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YOU SHOULD KNOW: About The History Of St. Paul’s (And Yes, It’s Totally Haunted)

by Stevie Wilson | Though we live in a city steeped in heritage, where rich historical artifacts are scattered about our daily scenery, it’s easy to forget how lucky we are to live exactly where we do. If you’re ever taking a stroll down Burrard St. or happen to take a tumble whilst scoping the area, check out St. Paul’s Hospital a little closer. In addition to being a state-of-the-art health care facility, the institution is a unique landmark and point of reference in the study of what makes our city so awesome.

The gold rush at the end of the 19th century resulted in a huge population influx for the Vancouver area. Luckily for those frost-bitten gold-diggers, two members of the Montreal-based Sisters of Providence had recently set up shop on seven lots of property bordering what were then the city limits (purchased for a whopping $9000), and they were ready to treat their wounds. A 25-bed hospital was completed in 1894, but with a growing population and a steady rise of carriage accidents (one supposes), St. Paul’s expanded into a prestigious 50-bed facility just a decade later. The opening of a Nurse’s School in 1907 provided staff and resources for care when the hospital reached 500 beds in 1931. During the two World Wars, it was a primary care facility for the critically wounded.

As the sister hospital to St. Mary’s in New Westminster (whose 2004 closure saddened more than a few staff and heritage-lovers in the area), St. Paul’s was founded on principles of compassionate care and Catholicism, and would develop into one of the most modern and technologically-advanced hospitals in the province (until just a few years ago, prayer was recited twice daily on the overhead speakers in the hospital – how’s that for heritage preservation?). It was the first hospital in BC to use modern x-ray techniques and a standardized patient care records system, cementing its place in the community as a center for diagnostic research and treatment.

The construction of two additional towers in 1983 and 1991 further equipped St. Paul’s with the resources needed to become a pioneer in major treatment fields, including heart disease, kidney disease, nutritional disorders, the care of the disadvantaged, and HIV treatment (AIDS Vancouver was serendipitously founded the same year that St. Paul’s admitted their first AIDS patient).

Registered Nurse Kiley Moore-Dempsey praises the hospital for its warm atmosphere:  “It’s different than other hospitals I’ve worked at. Nobody is turned away from St. Paul’s and no judgments are made about people’s lifestyle choices. It feels more welcoming.” That being said, she adds that “there are definitely spirits living in that hospital. Every nurse has their ghost or spirit stories to tell from working there, especially during night shifts. I definitely have a few that freak people out. That’s part of St. Paul’s charm I guess.”

St. Paul’s has emerged as a leading provider for cutting-edge health care. Even if your name isn’t followed by the letters MD, RN, or LPN, it doesn’t hurt to be mindful of the awesome facilities and history this city has available for you. But if it does hurt, St. Paul’s is ready to help you out.

Images courtesy of the Vancouver Archives and UBC Library Collection


Stevie Wilson is an historian masquerading as a writer. After serving as an editor for the UBC History Journal, she’s decided to branch out with a cryptic agenda: encouraging the people of Vancouver to take notice of their local history and heritage with You Should Know, a Scout column that aims to show you the things that you already see. Just nod your head and pretend you’re paying attention.


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  1. What are some of the stories… Ghost stories I spent the better part of last year in there…always got creeped out in the old sections while walking in the older sections