The Queen Alexandra archives: Happy memories from a patient who stayed at the Queen Alexandra Solarium in 1931

This story is part of a series that celebrates the legacy of the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health, paying tribute to the origins of Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island and the work we do today.

Marjorie White (now Marjorie Shaw) was 11 years old when she was an in-patient at the Queen Alexandra Solarium for Crippled Children in Mill Bay. The year was 1931, just four years after the Solarium opened and welcomed its first patient.

Marjorie spent several months living at the Solarium in Mill Bay. And eight decades later, Marjorie has only fond memories of her time spent there.

We sat down and spoke with Marjorie to hear some of her stories from the Solarium and to learn what it was like to be an in-patient during the Solarium’s early days. She remembers her time at the facility in 1931, recalling how she passed her days as a young patient and recounting some experiences she had there that would shape who she became as an adult.

Marjorie’s health story

Marjorie was an active, adventurous kid. As an 11-year-old, she liked to climb trees, do cartwheels and other acrobatic tricks, and was known to use a broom to fling horse manure at the neighbourhood boys to keep them in their place.

She wasn’t the kind of child to avoid risks. But that adventurous spirit is how she injured herself, which then led to a stay in the Solarium at Mill Bay.

Marjorie was climbing a tree in Victoria’s Wark Street Park in the late summer in 1931. This was something she did often, but this time, she fell and broke her left hip. A visiting doctor determined that she needed specialized care at the Queen Alexandra Solarium for Crippled Children, the first facility to open in British Columbia that specifically catered to children.

So her father borrowed a car and began the long, slow drive over the Malahat, which was just a gravel road at that time. The family wasn’t sure how long Marjorie would be away for, but that didn’t concern young Marjorie at all.

“I was excited to get up there, see what was going on, and see what they were going to do with me,” says Marjorie.

It turns out that Marjorie’s fall from the tree near her home in Victoria led to Perthes disease. Perthes is a condition where the blood supply to the bone is stopped, causing the bone cells to die. In Marjorie’s case, treatment was long-term traction and bed-rest to lessen damage to her hip joint.

Marjorie believes she stayed at the Solarium for four to six months to treat the Perthes, going back to Victoria a few times for x-rays.

The day-to-day at the Queen Alexandra Solarium

While months of bed-rest might sound terrible to some, Marjorie had a fantastic time away from home at the Solarium. There were at least 20 other children living at the Solarium in 1931, so there were always other children to talk to and play with. In fact, Marjorie spent a lot of her time with the younger children and babies.

“I used to go up to the babies’ ward because I liked them. I liked looking after them and being with them. I used to just go there and help out,” says Marjorie. The nurses would roll Marjorie’s bed between the girls’ ward and the babies’ ward, and place the babies in her arms. Marjorie says she felt right at home helping the nurses with the babies, but also spent her time reading stories to the younger children and playing with them.

Day to day, 11-year-old Marjorie had lots to do. She kept up-to-date with her schoolwork and didn’t fall behind her classmates back in Victoria. In the winter, she enjoyed spending time in the cozy living room with its warm, welcoming fireplace. In the warmer months, there was a sunroom to enjoy. And when her body was ready, she went through rehab at the Solarium to gradually reintroduce her hip to weight-bearing activity. Marjorie was bedridden for most of her stay, but never bored or homesick.

“I was busy looking after everybody,” says Marjorie.

Remembering the Solarium’s nurses

A large reason Marjorie had such a happy, memorable time at the Solarium was because of the nurses and all the kind staff there. She didn’t have just one favourite nurse — she has great memories of all of them.

“They were all fun and they used to be fun with us. They’d just joke and talk to us and tell us stories,” says Marjorie.

And because Marjorie couldn’t walk on her own due to the Perthes, the nurses did their best to make sure Marjorie still had a fun time: “Ms Thomas used to race up the ward with me in my bed and I’d be laughing all the way,” says Marjorie.

A place to recover, to learn, and to have fun

One particular experience at the Solarium stuck with Marjorie, and that was her introduction to Girl Guides. Each week, a group of girls from the Solarium gathered together in a room for their Girl Guide activities, which included stories, crafts, knots, and songs. Marjorie even received a special Girl Guide pin identifying her as a Disabled Guide.

“We received an enrolment pin with pale mauve enamel outlined in gold. It was designed specially for Disabled Guides. We met in the large playroom with a big open fireplace blazing away as it was wintertime, and all the bed patients, including myself, were rolled in along with the wheelchairs and the lucky girls who could walk by themselves. We looked forward to our weekly Guide meetings with great excitement,” says Marjorie.

She had such a great time as a Disabled Guide at the Solarium that she joined a company when she was discharged. This would influence who she would grow up to become: she had a lifelong love of Girl Guides as a result of her experience in 1931 and is still actively involved today.

Only happy memories from her time at the Solarium

Marjorie’s time at the Solarium in Mill Bay was a wholly positive one, and one that she looks back on fondly. It was a beautiful, peaceful, calming place that provided high-quality care, and also one that Marjorie remembers with child-like wonder. For her, it was a place to be a leader, to learn new skills, and to meet new people.

Mostly, it was a welcoming place that felt immediately familiar.

“A lot of us were just kids and we thought we were at home,” says Marjorie. “The Solarium was just so much like home.”

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