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Photo courtesy Doug Aston Collection

D. G. Tuckwell
Mayor 1914 - 1915

Lloydminster’s ‘Union Hospital’, opened in 1917, had the state of the art method of hospital financing developed in Lloydminster.

Lloydminster’s first hospital - built in 1812 - was beset with many financial problems

Lloydminster Mayor Invents Medicare?

By Franklin L. Foster, Ph.D.

"It is not too great a stretch of the imagination to argue that medicare may have been born in Lloydminster and that the father of collective health care could be the town's mayor, D. G. Tuckwell, supported by his elect[ed] councilors," write Fiona Colligan-Yano and Mervyn Norton in their history of municipal government in Saskatchewan entitled The Urban Age.

While it is good to see these, and other, experts who have studied the emergence of health coverage in Canada recognize the important contribution of Lloydminster’s mayor; they need to give even more credit to the “elected councilors” and, indeed, the unique character of the Lloydminster community.  It is the purpose of this article to flesh out the community culture which channeled, inspired and supported Tuckwell’s important contribution.

Lloydminster was founded by a group of over 2,000 British colonists.  They considered themselves standard bearers of the world’s most advanced culture; one whose legal, political, linguistic, and scientific achievements they believed were vital to building a new and better civilization. Not least among these British achievements was medical care; both with regard to scientific advancement, new standards of patient care, and community support.

The colony’s founding father, Rev. Isaac Barr, had among his detailed plans for the colony a subscription based health care co-operative. Over 300 colonists paid the £5 fee which was to entitle them to the services of doctors, nurses, and hospital care for the first year. Barr’s untimely exit from the community allowed his rival founding father, Rev. George Lloyd, to denigrate Barr’s idea as only an “iron cot, with mattress and pillow, and one leg broken”. However, Barr could not fairly be blamed for the fact that the two medical doctors he had recruited literally abandoned ship in Liverpool when they saw the crowded and chaotic conditions on board the S. S. Lake Manitoba.  Nurses rendered valiant service along the way of the colonists’ epic journey, and the tent hospital Barr had arranged for saw much service in Saskatoon while the colonists were camped there.

The new community was quickly settled and hospital-type services were dispensed from two of the early lumber homes by nurses such as Mrs. Beveridge and Miss Drewe. These nurses led the campaign for a “proper hospital” and a flurry of church picnics, box socials, dances and other community fund-raisers ensued.  In 1912, the first stand-alone hospital opened - a wood-frame structure on land donated to the governing Lloydminster Hospital Association Board.

Meanwhile, in 1905, the two provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan, were created by the federal government and in so doing split the community of Lloydminster asunder. An unintended consequence was that the Town of Lloydminster, Saskatchewan – and the Village of Lloydminster, Alberta – both incorporated by fall 1907 – and still thinking of themselves as one community, strove to maintain their unity by choice as well as necessity. One of their first formal actions was to petition the provinces to allow them to amalgamate but this request got nowhere.  In the meantime, the two municipalities co-operated on a joint fire brigade, weed control, sidewalk construction, the community water well, a night constable and the local flour mill.  Included in this list, and often the thorniest problem, was the financial support of the hospital.

Among the many British conventions that arrived with the colonists was one, dating back to at least the middle ages, and encoded by later Poor Laws, that the municipality was responsible for the well being of its residents.  This meant, for example, that the indigent were, as a last resort, the Town Council’s responsibility.  When one such individual, maintained by the Town in the local Britannica Hotel, died there – there was public indignation that the Town Council had not done enough toward his care. The blind-sided Council called Dr. J. T. Hill, then the Medical Officer, on the carpet to explain why they had not been better informed.  Dr. Hill provided an escape by pointing out the deceased was technically a resident of the Rural Municipality of Wilton and therefore not the Town’s responsibility.  A similar case, concerned one “Thomas Adams and wife” who were the source of numerous problems.  The Council eventually deputized two of their number to meet with Adams “with the view of deporting them to England”.

During this same time period, keeping the hospital open was a major financial challenge. Repeated requests to the Town Council for financial aid to the hospital, with at times actual closures of the hospital for want of funds, became a serious community problem. Many began to look for a “for once and all” solution.  A proposal came forward in early 1912 that the Town and Village should underwrite the operating costs of the hospital and in return they would take joint ownership of the land.  The Town proposed that the costs be shared 3/5 by the Town and 2/5 by the Village, the same portion as they appointed delegates to the Hospital Board.  The Village Council countered that they would undertake to pay only 1/7 of the costs.  This led to the Town Council lashing back with a proposal to undertake all the costs but removing the Village delegates on the Hospital Board and replacing them with their own nominees.

Cooler heads prevailed but the financial problems did not go away. The next proposal was that the Town would float a debenture for $2000.00, then give the money to the Hospital Board for the operation of the hospital, and enter into an agreement with the Village for repayment of the debenture on a the basis of a per capita formula.  This plan was put before a special meeting of ratepayers on Monday, April 15, 1912 at 8:00 pm in Wood’s Hall. It was at this meeting that D. G. Tuckwell emerged into a leadership role in Lloydminster.

David Grieve Tuckwell was born in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, England, January 8, 1865.  In the 1881 Census of England, although only 16, we find him listed with the occupation of “Printers Reader” – already in the newspaper business. After some years in the newspaper trade in England, in January 1892 he sailed aboard the Orizaba with his wife and two small children to Australia where, in the community of Bathurst, New South Wales, he became Editor of the Daily Free Press. In 1903, the family, now with two more children, arrived in Canada, not with the Barr Colonists, but for David to join the Editorial Staff of the Manitoba Free Press, then Western Canada’s most prestigious newspaper. However, he left there later to become a newspaper proprietor, first of the Rainy River Gazette, then the Yorkton Times, and finally, along with his son Ronald, in early 1912, purchasing the Lloydminster Times.    

Ironically, in light of later events, D. G. Tuckwell emerged at that April 15, 1912 ratepayers meeting as a leader of those opposed to the hospital financing debenture.  This seems to have been a case of running to the front of a parade. On the strength of his performance, and his influential role as owner and editor of the Times, he was elected to the 1913 Town Council.  There, the financial prudence that had won him popularity did not solve the ongoing financial problems of the Lloydminster Hospital.  However, the seeds of a broader solution had already been laid in Lloydminster.  The rural areas had always been very much part of the community so it was a natural evolution to look beyond the Town and the Village for partners.  Thus, in May of 1914, an Agreement in Principle was concluded in which Town and Village ratepayers would support the hospital with a per capita tax levy and the surrounding rural municipalities of Wilton and Britannia on the Saskatchewan side, and Streamstown and Oxville on the Alberta side, would be taxed at a rate of one cent per acre, and jointly own the Hospital property.  This whole arrangement would come to be known as a union hospital; that is, a hospital supported by a union of the municipalities whose populations it was likely to serve.

This idea immediately began to grow in popularity, both in Lloydminster and beyond. Lloydminster joined the Saskatchewan Association of Urban Municipalities in 1915, and Tuckwell (Mayor in 1914 and 1915) presented a paper at the SUMA Convention in 1915.  As Dale Eisner has pointed out in his recent book:

Up to that point, the municipality where a hospital was located, with the help of a small per patient grant from the provincial government, paid much of the hospital care costs for patients who often came from other municipal districts. Tuckwell [emphasis added] called for all municipalities to pay for hospital care, which took financial pressure off the province and led to the 1916 legislation opening the door to municipal union hospitals. The union hospital system capital costs were financed through the sale of municipal debentures, while maintenance and operating costs were paid for through user fees and taxation.

Reflecting the Lloydminster influence, both Saskatchewan and Alberta passed enabling legislation in 1916 to provide for such joint action by a group of municipalities. The approach solved a number of problems. It provided a means for provinces to deflect calls for them to finance area hospitals; and it provided a larger tax base for support of local hospitals.   

Tuckwell rode this popularity to Regina where he took over a job for the provincial government helping implement the Union Hospital approach across the province. He also continued to publish articles on topical issues.  By 1948, eighty-eight municipalities provided their resi­dents with hospital service at municipal expense. By this time D. G. Tuckwell had retired to Victoria, British Columbia but still referred to himself as a newspaper publisher. He died there, June 6, 1941.

The system that Tuckwell played such a large role in creating provided hospital care to those who would otherwise not have had it. As Tuckwell himself described it in his Canadian Medical Association Journal article in 1917:

As an indication of the esteem in which these institutions are held where they have been established, the following quotation from a letter written by the secretary-treasurer of one of the contributing municipalities may be of interest: "Before the inauguration of the present system (that is of free hospital accommodation) only a small percentage of maternity cases passed through the hospital, the women cheerfully taking a chance on their, lives for the sake of helping the farm along. During the past five months nineteen women from this municipality have been in the hospital. We are saving the lives of our women at the small cost of three quarters of a cent per acre."

     Lloydminster residents can take pride in the accomplishments of their former Mayor. However, as has been demonstrated in this paper, it is also thanks to the unique character of Lloydminster and District – an area which from the beginning prospered because of co-operation, volunteerism and the necessity of over-coming bureaucratic obstacles.  Local political leaders, and indeed all residents, thus share in this pioneering effort which laid the ground-work on which the elaborate structure of tax-payer funded hospital and health care was later built in Canada.