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02 - The road to 1974

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The Road to 1974

Understanding how significant the creation of the BC Ambulance Service was requires an understanding of how scattered and un-coordinated, healthcare and emergency response in BC was before the creation of our modern-day system.

Dating back to at least 1902, the provision of ambulance services in British Columbia has been both newsworthy, and fraught. On October 9, 1902, The Vancouver Daily Province dedicated much of the front page of the newspaper to a scandal around the mismanagement of Vancouver’s only ambulance — A horse-drawn vehicle that had been purchased by The Ladies Committee and donated to the city of Vancouver, under the express condition that it be used to provide services to anyone in medical need, and regardless of their ability to pay.

The Province’s coverage - Under the headline “Absurd Restriction” noted that:

“ … the city corporation … has put so many conditions in the way of needful persons obtaining the use of the ambulance that an efficient service is now impossible…”

Seven years later, in 1909, the Vancouver Police Department got their first auto ambulance - One powered by a motor instead of horses. The vehicle was a cunningham 740, costing $4,000. The vehicle hadn't even be commissioned or deployed when it was involved in a fatal traffic accident, striking and killing a pedestrian on Granville Street. Mr. C.F. Keiss, a Texan in Vancouver en route to a hunting trip in Powell River, was reported to well dressed, and to have “… cheques and cash to a large amount” in his pockets at the time of his death

The next 65 years of ambulance service in British Columbia were not without similar levels of controversy and chaos across the province.

Emergency medicine itself was not yet a recognized specialty (That happened in 1980), and the idea that pre-hospital emergency medical services might require personnel with specialized resources and training, was barely a flicker in the public consciousness. A patchwork of private and public agencies “just made things work” across the province, and the ability of British Columbians to access healthcare services varied greatly, even within the same cities. Some regions had private ambulance services, others had varied services provided by police and fire-departments, while some places had no services at all.

The general election in 1972 saw the NDP win over the incumbent Socred goverment that had been in office since 1952.  One of the first priorities for the new government was to evaluate, and fix, the broken patchwork of healthcare services in BC, and providing a unified provincial ambulance service was a key part of that initiative.

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