Founded by Country Women – Named for a Queen
With the forming of the British Columbia Women’s Institute committee dedicated to establishing a hospital in Vancouver for the treatment of children with special needs, the idea was not long in taking root on Vancouver Island. At the second annual meeting of the original group, a motion was made to extend the initial plans to also include… “on Vancouver Island a Women’s Institute Home for the prevention and cure of Crippled Children of British Columbia and Western Canada who need prolonged treatment by fresh air and sunshine.”
The First Queen Alexandra Solarium
A suitable location was found at Mill Bay, where the children not only could have sunshine and freedom to move around, but also to access the beach and calm inside – passage waters of the Pacific Ocean. Construction of the facility was soon underway and it opened in 1927 as the ‘Queen Alexandra Solarium’ – named for the much-loved Dowager Queen of England. Queen Alexandra, widow of King Edward VII, who was most interested in the welfare of children – indeed she waid the happiest time of her life were spent caring for her own children. As a result of a bout with rheumatic fever following the birth of her third child, she walked with a limp, and this made her more aware of the plight of crippled children. Queen Alexandra was honored by her son King George V with a donation to the construction of the Queen Alexandra Solarium.
Othoa “Polly” Scott, the child with tubercular spine whose illness was the spark that ignited the drive for the establishing of the two hospitals in Vancouver and Mill Bay, survived her illness with treatment at the Queen Alexandra Solarium. In time she was in need of further assistance for her education. When they heard of Polly’s needs for an education to allow her to earn a living, the Women’s Institute organized the Othoa Scott Fund to pay her expenses to go to business school. She worked for a time at the Queen Alexandra Solarium, and later entered the general work force. The Women’s Institute decided to use the extra funds from the Othoa Scott Fund to help other children, and since then they have annually drawn funds to assist needy children requiring financing for special medical care.
Support from the Women’s Institutes
Since the facility first opened, the British Columbia Women’s Institutes have been involved in its funding and support. Members on Vancouver Island grew large gardens and shared that bounty with the hospital, in the form of fresh vegetables, as well as preserving some of the vegetables for winter use. They donated eggs, honey, fruit of all kinds, as well as assuming the task of doing the mending for the garments and other linens used at the facility and later, sewing many of the garments the patients/residents wore while staying there.
Women’s Institute member’s across the province often had an ‘adopted’ child at the Queen Alexandra Solarium – a child they provided birthday and Christmas gifts for, who they often wrote letters to, and who were the recipients of Easter and Halloween candy, as well as tokens to mark other special occasions.
In more recent years, the membership of the Women’s Institute have continued to make regular donations to the Queen Alexandra Foundation (which it is known as) and have offered assistance through special projects. In the 1980’s a playground was equipped for the use of the children; donations of clothing and other items for various programs implemented there; and moral support to the facility when the ownership of the land the facility is on was under threat.
When “Teddy Town”, a handicraft sales room, was opened at the Queen Alexandra, the Women’s Institute member’s responded with boxes and bags of items for them to sell, to help raise the funds for the programs that were offered.
There is a warm and comfortable relationship between the Queen Alexandra Foundation and the British Columbia Women’s Institute. A relationship that speaks of mutual affection and respect, and a single-minded dedication to the premise that each child deserves the very best medical care our province can provide, as well as a healthy and happy environment in which to receive that care.
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