Saturday, June 4, 2016

Ladies who serve

Joyce Sasse - If the book “Matrons and Madams” was being discussed by a group of Lethbridgites, I would like to ask where facts fade and fiction takes over? While the publisher of Sharon Johnston’s book states all characters in this story are fictitious, anyone familiar with Lethbridge, Alberta will find many familiar landmarks. And any reader of journalist James Gray’s “Red Lights on the Prairie” will see part of the history of the city at the time of World War I come to life. Also, Mrs. Johnston indicates in a post-script that her Grandmother actually did serve as Matron of the Galt Hospital in the time between the end of the Great War and the onset of the Great Depression.

Lethbridge mentionables include its coalmining history, and the Galt Hospital with both the Red Light district and China Town next door. It was a time when badly wounded war veterans were needing more care than the medical facilities of a small prairie city could muster. It was a time when booze was served along with prostitution, and when venereal disease was often an unexpected by-product.

Johnston, in researching the story, shows insights and experience that reaches far beyond Rideau Hall (where she shares residence with our current Governor General). With her training in rehabilitation science, she lifts to the fore the plight of soldiers who returned with missing limbs and traumatized minds that cast heavy shadows over the rest of their lives.

In the story we have two widowed women: the Matron (Galt Hospital Superintendent Clara Durling) and the Madam (The Last Post owner Lily Parsons). With compassion and creativity they find ways to reach out to care for those in need.

We are reminded again it is through hearing stories from within our communities that we learn our history and see how our spiritual values have shaped us. It is no surprise that story tellers have a special place in each culture. Thank you Sharon Johnston.

Related link: Matrons and Madams

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