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St. Michael's 125th

Stories

Brief history of medical laboratories at St. Michael’s Hospital


A blood transfusion at St. Michael’s, circa 1915, in the emergency ward -- one of the city's first blood transfusions to be performed. (Courtesy of the St. Michael’s Hospital Archives)

There’s one discipline that interacts with each inpatient and nearly every outpatient at St. Michael’s – the medical laboratories. Balancing research, teaching and clinical testing – more than six million tests in 2015 – the medical laboratories provide a vital service to the hospital and the patients we care for.

For Dr. Bernadette Garvey, who joined St. Michael’s in 1968 and was chief of Laboratory Medicine from 1996 to 2000, the laboratories have become “a highly efficient, highly respected, absolutely essential service at the hospital."

Over the years, our laboratories have become among the top in the city; the expertise and reputation of the department were, among many other significant achievements, pivotal in acquiring the adult hemophilia comprehensive care centre, the largest in the country.

Since the early 1900s, the laboratories have provided a continuous service to St. Michael’s – but not without challenges. While the hospital has always recognized the need for and value of laboratory services, they most often occupied spaces vacated by others – from shared rooms in nearby church basements to an overheated nursery in 1964, cooled off with an air conditioning unit obtained from the local wine shop. It moved to 2 Cardinal Carter in 1982, the first space designed specifically for the labs since 1912.

Even while struggling for space and resources, the labs have achieved tremendous successes over the years. In 1915, St Michael’s Hospital was one of the first hospitals to have performed a blood transfusion. It installed one of the first fully automated laboratory lines in Canada, leading to turnaround times for routine biochemistry and hematology that remain among the shortest in North America.  In addition, the labs serve as a reference laboratory for renal and eye pathology, clinical toxicology and hemostasis, amongst others.

Future changes in the laboratories “may be even more dramatic,” said Dr. Garvey. “There will always be a need to evolve and respond to changes as science becomes more and more precise.”

Photo gallery

Courtesy of the St. Michael’s Hospital Archives

St. Michael’s Hospital in 1892, the year the hospital opened. Founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph, the hospital opened its doors with 26 beds and quickly expanded to include an emergency department and two large wards within a year.

Nurses working in the laboratory, under the leadership of Dr. William Magner, the hospital’s first chief pathologist (1931).

The laboratory before 1931.

Biochemistry, 1982. The laboratory space in 2 Cardinal Carter Wing was the first specifically designed for a lab since the early 1900s. It housed pathology, microbiology and biochemistry.

Technologists receiving their diplomas. Dr. Roderick Ross (fourth from the left), became chief pathologist at St. Michael’s in 1962. Dr. Charles Bardwell (fifth from the left), became the first medical director of hematology in 1950, while Michael O’Sullivan (second from the right), became the first biochemist at the hospital in 1941. Dr. Gordon Hawks (right) became St. Michael’s first specialized bacteriologist in 1950.