‘The young men found us more interesting’

From our February 2013 issue

By Lois McIntosh – Bon Accord, Alta.

In the late 1940s, I, and Sylvia Walker from Saskatchewan, embarked on a rigorous training course to become psychiatric nurses.

The rules were strict and unforgiving. One minute late signing in on a late leave meant one month without a late leave; our escort to the graduation dance had to have a background check and approval; and to become engaged would consist of dismissal from the course.

Lights out at 11 p.m., up at 5:15 a.m., to study for an exam meant sitting on the little shelf in your clothes closet with a towel under the door so the lights couldn’t be seen.

We were allowed to go home once a year – a long, lonely train ride. I visited my great-grandparents for a few days until the mailman went past our farm on Friday or Monday as it was the only way to catch a ride and see my family.

Our board and room was provided, as well as uniforms. Our monthly wage of $27.50 went surprisingly far.

We were getting into the bad habit of working eight hours, then congregating in one room and complaining about our horrible day. Sylvia and I decided this wasn’t a healthy habit and purchased a saddle horse each, Rusty and Queenie, and went riding most days.

We couldn’t afford saddles and had the odd encounter with the ground. We weren’t very popular with the young girls in town because the young men found us more interesting. Not to worry, however, as we found out all the coffee for patients and staff was well-laced with saltpeter to discourage too much interest in the opposite sex. Strange how coffee uptown was flat and tasteless!

Sylvia Walker married George Wur and remained for a time in Selkirk, Man., where we trained while I returned to Alberta.

Sylvia read a story of mine in The Senior Paper and wrote to me hoping that I was the same Lois McIntosh whom she knew. There has been much correspondence since. Thanks to The Senior Paper!