Nurses Week, and International Nurses Day (May 12), celebrates the roles nurses play in saving lives and improving the health and well-being of our community. For the past few years, the International Council of Nurses has marked this important day with a campaign focusing on “a Voice to Lead.” To commemorate this sentiment, I am dedicating this edition of Yearbook Flip to the voices of nursing students found in the Mack Training School for Nurses (or Mack School of Nurses) yearbook, Mack Data.
Nursing has a vibrant history here in St. Catharines. Our city was home to the first nursing school in Canada. The St. Catharines Training School and Nurses’ Home (later, the Mack Training School for Nurses and the Mack School of Nursing) was established in 1874 in conjunction with the St. Catharines General Hospital (founded in 1865). It operated under the Florence Nightingale System, where, for the first time, nursing was considering a skilled profession. Qualified, experienced nurses trained future nurses in proper hospital and patient care. Throughout its 100-year history, over 1,850 nurses graduated from the Mack School and went on to pursue fulfilling careers. The school officially closed in 1974 when nursing education was brought into the college system.
As a young professional myself, it was quite heartening to flip through the pages of the Mack Data yearbooks and get to know the future nurses who trained at the school. In these pages, students shared photos, fun quips, and inside jokes. They passed along wisdom to incoming students as they expressed the challenges of learning new skills and feeling intimidated by the doctors. They also remarked on their hopes for the future. Some aspired to work in pediatrics, some in the operating room, and others just hoped for a job somewhere. Students came from all over to attend the Mack School, even as far as North Bay, Ontario. These nursing students were real people with interests, hobbies, and senses of humour who were all connected by their shared values of compassion, empathy, and caring for others. As one student writes, “the future is of course uncertain. Our common aim is very clear. In each heart is a picture of a figure in a white uniform, black band on her cap, repeating the Florence Nightingale Pledge.”
Take a look through these pages of the Mack Training School for Nurses’ inaugural yearbook edition, the 1953 Mack Data:
If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Theophilius Mack, the Mack Training School for Nurses, and the careers of its nursing graduates, you can visit the exhibition currently on display at the St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canal Centre.
Sara Nixon is a Public Historian and Public Programmer at the St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canals Centre.