Pender Island Health Centre Turns 40

On May 30, 1981, Mary Coleman cut the ribbon to open the Bishop Coleman Health Centre, named in honour of her husband. In attendance was 92-year-old Neptune Grimmer. Each had a connection to the brand-new facility which had taken more than a decade of community determination to achieve.

Neptune Navy Grimmer was born in 1889 in a rowboat in Navy Channel while his father rowed his mother, Elizabeth, to the midwife on Mayne Island. It is one of the first accounts of the tremendous effort required by early settlers to access medical care. Nep must have marvelled at the new health centre in 1981.

Dream to reality

The remarkable Bishop Michael and Mary Coleman came to Pender in 1960 and soon discovered that no doctor was willing to practice here without suitable office space. By 1969, Coleman had a building committee and a

potential location in mind when he died suddenly. A memorial fund - with Mary’s support - was set up in the Bishop’s name to keep their shared dream alive.

That same year, 1969, Dr. Homer Rogers was persuaded to set up a practice in his house at the end of Mackinnon Rd and the urgency for a clinic waned. In 1977, however, Dr. Rogers announced his wish to retire. The community could wait no longer.

Lions Club members went into action. They lobbied governments for financial assistance, but neither the CRD nor the Province would fund what was considered to be an office for a private doctor. Meanwhile, donations to the memorial fund for a clinic swelled to $65K.

Finally, the Minister of Health relented in April 1979 with the proviso that the province’s pledge of $85K would depend on islanders supplying the land, plans, labour, materials, equipment, and furnishings. The community would have to own, oversee, and maintain the clinic. (Dr. Rogers agreed to continue his practice until a health centre could be built.) The Lions Club still had to buy the land. In early 1980, three families offered to donate land and the Marler family’s parcel opposite the school was accepted. Work got under way immediately. Making good on their commitment to the government, almost everyone involved in the building project donated all/part of their services.

Looking back; looking forward

If Nep and Mary were alive today, would they recognize the building captured in the splendid aerial photograph on this month’s cover of The Pender Post? Maybe not.

Over 40 years, its footprint has grown to keep pace with the community’s changing health care needs. Various additions and renovations took place over the first 20 years. Then, in 2007-08 the community raised over $700K for a major expansion. With matching funds from the CRD and Island Health, the building almost doubled in size. At age 90, Mary Coleman must have been so proud. Having a baby in a rowboat was truly a thing of the past.

Today, at 40 years old, the building is moving into “middle age,” and things are wearing out. The pandemic added to an already full set of challenges related to aging infrastructure and a growing deficit. Then came the sudden loss of Board Chairman, Gary Steeves, who died in December 2020. As with Bishop Coleman’s dream, the Health Care Society is determined to honour the plans Gary set in motion to ensure the long-term viability of the Health Centre.

In reflecting on the struggles and successes of the concerned citizens who came before us, we trust that we, too, will have the wisdom and fortitude to set a successful course for the future. To all who have contributed in the past and today, we say “Thank you.”

Pender Island Health Care Society

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