donated by the Women’s Institute, who also donated $60 for a first aid kit. As other donations and membership fees came in, other essential items such as forceps were added to the ambulance’s equipment.

Getting a proper ambulance—1972

The old hearse made 21 ambulance calls in 1970, and 18 in 1971. By May 1971 George Hague reported that the good old Buick would need replacing before long, and in December he said the replacement costs might be around $4000, and GVAC's customary fund-raising went into high gear.

George Basso volunteered to bring a load of herring into Degnen Bay after the New Year to raise money as a first step in the new ambulance campaign, and a bottle drive in January raised $335.74. Bob Castell recalls that the T&T service station (demolished in 2009 to make way for a shopping plaza) played a key role in the early ambulance service. Aside from their “grease monkeys” acting as attendant/drivers, the business often carried the tab for the ambulance’s gas, and served as a storage facility during that big bottle drive, apparently filling both sides, with liquor bottles on one side and pop bottles on the other.

The bottle drive was followed by film shows, whist drives, and a round-the-island 19-mile walkathon. Donations were solicited and Bingo was played. By early 1972 they had accumulated $1377.67 in the new ambulance fund and then they heard that Qualicum Volunteer Ambulance Corps had a second-hand ambulance for sale. Castell said: “They phoned us up and said we have this van and we’ve written it off from the books.… If you come up with a cheque you can take it out of here.” In late January 1972 GVAC bought the 1966 Meteor “Amblewagon” for the token price of $840. and put it immediately into service. Nobody remembers what became of the Strait-8.

Sid Skinner, Mike Lee, and Bob Castell were the proud volunteers on duty when the first baby was born in the Amblewagon. George Williamson a later ambulance unit chief, said:

“At year end attendants who had delivered a baby in the ambulance within the past year were awarded golden diaper pins. The babies got the best of the deal though, they got life time ferry passes for being born either on, or en route to, the ferry in the ambulance.”

The Amblewagon made 94 calls by the time BC Emergency Health Services Commission took over the ambulance service in July 1974. Insurance remained one of GVAC’s main expenses. In 1972/3 the comprehensive vehicle and liability insurance premium for the Meteor was $412 pa. They also had to insure their first aid equipment (premium $45) and medical malpractice insurance added another $150. The vehicle insurance did not cover drivers under 25, which limited their ability to use young volunteers—a relief to some because the youngsters had an irritating tendency to overuse the siren.

Communication and community relations in the 1970s

Communication for fire and ambulance call-outs in the early years was managed using the “Tel An” service in Nanaimo, who had a list of the Gabriola volunteers’ numbers to call. Costs were shared 50:50 by GVAC and the Fire Department, but in 1974, due to cost acceleration, GVAC began to pay two thirds of this bill. Also, the highways department recommended carrying a two-way radio on the ambulance so that the ferry (the M/V Westwood in those days) could be on call at all times. In these early years relations with the ferry caption and crew were excellent, and GVAC always bought them each a bottle of liquor at Christmas.

Periodically the board published brochures or notices in the local papers to inform people of the services provided and encourage them to enrol their families for a $5 fee. Membership in GVAC grew steadily and users were extremely grateful for the service. By January 1973, there were 235 members (which was a substantial proportion of the population at that time) and GVAC now charged a $30 fee to non-members for an ambulance call.

Concerned about illness and injuries at job-sites on the island, Jimmy Rowan of Rowan Excavating suggested that non-member workers should be covered if their employer paid the $5 per head fee, and GVAC’s constitution was changed accordingly. It was also decided to try to ensure that a woman attendant was in the ambulance when carrying female patients.

By now all the Gabriola ambulance drivers had their Class 4 licenses and that year the emergencies dealt with by the crews ranged from a severely bleeding nose to a broken leg. Our community should gratefully acknowledge the disruption in ordinary life that all these volunteers willingly suffered. They often had young families as well as their paid jobs. The crew lost wages when leaving their work to make an ambulance call, so in 1973 GVAC agreed to reimburse drivers for their lost wages when they were called off their jobs.

Government takes over—1974

Gabriola’s experience was pretty typical of rural BC before the 1970s, when BC’s emergency pre-hospital medical services were supplied by a mixture of organizations and commercial operators, some operating from funeral homes, some partially subsidized by municipalities, some based with volunteer fire departments, and some existing on paid subscriptions from the public.

As a result of R.G. Foulkes' report “Health Security for British Columbians”, to the BC Minister of Health, the 1974 Health Emergency Act replaced the Ambulance Service Act. This Act established the Emergency Health Services Commission (EHSC), which in turn created the BC Ambulance Service on July 4, 1974. EHSC was mandated to ensure provision of high quality and consistent levels of pre-hospital emergency health care services throughout the province.

Before July 1974, Bob Castell, Bill Hopkin, and Frank Hiley had prepared a brief including a letter from Dr Williams about services needed on Gabriola and a July 30th general meeting was proposed for GVAC members and other Gabriolans to discuss these services with Government representatives.

By the time the government took over Gabriola’s ambulance service, GVAC had made 144 volunteer ambulance calls and had acquired a vehicle and a good supply of equipment. BC Ambulance Service agreed to pay GVAC for its ambulance and the equipment in it, but payment was slow—the money didn’t come until late in 1975. Castell still worried about the mechanical condition of the ambulance but in 1975 EHSC promised that a relief ambulance would be on the next ferry in the event of a breakdown. Knowing that our emergency vehicle was secure, the funds that GVAC had previously put aside for a new ambulance were shifted into the Society’s general fund.

Essential equipment for the ambulance service was ordered through EHSC and paid for by them, but in 1975 GVAC wrote to EHSC complaining that ordered supplies had not arrived and in April they’d had to borrow from their term deposit to pay their bills because EHSC reimbursements for legitimate expenses had not arrived. Despite calls and letters, including a double-registered one, the government didn't pay for the ambulance until November 1975. The government finally paid GVAC $2457.97 for the ambulance and its equipment, and the extra money was placed in a term deposit.

Still a volunteer crew

To Gabriolans, all seemed as before—the ambulance service was still effectively operated by GVAC’s team of volunteers, although they made regular reports to EHCS about all ambulance calls. The BC Government wanted to formally pay the crew, but the crew was adamant that they wished to remain volunteers. They had to submit pay-roll slips with a “reasonable statement” of their hours worked to EHCS, who agreed to send the volunteers’ pay directly to GVAC, to be used for health-related benefits and services to the community. Thus the volunteer drivers and attendants continued to be the major donors to the society for several years.

Meetings with EHSC to discuss training of drivers and attendants established that at that time the crew did not need Class 4 Driving Licenses or Industrial First Aid training. However, this was felt to be unsatisfactory and after attending a paramedics’ training course, Rick Avramenko offered to train the other Gabriola volunteers.

Providing emergency homecare—1975

The 1975 treasurer’s report showed that the volunteer drivers had donated pay worth $2680.02, and GVAC had paid out only $689.02. With major eqipment and vehicles secured, GVAC needed to find a new way to spend its donated funds so as to benefit the Gabriola community in health-related ways. GVAC was asked to look into the possibility of providing emergency homecare nursing.

After studying the Nanaimo service, Kathy Hiley and Pam Fairchild, RN, set up an emergency homecare program under which, on a doctor’s recommendation, all GVAC members were entitled to two hours per day of free homecare service for up to ten days. This service was also to be available to non-member Gabriolans for a nominal fee. A letter was sent to local physicians describing the service available to their patients and saying that the onus was on patients to initiate the request for service through their doctor. This proved very valuable to the community and by mid-1977, GVAC reported that “the ladies have given 236 hours of homecare service".

Other significant donations through the 1970s

In 1976 GVAC donated $1000 to furnish a room at the Kiwanis Lodge in Nanaimo and several smaller donations were made to community members in personal crises. Equipment such as wheelchairs and commmodes was made available for loan and stored at the firehall when not in use.

Health-related equipment including oxygen kits, continued to be donated or bought for loan to Gabriolans, requiring storage, maintenance, and administration.

In 1979, as in other years, GVAC made $500 donations to Variety Club of Western Canada and to the Telethon, and smaller donations to local causes like the Dave Mathiesen Retirement Fund and $25 to “Nanaimo Association for the Mentally Retarded”.

They contributed to the Gabriola community in many ways, such as paying to move the mobile home of a “severely handicapped mother of two” from Descanso Bay to the North Road property of her father-in-law. GVAC’s volunteer drivers shared that cost with the Lions Club, each contributing $1500.

Finding a new doctor—1976

In September 1975 Dr Williams became ill and retired suddenly, and Gabriola was without a doctor again for a year. But by the Fall of 1976 Dr Damian Metten was practising full-time on the island, though he found it hard to make a good living. There were difficulties then, as now, about funding for doctors and health care, and convincing Victoria of the special needs of Gabriola. One of the problems was that many Gabriolans preferred to have a family doctor on Vancouver Island or even in Vancouver, using the local doctor only for emergencies.

Getting Gabriola's first defibrillator—1977

Dr Metten immediately asked GVAC about the possibility of buying a defibrillator, saying that he would investigate the precise cost and type. The following spring Dr Metten advised the executive to pursue the matter with the Ministry of Health and Welfare. In September 1977 GVAC received a letter from the Ministry offering to pay $1000 toward the cost of a $2000 portable defibrillator. The irony of that was that suitable defibrillators cost between $3765 and $4992.

The Lion’s Club offered to help, so that GVAC could buy the superior “Life-Pack #4” and they asked the Ministry to increase their share to two-thirds. GVAC would sponsor Rick Avramenko in upgrading his qualifications to use the defibrillator.

The final cost of the defibrillator was $5355.14, of which $2670.72 was initially paid by the Lions Club. GVAC also received a couple of smaller personal donations toward its cost. The government didn’t increase its share, and when their $1000 arrived, GVAC transferred $500 of it to the Lions Club. The government refused to insure the defibrillator under the ambulance equipment policy, so the Lions Club also shared its insurance costs until 1980, when it became GVAC’s sole responsibility.

Training throughout the 1970s

At the end of the 1970s GVAC was still making great efforts to ensure that the ambulance crew was properly trained. They continued to send them for training, and usually paid the costs in full or part. The drivers all had Class 4 licences, and attendants were expected to attend monthly two-hour first-aid practice sessions that were held on Sunday mornings by Mike Hale at the Fire Hall. This training continued to be on a volunteer basis. GVAC’s Secretary and Treasurer were paid allowances of only $25 per month, which was grossly insufficient for the level of administrative responsibility required.

At the end of 1977, GVAC wrote to ask the Ministry of Health to increase their allowances to $100 each and to reimburse people giving training sessions. The government replied that it based administration allowances on call volume and that Gabriola was therefore allowed only $65 per month total for administration. They said that full-time paid administrative staff would be available only when there were more than 100 ambulance calls per year. However, they agreed to pay for one call-out claim per month for Mr Hale to conduct practice sessions for the crew.

Establishing long-term homecare on Gabriola—1978

The BC government decided to establish a long-term care program province-wide, effective January 1978. GVAC’s executive decided to investigate their status regarding funding for such a program. The Nanaimo Home-Makers Board wouldn’t accept Gabriola as a satellite long-term homecare program, so Gabriola would have to run its own. If it was to be GVAC’s responsibility, they had to set up a separate board with three GVAC board members and three members of the general public. The new group would have to employ a supervisor, a bookkeeper, and a team of home-makers.

In August, GVAC held an emergency General Meeting at Agi Hall to discuss changing its constitution to allow the society to offer long-term homecare. GVAC wanted their current emergency short-term homecare to be kept separate from the long-term service. This notice was sent to The Flying Shingle on August 24:

“The Gabriola Home-makers (subsidiary of GVAC) under the Long-term Care Program have as their Board of Directors the following: Mr J. White (Tony); Miss Leona Lockhart RN, Mr J. Kavanagh, Mrs Joan Hopkin, Mr R. Castell, Mrs K. Hiley."

In the next couple of years, long-term and short-term care became thoroughly established on Gabriola and the crews worked out their mutual responsibilities. The homecare service was very much needed and appreciated, and GVAC got many letters of thanks.

End of the volunteer era—1983

In the spring of 1979 the Ministry of Health notified unit chiefs that BC Housing Commission would be formalizing leases and rent payment, thus becoming responsible for the arrangement with the Fire Department to house and heat the ambulance.

Although Gabriola’s year-round population was now around 2000, there were still too few ambulance call-outs to merit full-time ambulance administrative staff. With a mix of full and part-time crew, it was decided that full-time crew would not be called out in their off-duty hours unless part-time crew were unavailable.

The crew had continued to work as volunteers, their pay going directly into GVAC's account. But by the early 1980s economic times were changing and although many continued to volunteer willingly, some needed paid work. The Government service was again pressing for the crew to be formally paid and in November 1983, Mike Hale reported that GVAC would no longer receive Ministry funds because the drivers and attendants would be paid directly in future.

The question then arose whether the volunteer society should fold, or raise its fees in order to keep going with its health-related work in the community. The discussion was deferred until the January AGM since Christmas was close and a ferry strike was in process. Significantly, they decided against having their usual annual Christmas party for their volunteers that year, and talked of a February pot-luck dinner instead. Truly the end of an era.

At the AGM in January 1984 Mike Lee replaced Mike Hale as Director of Drivers and Hale replaced Frank Hiley on GVAC’s board. Money donated by the volunteer drivers and attendants during 1983 had been $2665.67, and another donor gave $500. The Society had donated $500 to the Variety Club Telethon and had continued to subsdize the homecare program with money and equipment. Members discussed how to best use their accumulated funds, but much depended on whether the increased fees would support their plans.

Establishing the scholarship fund 1984/5

The ambulance society decided to use some of their accumulated donations to set up a scholarship fund to support a local high school pupil wishing to study in a medically related field. In October 1984, the Chairman of the Financial Assistance Society of Nanaimo District Secondary School (NDSS) wrote to GVAC expressing willingness to administer such a trust fund and explaining how it worked.

Their Society maintained a term deposit of pooled principals and paid scholarships out of each fund’s interest, calculated proportionately. By November the Society’s operating expenses seemed to be in decent shape, and they still had two term deposits (invested at 10%) totalling $23,276.29, so Castell’s Board took a specific proposal to the 1984 AGM in November:

“ ‘Gabriola Ambulance Society Scholarship Trust Fund’ will have a principle value of $15,000 and will be administered at no cost by the ‘NDSS Financial Assistance Society’. All monies in this fund will be help in perpetuity and will be open to private and public donations to be considered as part of the principal. The scholarship will depend on interest earnings of the principle. It will be invested in a renewable one-year term deposit....

The scholarship will have a target amount of $1500 split over two years … and will be available to any graduating student in School District 68 entering advanced academic studies in medically related fields. It will be awarded on recommendation of the Scholarship Committee on proof of registration at an accredited institution. Scholarship will be awarded to an outstanding graduating student and consideration will be given to excellence in scholarship, participation, citizenship, and potential leadership.”

This proposal was implemented for that school year.

Ada Burkholder presenting the first Gabriola Ambulance Society Scholarship Award to
Justine Stewart of Nanaimo Senior Secondary School in June 1985

scholarship presentation

In 1989, the whole Nanaimo District School Awards program took a new format and became the “Nananimo Secondary Schools Awards Program”, joining together programs for John Barsby, Nanaimo District, Woodlands, and Wellington Secondary Schools. By 1991 the Scholarship Fund of $15,290 invested at 10% had become inadequate: originally the donated money had easily covered one year’s tuition fee, but now it covered only 50% of University tuition or 85% of Malaspina College fees. In 1992, when the scholsarship fund was $25 short, the Board supplied the shortfall, and continues to do so as necessary.

Continued donations, in and out—1985-1988

GVAC’s work continued to be greatly appreciated by the community, and they still received substantial donations as well as membership fees. In December 1985, GVAC was notified that it was to receive 10% of Elsie Brake’s estate (estimated to be worth well over $500,000). By the end of 1986 the society had received $30,324.66 in donations (including a partial payment from the Brake estate) and another $3688.00 from membership fees.

GVAC put their surplus money in a term deposit at 6.25% and used the interest to donate to worthy causes, staying focussed on health-related causes. In 1985, they gave $1000 to the Firefighters’ Burn Unit, and, in 1986, $500 to the Provincial Ambulance Service Public Relations and Education Society. They continued to enhance health care on Gabriola with purchases such as a new stretcher for Gabriola Medical Clinic.

They continued to receive donations of equipment and money (small and large) and by the end of 1987 they had $55,930 in term deposits. Bob Castell was asked to approach the intensive care department of the Nanaimo hospital to see what their needs were, and in 1988, after final settlement of the Brake estate, GVAC donated two pulse generators ($5000) in memory of Dan, Elsie and Joe Brake. They also donated another $500 to the burn unit. At the 1990 AGM the Society also decided to donate $12,000 to the hospital in memory of Jimmy Rollo and Bill Rowan. The money was intended for a pulse oximeter and a cardiac monitor, but the needs of the hospital had changed and they requested to use it for a stretcher and a blood-pressure monitor instead.

Staffing and training problems in the 1980s

Throughout the 1980s there were difficulties getting enough qualified staff to crew the ambulance, particularly during the day. In 1986 six drivers and attendants had to handle two 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, with two on duty at each shift. More were need and a vigorous PR campaign was recommended. By the end of 1987 they had 12 staff ; five worked days and the rest weekends and nights.

During this period, discussions were also going on between the government and Gabriola Fire Protection District, and they consulted with GVAC about issues such as use of qualified personnel; paying for calls; reimbursement of training costs; age limits; jeopardization of other employment; penalisation for refusal to take a call, and the costs of administration matters such as filing T4 slips. It was felt that a public forum would be desirable before the two societies had a joint Board discussion.

By the end of 1987 several of GVAC’s long-time board members wished to step down, including Bob Castell, who had health problems. Svend Pederson became Chairman of the Board, and Bruce Thomas the Secretary/Treasurer; Mike Lee, Mike Hale and George Williamson were elected board members. George Williamson was the Director of Drivers and the executive hired Betty Castell as the bookkeeper, to receive an honorarium of $100 per month.

At the 1987 AGM the members had discussed again the desirability of splitting GVAC and the Home Support Society into separate entities and eventually Victoria agreed to the split. Relations remained good between the two societies, and GVAC continued to donate equipment for use by homecare clients.

The issue of who should pay for training continued to irritate. Unit Chief Williamson wrote to the Board requesting payment for a course for five crewmembers. At the November meeting Bob Castell recommended that a percentage of these courses be paid by GVAC because the government refused to pay for courses that they did not “recognise”. The Board authorized the $500 payment and also $250 for a reference library for the crew. The government agreed in February 1988 to pay for Industrial First Aid courses.

Locals continued to donate generously. In January 1990 GVAC received a letter from Gabriola Senior Citizens Association stating their wish to donate $300 to GVAC “to enable a volunteer to take an industrial First Aid course in 1990 as we did in 1989.” The Gabriola Seniors continued to support First Aid training in this way. That March, a letter stated that government policy on training bursaries was to pay half on completion of training and the rest after they have served on the crew for 90 days.

At the end of the 1980s, before leaving the Board, Bruce Thomas voiced many of the concerns felt since the government had taken over the service:

“If we do not have sufficient callouts to support fulltime staff why does the government insist on paying drivers and attendants directly? What exactly is the position of the Society at this point? If any of the volunteers on this island decide to quit their services, which residents rely on, who recruits more volunteers—the society? or the government? or the appointed unit chief who is also a volunteer? What is the society going to do with accumulated funds of 14 years? If the Society disbanded who would the people of Gabriola Island depend on for any injury or sickness?”

In 1990 there was again discussion of the confusion due to the society’s official name Gabriola Island Volunteer Ambulance Corps since it no longer had volunteer attendants, and it also served the community in a variety of other ways.

A clinic on Gabriola?—1992/3

In March 1992, at an ambulance society executive meeting, Marolin Dahl of the Home-makers’ Society reported that the Islands Trust had set up a committee to look into the feasibility of having a clinic on Gabriola, and to consider related issues such as health and homecare. It was decided that Bruce McIntyre would represent GVAC on the Community Health Committee. George Westarp was now Chairman of the GVAC board, Nicki Westarp was Secretary/Treasurer, and Charlotte Jacobson and George Williamson were elected Directors.

On May 6, 1992, GVAC wrote a letter to Elizabeth Cull minister of Health about extending the Provincial Health Ministry’s Home Nursing Programme to include Gabriola residents. It noted that 244 patients from Gabriola were admitted to NRGH that year, requiring 1152 bed-days of care. It claimed that 40 of these could have been given home nursing care, saving 190 bed days in hospital. The letter noted that a second doctor was now serving Gabriolans; that there were plans for a Medical Centre; and that palliative care was needed on the island. It attached a letter of support dated May 8 from “Gabriola Medical Committee” signed by Rick Mitchell.

In August 1993 there was an Extraordinary General Meeting of GVAC to discuss the proposed new Health Care Centre on Gabriola and GVAC’s possible involvement. None of the GVAC directors were able or willing to be on the new Board, but they supported the idea of a health centre and wished to be kept informed and to receive the minutes of the new society’s meetings. GVAC did not wish to donate money for land or buildings, or for operating costs of a clinic, but would willingly donate toward the cost of a clinic’s equipment.

A new ambulance building—1993

In 1987, Joyce White’s newspaper article had reported that the ambulance was still housed at #1 Fire Hall, “where attendants go and radio contact is made with the health service and ferry”. She also wrote:

“Our present ambulance now carries a full range of equipment. Bandages and dressings for major and minor wounds. Light metal splints that automatically apply tractions. A full line of stretchers, including portable ones that can be carried into the woods. Back boards to immobilize patients with back injuries. Oxygen equipment. And maternity kits.”

Relations between the ambulance and fire services had always been close, but there were recurring problems about inadequate or inconvenient equipment storage. GVAC needed their own ambulance station, but the firehall trusteees had expressed no interest in co-operating on a joint venture. The ambulance was scheduled to move out of the firehall by July 31, 1991.

In 1990, the Society had been told that it would receive an ambulance station “in a year or so”, but at the December 1990 AGM, it was announced that there would be no new ambulance station at this time due to budget cuts. This was serious. The Firehall offered to build a new station in return for a long lease, but at the December 1991 AGM, the Ambulance Chief reported that another ambulance car (used) was to be provided by the BC government, and that in 1992 the government would build an ambulance station with room for two ambulances. The plans were finally on the drawing board.

The new ambulance station was to be built on Don Powell’s land adjacent to Church Street, to be available to Gabriola’s ambulance service on a twenty-year lease.

The opening of the new ambulance station in July 1993

New station opening

The new building was completed early in 1993 and had its grand opening in July. A mobile lab for blood tests was planned to be at the ambulance station weekly by the following year. In the spring of 1994, permission was granted to store the society’s miscellaneous health-related equipment at the ambulance station, thus saving over $4000 in rent. The only conditions were that GVAC would provide the needed shelving and an ambulance attendant should be on its Board of Directors.

Finally, Gabriola had achieved a professionally staffed ambulance service housed in a dedicated building with government financing. The days of volunteer “black angels” arriving to ferry patients to the hospital in a delapidated hearse were thoroughly over.


This webpage

Created: May 3, 2009, updated January 4, 2014
by Documents that Work