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About Sickkids
About SickKids

Elizabeth McMaster

Elizabeth McMaster was a woman of great drive and aggressiveness. Once she put her mind to something, she would follow it through to the end. She recognized that almost half of all recorded deaths in 1875 were children under the age of 10 years and that this condition had improved scarcely in the past 50 years. General hospitals didn't improve the special care that children needed, she argued. At the time, the only children's hospital in the British Empire was at Great Ormond Street in London, England, established 21 years earlier. Elizabeth McMaster thought Canada should have the second one.

On March 23, 1875, Elizabeth McMaster and a group of Toronto women rented an 11-room house on Avenue Street in downtown Toronto and declared open a hospital "for the admission and treatment of all sick children." The hospital contained six iron cots On April 3, Maggie, a scald victim, became The Hospital for Sick Children's first patient.

In 1879, Elizabeth McMaster, 31 years old with three children and an ailing husband at home, still did much of the work at the hospital, which by this time was in its third location, on Elizabeth Street. She argued with plumbers, managed finances, pleaded with carpenters, supervised meals, guided the staff, consulted with doctors, searched for lost clothing, presided over the Ladies Committee, asked for gifts from wealthy friends, and fussed over the little patients.

Elizabeth McMaster continued to take part in every aspect of the running of the hospital until 1892 when Sick Kids changed locations for a fifth time. When the College Street hospital opened, Elizabeth McMaster made her last, and probably her best, speech on behalf of her beloved hospital:

It has devolved on me to pronounce The Hospital for Sick Children formally opened. May God, our stay in the past, continue with you and provide for the future. May the doors of the new building swing widely open at the cry of any suffering child, and the same spirit of love and sympathy rest within, for Christ's sake, amen.

But there is still a part of Elizabeth McMaster in the hospital. Every time a nurse comforts a suffering child, a member of the Women's Auxiliary continues with her volunteer work, a donation is sent in, a volunteer reads a child a story, a doctor saves a child's life, or a chaplain speaks softly to a bereaved parent, the spirit of Elizabeth McMaster is there.

Elizabeth McMaster left Canada and went on to work in other hospitals in the United States. She died on March 3, 1903.