Picture of the Cowichan Health Centre when it operated from Ingram Street decades ago. (Duncan Archives)

Caring for Cowichan from the Spanish flu to COVID-19

Duncan’s Margaret Moss health centre turns 100

The Cowichan Health Centre in downtown Duncan recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.

The centre, now commonly called the Margaret Moss Health Centre, officially began its long history in the Cowichan Valley in 1920, ironically at about the same time as the world was dealing with the Spanish flu, a pandemic that took tens of millions of lives around the planet in the years following the First World War.

Back in 1920, one of the main focuses of the health centre was to promote hand hygiene through frequent washing to deal with the pandemic and other health issues of the time, much like what is promoted today in the ongoing efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19.

The concept for the health centre began in 1915 mainly with Dr. Henry Esson Young, secretary of the provincial board of health at the time, who believed that with the awakening of the public conscience after the First World War, it was time to introduce a system of improving general health in the region.

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Asthepopulationoftheprovincenearedhalfamillion,thefirsthealthcentrewasestablishedin1919inSaanichand,inthesameyearaladynamedMissBarkerwasemployedasadistrictnurseinDuncanwhileplansfortheestablishmentoftheCowichanHealthCentrewerebeingworkedout.

When the Cowichan Health Centre was established in Duncan in 1920, Miss Barker had no office, no equipment and no transportation and depended on a bicycle and the E&N Railway to get from Duncan to surrounding areas.

At the start, there was no equipment of any kind, office or supplies, drugs, material for dressings or even a desk.

But as the centre became an integral part of the health landscape in the Valley, its resources and personnel grew over the years, and it changed its location numerous times, with the current facility operating on Canada Avenue in Duncan.

Margaret Moss, a nurse, who the current centre was named after when it opened in 1961, worked hard to open the first centre in the Valley decades before and gave years of her life to its establishment and success.

Joy Stott, the clinical coordinator at the Margaret Moss Health Centre, and Carolyn Yablonski have complied a small history of the centre.

Stott said social determinants of health, like poverty, housing and employment, are constantly considered by public health centres across the province and they work hard to develop interventions that protect and promote the health of populations and of individuals.

She said that in the early part of the 20th Century, the focus was on improving nutrition and hygiene in order to decrease the impact of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis.

Stott said the health centre’s services included school health, home visits, elder care and health education.

“Vaccines began to become available in the 1950s and 1960s and immunization continues to be a major role of public health nurses,” she said.

“Immunization has saved more lives in Canada in the last 50 years than any other health measure.”

Stott said that over the years, the Margaret Moss Health Centre has housed various services, including environmental health, community health services (home care), speech therapy, physiotherapists, and others.

“Today, it houses public health nurses, a community nutritionist, a community dental hygienist, a child and family services consultant and others, and provides baby clinics, comprehensive school health, dental education, postpartum/newborn care, infant hearing screening and jaundice checks, Triple P Parenting courses, youth health/STI clinics, naloxone training, contact tracing and more,” she said.

“The location of the health centre near the downtown core of Duncan and its friendly, non-judgmental atmosphere have made it easily accessible to the public and have enhanced the impact of public health services in the community.”

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robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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