Early medical Services
In 1918, the nearest doctor and hospital was in Hazelton. Dr. Wrinch was known to travel on horseback from Hazelton all the way through to the Lakes District and back. Even before that, there was a dentist who came through once a year, travelling on horseback with one pack horse to carry equipment.
After the railroad was completed in 1914, the seriously sick and injured of Houston took the train almost 100 miles to the Wrinch Memorial Hospital in Hazelton, as did expectant mothers wanting to have their babies born under a doctor's care. In Houston, between 1918 and 1923, Mrs. E.G. Ayliffe, wife of the local telegraph operator, was the graduate nurse to call in case of an emergency. Many babies were delivered by Mrs. Ayliffe before she and her family left the area to live in Parksville on Vancouver Island.
Fay Ball moved to the Topley area around 1920. "In the early years our nearest doctor was at Smithers," she remembered. "A dentist used to travel from Prince George and do dentist work in a farmhouse in Forestdale (between Topley and Rose Lake). I drove the horse and buggy with the three children aboard to pay him a visit. He extracted nineteen teeth and I drove home again to do chores and get supper. It was eighteen months before I got my store teeth. Also an optometrist used to come from Vancouver sometimes to attend to those who needed glasses."
During the 1920s the Houston Hotel was used as a place for visiting doctors. There's a story of how Carl McKilligan had a gash from a broadaxe sewn up there, sipping whiskey to dull the pain during the time it took to sew up the wound with 15 stitches.
It was only when the Women's Institute was established in Houston around 1946-48 that any real progress was made in getting better medical services locally. Mrs. A. De Jong, the first Houston W.I. president, lobbied long and hard and succeeded in arranging to have a Dr. Green come to town once a month for $125 per year.
After several changes of venues and doctors, the W.I. succeeded in having a doctor visit twice a month. By 1952 the W.I. had a small building erected as a clinic, which served the purpose for many years. A small, red-sided building on the north side of the community hall served for years as the local doctor's office.
More regular service began when Dr. M.K. Weare came to Houston each week, starting in 1953. This was no easy feat, considering that the road from Smithers was not paved until 1961. Still, there were no emergency services, and hardly a week passed by without someone having to be rushed the 45 miles to hospital in Smithers or Burns Lake. This very often was a race with the stork, with the stork winning regularly. Many babies were born en route.
The first ambulance arrived in Houston in May of 1969, and was operated by the Houston Fire Department until the Houston Volunteer Ambulance Service was established.
The First Health Centre
April 21, 1971 marked the official opening of the Houston Diagnostic and Treatment Centre, built in the Houston 'ball park' on Crown land granted to the community.
In the early 1970s Houston had two resident doctors, Warwick and Gillies. Two Smithers doctors, Weare and Wilson, came to Houston twice a week.
When Dr. Brian Finnemore arrived in Houston in September, 1976, there was finally some stability in medical staff. Finnemore liked the northern lifestyle and he liked the total health care concept. He became committed to and involved in the community.
The second Health Centre
The B.C. Minister of Health Jim Nielson was on hand to officially open the new Health Centre on October 5, 1983. Under one roof were facilities for four resident doctors, lab and x-ray services, physiotherapy, treatment rooms, diabetic counselling, and space for visiting specialists. As well there was space for public health staff, Homemakers, Outreach Services, Income Assistance workers, two social workers, office managers, and an ambulance bay.
Shirley Nelson was first administrator of the new Health Centre. Nelson left for Ashcroft after three years in Houston, and Hanne White took over on Feb. 17, 1986.
The Health Centre offers a variety of services, including:
In addition, the Health Centre houses Public Health, ambulance services, and a private physiotherapy clinic.