From the Archives: Pierre Trudeau's 1971 visit to Women's College Hospital

2016-06-30 2:03:50 PM

On June 10, 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau officially opened the new home of Women’s College Hospital. Forty-five years earlier, his father -- the former Canadian prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau -- opened the new east wing of WCH's previous facility on the very same site. As part of an ongoing series highlighting important people and events from WCH's rich history, we are proud to share the story of that day in 1971 when Pierre Trudeau made a visit to Women's College Hospital. 

On the morning of June 23, 1971, Women’s College Hospital staff, board members and volunteers anxiously awaited the arrival of the guest of honour. Most in attendance remembered that only seven years earlier, they had gathered in a similar fashion as WCH unveiled its plans to construct an addition to its existing building. The new wing, known as the east wing, would almost double the hospital’s capacity. Now it was a reality.

Officially opening the east wing that day in June of 1971 was Canada’s Prime Minister, The Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Those in attendance later recalled a distinct feeling of electricity in the air as they awaited his arrival.

Around 9:30 a.m., Prime Minister Trudeau arrived by car with The Honourable Donald Stovel MacDonald, Minister of National Defence, at the quieter Grosvenor Street entrance of Women’s College Hospital. He was met by Dorothy Macham, the hospital’s then-executive director.

After a brief reception in the board room attended by hospital leaders and board members, the medical advisory committee and special guests, the Prime Minister proceeded to an outdoor stage specially constructed in front of the hospital to the east side of the main lobby. At 10 a.m. the ceremony began with the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada Band performing O Canada. The hospital board chair, Pauline McGibbon (who would later to become Ontario’s first female Lieutenant Governor and the first woman to represent The Queen in Canada) gave her opening remarks. After short speeches from Dr. F.M. Hill, the hospital’s physician-in-chief, and other dignitaries, Prime Minister Trudeau spoke to the huge crowd that had gathered in front of the hospital. To the delight of the audience, he remarked:

“Today Women’s College Hospital stands as an inspiring tribute to the imagination, courage and dedication of all those who contributed to its growth. It also stands as an impressive and vivid reminder of the enormously important role that women can and must have in the building of our society.”

The ceremony concluded with the laying of the east wing foundation stone by the Prime Minister on the exterior of the building. This stone now resides on the interior wall of the new hospital’s Peter Gilgan Atrium.
After the ceremony, the Prime Minister was led through the hospital’s main entrance and was greeted by a ceremonial guard of student nurses from the Women’s College Hospital School of Nursing. He was then given a tour of the new wing of the hospital.

For those in attendance, the most memorable stop on the tour was the Perinatal Unit where new and expectant mothers were given an opportunity to chat with the Prime Minister.  One hospital administrator even went so far as to predict that the stop on this floor would lead to an influx of babies named Pierre that week.

Most interestingly, months later, the Prime Minister’s visit to Women’s College Hospital and its maternity ward continued to be mentioned by the Canadian media. Unbeknownst to the public, at the time of his tour, Prime Minister Trudeau and his wife, Margaret, were expecting their first baby – a son, to be named Justin.

For more information on the visit of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau or on the history of Women’s College Hospital, please contact The Miss Margaret Robins Archives of Women’s College Hospital.