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Former Brockville General Hospital nursing program welcomes back alumnae

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A former Brockville nursing school is celebrating its graduates this weekend, with many travelling to the city from across the region.

Those nurses became the backbone of our healthcare system for decades, with some even working in other countries.

"A lot of them worked here, married here, and raised their families here," Brockville General Hospital Nurses Alumnae President Linda Poole said on Saturday.

Women and men arrived for a weekend of activities, beginning with a coffee social hour at the Brockville Country Club Saturday morning. 

Ninety-nine-year-old retired nurse Jean Elk made the trip over from Alexandra Bay, New York.

"Oh, I'm just so glad to see all these graduates from our hospital," Elk told CTV News Ottawa.

Elk graduated from the program in 1945 and worked in an Alexandra Bay hospital for 38 years.

"Always wanted to be a nurse, always, and loved my job and loved the people I worked with," she said. "Loved the area."

Jean Elk, 99, attends the lunch for the former Brockville General Hospital nursing program reunion event this weekend. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)

Ruth Jones was another former nurse in attendance, who graduated in 1950.

"Well, back then it was either a school teacher or a nurse, and my mom was a nurse so I came to Brockville to be a nurse," Jones smiled. 

"(It's) super. Marvellous to see all these, some of them, familiar faces and some not so familiar," she said.

The nursing program began in the late 1800s with the first class, and only one student graduated in 1893.

The program continued until 1974 when it moved to St. Lawrence College. The nurses' alumnae was formed in 1923 and is celebrating 100 years.

"There's not many nurses alumnae in Ontario still running and we've decided to keep going until all of our graduates could celebrate their 50th anniversary," Poole said. 

"It just coincides that the 100th and all our 50th anniversaries are celebrated at the same time," she noted. 

Brockville General Hospital President and CEO Nick Vlacholias speaks at the reunion for the hospital's former nursing program. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)

Brockville General Hospital (BGH) President and CEO Nick Vlacholias was on hand to speak at the event, honouring the nurses, and highlighting the importance of the program.

"It's just an incredible day and I'm glad that they invited me to speak on behalf of Brockville General Hospital to honour all the nursing graduates from over the years," he said. 

"It's been incredible, and what we've seen is that today we are short nurses, and this type of program here, the way we had this program, allowed us to stabilize through the years," Vlacholias said. 

"Now it's in colleges and universities, and that's the way we train nurses compared to a way we trained nurses before. Each hospital had basically their own nursing school," he added. 

"All the ladies and the few men that are here have all worked as students at BGH over the years," noted Poole, who graduated from the program in 1971.

"Many of them ended up with jobs there; I ended up working there, several of my classmates ended up working at BGH," she said. "Many of us did end up with jobs because they were familiar with us after that 1971 class."

Jones said the program helped keep her in the area, where she met her husband and started a family.

"If it was that way again, I'd go back and start all over again," she said. 

"It is really nice to celebrate, just to see all the familiar faces, and I have two classmates still alive and one of them will be here tonight just to reminisce," Jones added. 

Both Jones and Elk agreed that many graduates passed their love of healthcare on to the next generation.

"Both my sons married nurses and my daughter is a lab technician and worked in a doctor's office for years," Elk said. "She just retired recently."

Old photos of graduates from the former Brockville General Hospital School of Nursing. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)

During the morning event, the more than 150 nurses in attendance broke out in song, singing 'Blest be the Tie that Binds,' which was sang every morning to start class, and also at graduation.

"Its tradition," noted Poole. 

In total, more than 200 graduates are attending the celebrations, with 43 from the class of 1973 being honoured Saturday evening.

Alumnae celebrating 60 and 65 years will also be honoured Saturday, with a Sunday church service wrapping up the weekend.

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