World War 1
"Chalmers" Ambulance, Montreal, QC, about 1920
Anonyme - Anonymous
About 1920, 20th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Mr. Fritz Arnold
© McCord Museum
Keywords: Photograph (77678) , Transportation (2517)
I am aware that this picture was not taken during the First World War, but I am using the picture to represent the over 3000 Canadian female nurses "The Blue Birds" that served in World War 1. The Canadian Nurses were called "The Blue Birds" because of the blue uniforms they wore and the British slang "bird" meaning lady. The Blue Birds dealt with hundreds if not thousand of wounded and dying soldiers a day. They did not have the proper training and medical education to deal with most of the injuries they saw during the war. They made most deaths of soldiers as comfortable as they could when they could not heal them but were able to treat minor wounds and make sure no infections developed. The station for the nurses was always kept very close to the front lines so it was easier for wounded soldiers to get treatment faster but was very dangerous for the nurses. When the front lines shifted, the nurses often couldn't get out of the way and were caught under attack. The courage that the nurses had tragically took 53 women's lives due to enemy fire or disease.
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Keys to History
Contrary to what this photo may suggest, the first ambulances to appear in late 19th-century Canadian cities were horse-drawn. Alerted by phone, doctors and drivers raced to care for the injured and transport them to hospital. Ambulances were also used to move wealthy patients between home and hospital.
This new service was not always well understood by the populace. Drunks occasionally called for an ambulance to take them to another tavern. And many calls were received concerning "domestic disputes, frightened women and insignificant falls." Hospital authorities grumbled about these too-frequent "useless trips," but overall the service was welcomed.
When a patient died during transport, a hearse was provided free of charge for the trip to the cemetery.
Motorized ambulances soon replaced the horse-drawn versions. This elegant vehicle is a private ambulance.
The Montreal General Hospital introduced the first horse-drawn ambulance service in 1883. The Notre-Dame Hospital followed suit two years later. The City of Montreal provided each institution with a $500 grant to finance this new service.
Montreal's Royal Victoria, General and Notre-Dame hospitals acquired their first motorized ambulances in 1909, 1912 and 1917, respectively. The Royal Victoria, however, continued to use horse-drawn vehicles during the winter until World War I.
The earliest ambulance services were run by the hospitals, but they were gradually taken over by entrepreneurs that provided both ambulances for the sick and hearses for the dead. In 1895, the Canadian chapter of the St. John's Ambulance Association was founded in Toronto. Small firms later put together the first fleets of private ambulances.