Making Waves: A History of the Riverside Hospital of Ottawa

Making Waves: A History of the Riverside Hospital of Ottawa

This history chronicles the development of the Riverside Hospital, an active-treatment facility, from its opening in 1966 to 1996, when Ontario’s Health Services Restructuring Commission began debating the future of the Riverside and other hospitals in the Ottawa region.

Making Waves (ISBN none) is now out of print.


Chapter One: The Birth of a Hospital

The Grand Opening
The 28 October 1966 was mild and sunny, an auspicious day for the official opening of the Riverside Hospital of Ottawa (RHO). For this landmark occasion, 300 invited guests assembled at the 300-bed active-treatment facility to watch a two-part outdoor ceremony. Ottawa mayor Don Reid began the proceedings by laying the cornerstone in the hospital’s south wall, just outside of what was then the front entrance. Following this, Ontario transport minister Irwin Haskett, in his capacity as the province’s emissary, used a pair of gold-plated surgical scissors to cut a gilt ribbon that was stretched across the main doors.

The crowd then surged into the foyer to hear remarks that celebrated the event. At their conclusion, staff and members of the hospital auxiliary took invited guests on tours of the municipally owned institution. The austere-looking edifice, whose design had been heavily influenced by the international architecture style of the day, looked more like a modern apartment or office building than a hospital, and it had been attracting the attention of the curious for months. Although the script did not call for it, the tours invariably ended up at the clearly identified morgue, located on one of the two service and administrative floors at the base of the seven-storey building. Before that happened, however, tour participants poked their heads into airy, spacious patient rooms in the yellow-brick, five-storey patients’ tower, admired the stunning view of the Rideau River that as many as half of these rooms commanded, and noted that the patient floors featured double corridors with ultra-modern central distribution stations. As they moved throughout the building, however, the hospital tourists failed to spot one patient. This was because the Riverside would not begin admitting patients until 11 January 1967.

The Riverside’s First Patients 
The late Robert M. Armstrong had the distinction of being the Riverside’s first patient. His arrival at the hospital was recorded by an Ottawa Citizen news photographer, who captured him having his blood pressure taken by Aljowema Latoza, a nurse from the Philippines.

Even as the Riverside opened its doors to its first twenty patients that January day, workmen toiled feverishly to correct 801 “deficiencies.” Fortunately, the defects were minor – paint scratches, broken glass, and wall cracks – nothing that would affect patient care. In any event, the hospital’s plans called for a gradual admission of patients. Only after two of its five patient floors were fully occupied would the Riverside begin admitting paediatric and adolescent patients to the fourth floor, part of which (the adolescents’ sun room) would be furnished by Ridgemont High School students. The opening of the fourth floor would be followed by the opening of the emergency department in March and finally by the opening of the obstetrical floor (the third floor) in September.