Healing in the Wilderness: A History of the United Church Mission Hospitals


240 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55017-338-3
DDC 362.1'0971






Reviewed by Joan A. Lovisek

Joan Lovisek, Ph.D., is a consulting anthropologist and ethnohistorian
in British Columbia.


As the title suggests, this local history documents the pioneering
efforts of the United Church and its precursors to provide medical
assistance to remote areas of Canada, most located in northern British
Columbia and Alberta. The author, a former “flying missionary,”
describes how the delivery of medical services in British Columbia was
spearheaded by notable missionaries such as the Reverend Thomas Crosby.

Covering the period from 1889 to 2004, the history unfolds through
descriptions, personal profiles, biographies, anecdotes, and pictures.
Some of the pictures show personalities like Dr. Winch, who advocated
for universal public health care 20 years before it was finally
introduced as a Canadian institution. However, much of the book is
dedicated to recording operations (with a lot of teeth pulling) and
hospital construction. There are startling photographs of an emancipated
“Old Cahoose” of Ulkatcho, who was forced to live in an isolation
tent because of advanced tuberculosis and lack of care. The lobbying
efforts that originated from medically minded missionaries like Dr.
Galbraith would result in the first TB hospitals for Native people, a
contribution that is mostly unnoticed.

Although this book provides important commentary on Native people’s
encounters with Western medicine, and on the delivery of medical
services during the establishment of canneries and the gold rush, it is
written through an uncritical lens. The only hint of criticism appears
in vague references to bureaucratic management. Healing in the
Wilderness should be read, therefore, in the spirit in which it was
written—as a tribute to the pioneering work of United Church Mission
doctors and nurses.


Burrows, Bob., “Healing in the Wilderness: A History of the United Church Mission Hospitals,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 28, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/17238.