Saturday, March 2, 2013

735 Notre Dame Avenue - Women's Hospital

Women's Pavillion
Place: Women's Hospital (Health Sciences Centre)
Address: 735 Notre Dame Avenue (map)
Architects: Northwood and Chivers with Moody Moore and Partners
Contractor: Bird Construction Ltd.
Cost: $1,500,000 
Opened: April 26, 1950

Winnipeg General Hospital 20s Postcard

In 1945, the city, province and board of the Winnipeg General Hospital (WGH) agreed that the WGH would be the focal point for Manitoba's future healthcare needs. Whenever possible, new publicly funded major clinics, specialized hospitals, research centres and medical teaching facilities would be located adjacent to it.

After this agreement was reached the WGH's board went about planning for the construction of a new stand-alone maternity hospital, or Women's Pavilion, to replace the 60-bed maternity ward inside the WGH.

May 8, 1948, Winnipeg Free Press

The decision to build a Women's Pavilion was not universally accepted. Some felt that replacing the city's aging Children's Hospital should have ben given priority instead. A public relations campaign in favour of a new Children's Hospital complete with full page newspaper ads ran in early 1948.

The WGH stuck by its decision arguing that its maternity ward operated at or beyond capacity on a regular basis. The city also approved of the move.

Plans for the Women's Pavilion were draw up by
Northwood and Chivers with Moody Moore and Partners. A call for tenders for its construction appeared in newspapers in early March 1948 and Bird Construction's winning bid came in at just over $1 million.

The total cost of the new hospital after furniture and equipment was expected to be nearly $1.3 million. The City of Winnipeg was the major funder when it passed a bylaw to issue up to $900,000 in debentures. The remaining money would come from the WGH's  $350,000 capital fund and a public fundraising campaign.

January 14, 1950, Winnipeg Free Press

In summer 1948, the site was being prepared for construction and the city got some good news. The federal government, which was no longer being drained by wartime expenditures, announced that it was turning its attention to upgrade the country's ageing patchwork of hospitals. The ambitious plan was to construct 40,000 new hospital beds across the country by 1953.

Under the program the feds would provide $1,000 per active treatment bed if that was matched by the province. The government of Manitoba agreed and the $350,000 infusion of cash was used to offset the $900,000 in debentures the city has offered to put up.

The extra funding was a welcome announcement. During the 1949 - 50 fiscal year there were 900 new hospital beds under construction in Manitoba: 410 in rural Manitoba and 490 in Winnipeg. The largest projects were the Princess Elizabeth Hospital for the Chronically Ill, the Shriner's Hospital for Crippled Children, and the General Hospital's Maternity Pavilion. A new Children's Hospital would eventually be built in the mid-1950s.

Construction was well underway by the spring of 1949.

The five-storey building housed 132 patient beds, 162 bassinets, ten labour rooms and eight delivery rooms. There were also a number of labs and clinics as well as a basement kitchen and cafeteria. Patient rooms featured modern conveniences not found on the old WGH maternity ward such as a washroom in each patient room and air conditioning.

By January 1950, work was in its final phase and a $250,000 fundraising drive began to help purchase furnishings and other equipment. Two of the larger donors were Canada Packers with $10,000 for lab equipment and Harry Ashdown with $5,000 for sterilizing equipment for baby bottles.

In April 1950, Grace Johnson was chosen to be the first director of the Women's Pavilion.

Johnson went to work at the WGH immediately after graduating from the U of M nursing school in 1934. In 1937, she became the head nurse of the WGH's maternity ward and served overseas during World War II. On her return to the city after the war she took leave in Montreal to obtain her B.Sc from McGill University.Johnson spent much of 1948 traveling to cities such as Boston and New York to study the latest practices at maternity and women's hospitals in preparation for her new position.

April 28, 1950, Winnipeg Free Press

The official opening took place at 8 pm on Wednesday, April 26, 1950. It was followed by a weekend-long open house. A Free Press reporter who got a sneak peek two days earlier wrote: "The first thing that strikes a visitor is the gay color combination in the central rotunda. The huge archway gleams in mulberry splendor and the walls are a light lime green."

The timing worked out perfectly. Just days later, the first of hundreds of patients began arriving from southern Manitoba hospitals and personal care homes as the Red River Valley began to flood. The now-vacated maternity ward of the WGH offered refuge for many of them and the Maternity Pavilion's empty beds housed the nurses that came with them. 

In 1982, the hospital got an eight month, $3.5m renovation that included a new labour and delivery unit, (it was estimated that 123,000 babies had been born at the old one.) It appears that is also when the Pavilion was rechristened Women's Hospital.

In 2010, the Women's Hospital celebrated its 60th anniversary. May 2 - 8, 2010 was declared Women's Hospital Week by the provincial government.

New Women's Hospital

In 2010 the province announced the construction of a new Women and Newborn Hospital at the Health Sciences Centre. The five storey, 280,000 square foot facility is currently under construction at the corner of William Avenue and Sherbrook Street. It is expected to open in 2014.

UPDATE: the new Women's Hospital will open in late 2020.



  1. "Currently under construction" is a relative term. Last I looked, there had been NO activity at the former bakery site - (or at the new Selkirk Hospital site I am told) - for months. The news of the purchase of the bakery for this project was originally broken on our radio show as it had a very negative result for long time employees.

  2. My daughter was born in the old Maternity Pavilion on December 3rd 2014! By doing so, she managed to get in on its history as it's passed along.

  3. my daughter was born there june 24 2014

  4. I was born there in 1978 and had all 5 of my babies there from 2006-2019

  5. I was born there in March of 1971

  6. Our last baby was born there on September 20, 1979.