Margaret Giovannini was an English nurse who came to Newfoundland to
work in the outports.
In 2006, she passed away in St. John's at the age of 105.
She loved to talk about her years living in
outports. Here she shares some of those memories. At the age of 95, she was interviewed on CBC radio and recalled her time in Rencontre.
I ARRIVED IN NEWFOUNDLAND on April 16, 1939. I had always wanted to
travel but could never afford to do so. When the opportunity arose to
work as well as travel, I liked it. We travelled to Newfoundland from
Liverpool, England on board the S.S. Nova Scotia. Department of
Health and Welfare nurses met me at the boat in St. John's and I was
taken to the nurses' residence at the Balsam Hotel.
The first few days were spent mainly attending clinics at the
Department headquarters which, at that time, was in the basement of
the Public Library. I had misgivings about doing dentistry, which was
required in the isolated outports. However, after receiving advice on
procedures under the guidance of the dentist present at those
clinics, I felt a little more confident.
I had been a Queen's District Nurse in England and was well
acquainted with district work. I was also a certified midwife and had
practiced as such for several years in England.
My first district in Newfoundland was Rencontre East in Fortune Bay,
which included eight other settlements. These could only be reached
by boat. It was always possible to answer calls except in stormy
weather, which fortunately did not occur often.
Harbour Breton was the nearest medical centre and Dr. Paton resided
at the hospital there. One week prior to taking up my post in
Rencontre was spent in Harbour Breton meeting the medical officer. We
were informed on procedures to be taken when medical advice and
assistance was needed. If we needed urgent medical assistance, the
hospital ship Lady Anderson was at our disposal and answered all our
calls, weather permitting. A doctor and nurse were on board the boat
at all times.
Our telegrams for assistance or advice were given priority by sending
a pink telegram form, which was sent immediately to the doctor on
board the ship. When in a settlement on an emergency call, the doctor
would visit other patients requiring attention or advice at the
I always looked forward to the arrival of the hospital ship as I
could visit the staff, have one or two meals with them and enjoy
their company and discussions.
Before starting work on my own, I helped with clinics on the Lady
Anderson all day. I was then taken ashore to begin my work at
Rencontre. I had a busy first day, as several children needed
attention; one or two were very sick.
The doctor on board the ship had already advised me regarding drugs
and treatments. I was glad of this advice, as many of the drugs had
different names in England.
I had a very comfortable boarding house where every kindness was
shown to me. Especially in winter, if I had been away all day in
other settlements on monthly visits or on a sick call, my landlady,
Mrs. Baker, kept a lookout for the boat. She would have a nice big
fire ready to warm me up, as well as a nice cup of tea and a meal.
A very convenient surgery and waiting room were provided. All
instruments for dentistry and minor surgical needs were supplied by
the Department of Health and Welfare, as was a liberal supply of
drugs. No effort was spared to provide the supplies which were
ordered once a month.
All liquid medicines were provided in one gallon jars. In winter
especially, it was necessary to order a large supply, as weather
often delayed the boat's arrival and no roads connected the