Located in the front room of the Maple Ridge Museum, our temporary gallery rotates exhibits 2-3 times a year. The goal of the space is to highlight parts of our collection that do not necessarily fit into the exhibits currently on display. The space is also used to showcase traveling exhibitions from neighbouring museums.
Currently on display is “Women in Wartime” highlighting the medical services, with a spotlight on Helen Mussallem using artifacts from the Mussallem estate, which were donated to the museum last year. Helen was raised in Haney and was the nurse during World War II.
Many women who had trained as nurses prior to WWII were able to contribute to the war effort by joining the nursing service. Each branch of the military had its own medical service, and nurses were vital parts of each. Over 4000 nurses enlisted, with the majority joining the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC). The nurses who enlisted were known as “Nursing Sisters” and were commissioned officers, which lent them authority. Most worked overseas both in Britain and continental Europe, and many medical units followed the fronts as they moved into Europe through Italy and France. While nurses did not work in the front lines, the medical hospitals were often very close to the fighting, and there was a certain amount of danger attributed to being a part of the medical corps. This did not deter nurses from enlisting, as military nursing offered a good salary, benefits, status, and opportunity to travel.
Helen began her career in nursing as a staff member of Vancouver General Hospital, where she then joined the No. 19 Royal Army Medical Corps after being told by her supervisor she would be missing out if she did not enlist. After being trained in New Brunswick, Helen became a lieutenant when she first arrived in England in 1944. Initially her job was to train medics in basic first aid, but she was keen to do more hands-on work, which lead her to take on a role as a surgical nurse on the front.
After the war she went to McGill University to earn her Bachelor’s degree using what were known as “veteran’s points”: credits that could be used towards buying land or education. After McGill, she studied at the University of Washington earning her Masters, and then gaining her Doctorate at Columbia University. Helen was the first Canadian to receive a doctorate in nursing. She later advocated for better training and working conditions for all nurses, all over the world, leading to a revolution in nursing education and training. Helen received the Order of Canada for her nursing work in 1969, and was promoted to Champion in 1992.
This exhibit will be on display in the temporary gallery at Maple Ridge Museum starting in February 2016.