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Collingwood’s Florence Nightingale spent 48 years delivering babies and caring for the sick

'The story of Ethel Dawson’s contribution to the life and welfare of Collingwood is one that can never be completely told,' read an article in the town newspaper in 1953

Update: After posting this article, Collingwood Museum received information indicating what they previously thought was a photo of Nurse Dawson might be another nurse named Violet Twigger, though that has not yet been verified. If this is the case, it means the Collingwood Museum doesn't have a single photograph of Nurse Dawson. Museum staff are investigating this new information. The museum did send a newspaper clipping featuring a small headshot of Nurse Dawson, which has been added to this article.

Ethel May Dawson graduated in 1900 as one of the first nurses from the Collingwood General and Marine Hospital’s training school. She became a Registered Nurse in 1903.

During her training, there were three nurses on duty at the hospital, supervised by Miss Mary Knox. Their typical hours of work are recorded to have been from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m., with night duties being performed by a single nurse. Their monthly pay was $3.

Nurse Dawson practised as a private nurse in Collingwood and the surrounding district between 1900 and 1913 until her appointment as Town Nurse, School Nurse, and Truant Officer by the town's Board of Health. She served in these roles until 1948.

She received a salary of $50 per month from 1913 to 1918, and this gradually increased to $75 with an additional $75 annual allowance for car maintenance.

During the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic she collected community donations of cots, blankets, and furnishings and stored these in her apartment above the Empire (now Gayety) Theatre. She worked tirelessly alongside Reverend C.S. McGaffin at the temporary hospital ward at All Saints’ Parish Hall to serve the needs of the ill. She also trained volunteer nurses on Tuesday evenings in the Huron Institute.

Over the course of her service, she delivered more than 1,800 babies, and performed and assisted in countless services that bettered the lives of local residents. She is remembered for serving her community every day of her life, never taking a day off from work, and rarely missing her daily visits to the General and Marine Hospital.

A white wicker baby scale used by Nurse Dawson is preserved in the Collingwood Museum’s permanent collection, having been donated by a former patient in 1979.

Nurse Dawson’s compassionate and giving nature was exemplified in her actions to secure a private plot at All Saints’ Cemetery where approximately 55 children were interred. Each grave was once marked with a wooden cross.

For many years Nurse Dawson held a clinic at All Saints’ Anglican Church for mothers and children. Today’s photograph captures the opening of the All Saints’ Baby Clinic in 1931 at which time a tea was hosted by the Moberly Chapter of the I.O.D.E.

On June 19, 1949, a beautiful stained glass window was dedicated to Nurse Dawson in the west transept of All Saints’ Anglican Church. The window was the gift of the Home and School Clubs, other municipal bodies, many of her friends, and the women of All Saints’ Church.

On October 8, 1953, the Enterprise-Bulletin reported “The story of Ethel Dawson’s contribution to the life and welfare of Collingwood is one that can never be completely told. So many of her deeds were known only to herself and the recipient of her kindness.”

Nurse Ethel May Dawson died in 1953. The following lines were written by Mr. W.J. Holden and recited by Reverend E.R. Ayde at Miss Dawson’s funeral:

“The body of Ethel Dawson has now passed away,

But the spirit of Miss Dawson is here with us to stay.

Collingwood had the company of a Florence Nightingale,

Her passing has left a void that none can ever fill.

Her most unselfish nature was the envy of us all,

She lived for others’ comforts and heeded every call.

She is gone, not forgotten – her name will always be

A high standard of unselfishness for the rest of us to see.”

If you have any information to share about Nurse Dawson’s service to our community, please contact Museum Supervisor Melissa Shaw at mshaw@collingwood.ca.

Remember This is a weekly series of historic photographs submitted by the Collingwood Museum to CollingwoodToday.ca. These photographs were originally collected and documented by the Huron Institute in an historical catalogue entitled Huron Institute Paper and Records: Volume III. Much of Collingwood’s early history has been preserved due to the dedication and foresight of the early museum’s founders, namely its secretary-curator David Williams, upon its establishment in 1904.



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