The curator, the commissioner and the filing cabinet: How more than 100 years of nursing records left the historical museum

The Prince Albert Historical Museum. Herald File Photo

One day in February, the curator of the Prince Albert Historical Museum picked up a beige filing cabinet from a woman’s basement. It held nursing school records, some more than 100 years old, wrapped in about 710 sealed manilla envelopes.

“I brought it back to the historical museum,” said Michelle Taylor, the curator. “We even had the lock fixed on the filing cabinet so it would stay secure.”

Those envelopes had been on a long journey, and their story wasn’t over. They’d narrowly escaped the shredder, according to one account, and would soon raise questions over who should control a piece of Prince Albert’s history.

The Holy Family School of Nursing closed in 1969. It left behind a trove of documents, including grades, entrance forms and exit appraisals for hundreds of graduates. For decades, the records stayed put in the Holy Family Hospital. When the hospital closed in 1997, its director took them with her as she moved from job to job.

They ended up in the basement of Pineview Terrace. Their protector had since retired, and the care home was cleaning out old junk.

That’s when Fern Fernie got a call.

“Somebody, in their wisdom, was cleaning and they were going to chuck them out,” Fernie, a graduate of the nursing school’s class of ’62, remembered. “And someone called me, from the volunteers, and said ‘these are here – do you want them?’

“I said, ‘what are you going to do with them?’

“’We’re going to shred them.’”

Fernie felt that the records could have historical value. They could be used for genealogical research, she thought, helping families trace the lives of mothers, aunts and grandmothers who’d graduated from the school.

“I just felt that they couldn’t be thrown away,” she said. “It’s still a part of the history of the Holy Family.”

She said she’d take the filing cabinet. On a “very cold, windy day” last fall, she went with her husband to Pineview Terrace. The beige filing cabinet moved from one basement to another. But it didn’t stay for long.

“There’s no point leaving them in my basement,” she remembers thinking. “That’s not where they belong.”

So she called Taylor, who later picked them up and carried them off to the museum.

Taylor said she was “amazed” at what she found in those files. She thought they could shed light on unanswered questions she heard from visitors.

“I thought that the information in the files was just really neat,” she said. “When people asked us before, ‘do you have any records of who the nurses were?’ we had to say no. And then, just all of a sudden, we have that information.”

But Taylor soon ran into the law, specifically the The Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Within months, that act would strip the museum of its new treasure.

For more on this story, see the August 2 edition of the Daily Herald.