It started with an email from a colleague.

Emma Prescott had read one of my blogs about the Spanish flu from back at the start of the Pandemic. Curious people had been emailing about its impact. How long did it last? How did the community cope?

Luckily, the historic Salmon Arm Observer was full of medical references, including Nurse Inkster who opened the first hospital in Salmon Arm.

Emma was on a mission, researching the graduates of the Winnipeg General Hospital (now the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg.) She was interested in Agnes Inkster.

Emma told me that Inkster had graduated in 1891, just four years after the nursing school had opened. She searched the census, directories, and Seven Oaks House Museum in Winnipeg, and found Agnes with different middle names. Sometimes Arabela, sometimes Lee. Were they the same person? Or cousins?

“Did Nurse Inkster go by different names?” Emma asked in her email.

Volunteer Barb Raynor helped fill in the blanks. She used her skills and resources accumulated from her own searches. Yes indeed, Agnes used at least two different middle names, but was the same person. Her age and immediate family members were constant. Barb found obituaries for Agnes and her mother Mary.

Then, our own subject files in the archives room yielded more information.

Catherine O’Keefe had written author Denis Marshall with an anecdote that “Sybil” recalled about Agnes.1.

Who was Catherine? Who was Sybil? More questions.

Catherine wrote that Agnes was supposed to be retiring when she moved to Salmon Arm to be with family in 1909.

Unfortunately, there was a nursing shortage.

One night, Dr. Reinhardt was summoned from Vernon to treat a man suffering from acute appendicitis. Dr. Reinhardt needed help if he was to operate. The patient’s family told the Doctor there was a new nurse in town.

Dr. Reinhardt bundled his patient into his buggy and went to the Inkster residence.

“Are you indeed a nurse?” He asked.

“Receiving a response in the affirmative, the doctor deposited his patient on the Inkster’s kitchen table and operated forthwith.

Nurse Inkster boiled up the medical equipment, such as it was, and, in lieu of anaesthetic, offered the patient a wooden spoon with a towel wrapped around it to bite down on. The patient, who survived, was then nursed back to health over a period of six weeks.”

I bundled this and other stories up and sent what I had to Emma. Locals identified where Redwood Ranch was. Its 78 acres were still farmland. Mary Inkster’s obituary indicated the ranch was named after the family’s home in Winnipeg.

“Thank you very much for all this wonderful information,” Emma wrote back. “It sounds like she was quite a character and very much in keeping with many of our grads!”

Yes, Emma, she was a character.

Long after Agnes officially retired and moved to her mother’s property, relative Ted Hughes said she was rarely home–that “she was always out delivering a baby or something.”

We were lucky to be served by Nurse Inkster.


Can you find Nurse Inkster in this portrait? Back row, second from the left.

1. Emma solved the mystery for us!  A family tree was needed. Catherine  and Sybil are the great-great nieces of Agnes Inskter.