A passion for our past

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The artifacts currently on display at the St. Joseph's Hospital exhibit space each tell a story, as do the efforts taken to preserve them.

St. Joseph’s history is rich with the experience of compassionate care, innovative research and teaching the next generation of care providers. This illustrious legacy is woven into the fabric of St. Joseph’s and tangible in the artifacts on display in the current exhibit of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Nursing School Artifact Collection in the heritage exhibit space at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Noelle Tangredi turning the hand crank of a vintage centrifuge, standing in front of shelves of archived medical equipment
Noelle Tangredi, St. Joseph's volunteer keeper of the historical artifacts, operates a circa 1900 centrifuge, a device that separates the components of blood samples using centrifugal force. It has remained in near perfect working order.

From needle-sharpening stones to portable electrocardiographs, the collection highlights the painstaking and pioneering efforts of St. Joseph’s physicians, scientists and nurses to put their patients first. Among the items hinting at bygone times is a complicated metal intubation set (circa 1915), which required assembly and sterilization prior and after use, and a circa 1930s drying oven used to remove moisture from chemicals during the lengthy process of medication preparation.

a set of historical medical tools used for intubation, all placed in a metal box

 
The labourious efforts to ensure the wellbeing of the sick are evident not only in the artifacts themselves but in the care taken with these artifacts and their stories.

Noelle Tangredi holding a vintage microscope in a room full of historical artifacts at St. Joseph's Hospital
Noelle Tangredi shows off the microscope that belonged to Dr. Frederick Luney, who set up St. Joseph's first pathology and biochemistry lab in 1927, and went on to become a pioneer in blood transfusion and typing techniques.

“There have always been people interested in preserving the history of St. Joseph’s over the decades,” says Noelle Tangredi, an eLearning developer and graphic designer with Organizational Development and Learning Services. “I happened to find out about boxes full of artifacts in storage and made it my mission to get them organized and have a way to share them with the staff and community.”

Noelle and a few other employees – now retired – worked on getting an exhibit space approved and display cabinets purchased, as well as a proper storage and workspace for the collection. The first exhibit opened in April of 2016 and since then, Noelle, a long-time employee of St. Joseph’s, has become the sole caretaker of the collection. 

A voluntary labour of love born of a passion for preserving the past, Noelle often works on the collection outside of work hours. She receives invaluable assistance from Mary Kosta, Congregational Archivist for the Congregation of The Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada, along with Mary’s practicum students, to clean, catalogue, photograph, research and properly store the artifacts. 

Since older documents and photographs require a special environment to be maintained, they become part of the congregation archives. The rest of the artifact collection is housed in a storage room at St. Joseph’s Hospital, which also contains a work area. A few times a year, Noelle curates an exhibit using the artifacts and research for her inspiration. 

Noelle Tangredi, wearing white gloves, carefully placing a vintage doctor's bag onto a shelf full of historical artifacts
Noelle Tangredi carefully returns a vintage doctor's bag to its home in the archives room where all the artifacts are stored when not on display.

“Our collection only contains artifacts that have a direct connection to St. Joseph’s Hospital or St. Joseph’s Nursing School,” explains Noelle. “Many of the collection items come from donations from the community, but some come from our Environmental Services or Facilities Management teams having found things left behind in treatment rooms or offices.”

a top view of a vintage ECG machine

One such artifact is a portable electrocardiograph, recovered from a closet in an empty office at St. Joseph’s Hospital. This device, housed in a small wooden cabinet, dates back to the 1950s and creates a printout of the patient’s heartbeat. The device inscription indicates it was developed by an American manufacturer for Dr. B.L. Hession, a Western University graduate and St. Joseph’s first post-war specialist in internal medicine. Dr. Hession was Chief of Medical Staff from 1956 to 1959 and continued teaching and seeing patients until his retirement in 1973. A lecture room was later named in his honour, and The Dr. B. Lloyd Hession Memorial Fund Award continues to be dispersed by St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation to a resident in internal medicine of high academic standing who demonstrates exceptional ability in education and leadership.

A tool with a wooden handle and broken metal blade extending from the side of the handle and a conical metal end
The cork borer sharpener was used to hone the cutting edges of the cork borer tool.

Another interesting find is the cork borer sharpener – an instrument used to maintain the sharpness of laboratory instruments called cork borers. A cork borer was a metal tool for cutting a hole in cork or rubber to insert glass tubing, or for cutting and making tube or bottle stoppers. The cork borer sharpener was used to hone the cutting edge of the borer to facilitate slicing through cork or rubber.

Not all artifacts are used to provide care or conduct research. The exhibit also features a set of postcards and notes from former patients and residents of St. Joseph’s Hospital from the first half of the twentieth century.
A note on the back of a framed print speaks of a young patient’s harrowing battle with illness in the hospital prior to World War II. The patient was only 10 years old when she was admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1936 for strep throat and rheumatic fever. She spent nearly a year recovering at the hospital under the care of Dr. Hubert Loughlin, a well-respected paediatrician, who was Chief of Paediatrics from 1948 to 1963. The patient's sentiments about her illness and her “year spent in bed” are noted in ink.  

a hand printed note on the back of a framed print, reflecting the sentiments of child's lengthy illness: "A terrible experience for a ten year old."

“A terrible experience for a 10-year-old. Missed a lot of school, which I loved. Perhaps made me a special person, as I came through it all.”

Those coming to St. Joseph’s Hospital for a medical appointment are invited to view the history of St. Joseph’s on display while they are in the building. The exhibit space can be found in Zone A, Level 1, off the main corridor closest to Richmond Street. 

Have you uncovered any intriguing artifacts or stories related to the history of St. Joseph’s or the St. Joseph’s Nursing School? Interested in donating to the collection? Please email Noelle.Tangredi@sjhc.london.on.ca.

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