Profiles, Tofino and area, Victoria and area

More than a “dish washer” – Nursing Sister Lilly Garrard

When Lilly Garrard was born in Comox in 1890, her father was told “it is a dish washer this time, you must do better next.” This “dish washer” did more than that in her life — she graduated from St. Joseph’s nursing school in Victoria and served overseas as a Nursing Sister with the Canadian Army Medical Corps and privately nursed for over 20 years.

Lillian Garrard nurse St Josephs graduation
Lillian Annie Garrard was born in Comox in 1890. Detail from image P2149 courtesy of the Sisters of St. Ann Archives.

Early Island Adventures

Lillian Annie Garrard was born in September 1890 in Comox. Her parents Frank and Annie Garrard had recently immigrated from England. At the time of Lilly’s birth, her father worked on the coastal boats, shipping goods between Vancouver Island and the mainland. Frank already had years of experience in the merchant marine, sailing around the world on tall ships and steamships.

Lilly’s early life was also full of movement and adventure. When Lilly was one, the Garrards moved to Nanaimo, and Frank worked a surveyor and engineer. While in Nanaimo, Lilly nearly drowned when she fell into a well. Frank Garrard and his brothers then decided to become coal miners and farmers in the Alberni Valley. While there, her brother Noel also almost drowned when he too fell into a well.

Lennard Island Lighthouse early 1900s
Lilly Garrard lived on Lennard Island circa 1904 – 1908 when her dad Frank was the lighthousekeeper

In 1904, Frank Garrard became the became the first lighthouse keeper of Lennard Island. Teenaged Lilly accompanied her dad on boat rides on the rough sea and witnessed the near drowning of her brother Noel and sisters Ethel and Olive when their canoe upturned. In January 1908, the Garrards experienced a family tragedy when Lilly’s 14 month old brother died after eating a piece of lye. After this, they decided to leave Lennard Island. The Garrards moved briefly to Vargas Island and then to Tofino when Frank Garrard took over the post office and telegraph office.

Nursing school

While in Tofino, Lilly started helping Dr. Melbourne Raynor at the local Methodist Mission. Frank Garrard later wrote in his memoirs: “She was beginning to consider nursing as a career, which in the course of time we helped her commence…” Lilly attended the nursing school at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Victoria. She was financially assisted by her parents, Dr. Raynor, and Father Maurice, of the Christie Industrial School. Frank Garrard recalled that “besides the initial expenses, we paid during the first year or so, about ten dollars a month, towards her expenses, pocket money etc.”

St Josephs Hospital image from Victoria Directory
St. Joseph’s Hospital, Victoria. Lilly Garrard trained as a nurse here between 1911 – 1914. Image from Henderson’s Greater Victoria Directory, digitized at

Lilly entered the School of Nursing in August 1911 and graduated May 4 1914 (although she is in the 1913 grad class photo). Lilly’s parents received an invitation to her graduation but they were unable to attend. There was a far distance by steamer to Victoria and it was often hard for Frank Garrard to get away from the telegraph office. Lilly Garrard was one of 28 St. Joseph’s Hospital nursing school graduates who later served with the Canadian overseas forces. Four other graduates in this graduation photograph served as nursing sisters: Fanny Pugh (4), Mina Beattie Craighead (5), Eva Louise Spinks (6), Hazel Evalyn McDonald (10)

St Josephs Nursing Photo - P2149
Lillian Annie Garrard (3) at the St. Joseph’s Hospital nursing school graduation, 1913. Image P2149 courtesy of the Sisters of St. Ann Archives.

A sick brother

Frank Garrard wrote in his memoirs that “during the early part of the war Lilly was at Victoria engaged in her duty as Nurse.” Early in 1916, Lilly visited Tofino, as Frank Garrard noted: “Lilly had left Tofino for Victoria to continue her nursing employment, on February 12 1916; I do not think I have any further record of her being at Tofino again before she went overseas…”

In March 1916, Lilly’s brother Francis Robert Burdett (“Burdie”) Garrard, stationed with the Engineers in Duncan, came on leave to visit Lilly. He had a bad cold that turned into pneumonia. Seeing that he was seriously ill, Lilly notified the family doctor, Dr. Raynor. Burdie was invalided at once and it took some to recover before he went overseas. Frank Garrard later wrote: “in fact the effects of this never left him.”

Just over a year later – on May 5 1917 Lillian Annie Garrard enlisted with the Canadian Army Medical Corps. Lilly sailed for England on June 28 1917. At the time she was leaving Canada, Burdie Garrard was returning to Canada, a very sick man. Burdie had contracted tuberculosis and would spend the rest of his short life in convalescent hospitals.

Lillian Annie Garrard war service
NS Lillian Annie Garrard’s service record – digital service files, Library and Archives Canada

Ontario Military Hospital – Orpington, Kent

Lilly arrived in England on July 8 1917 and soon transferred to the Ontario Military Hospital in Orpington, Kent. According to the Ontario Archives, the Ontario Military Hospital was “one of the most advanced military hospitals in the world at that time and was paid for by the Province of Ontario at a cost of $2 million.” (source Ontario Archives online exhibit about the Ontario Military Hospital) In September 1917, the Ontario Military Hospital was renamed the No. 16 Canadian General Hospital.

Lilly was taken on strength on July 23 1917. She would have immediately been busy. The War Diary for the No. 16 Canadian General Hospital shows that on July 27 1917 a convoy of 170 stretcher cases came from France. On July 29 1917 a convoy of 190 stretcher cases came from France. On July 31 1917, there was heavy rain. During the month of August, 1408 overseas cases (including 442 Canadians) and 64 local troops were admitted to the hospital. A band from the Reserve Battalion was attached to the hospital for one week. Band concerts were given every morning and afternoon to patients.

Letters to Frank Garrard give more details about Lilly’s nursing experiences. Noel Garrard wrote a letter to his dad, in which he mentioned Lilly being stationed at the Ontario Military Hospital, Kent and rather hoping to change roommates as a particular friend of hers was there. Noel said “she will be lucky if she can, as they don’t seem to study one’s wishes, either in the Army or Navy.”

In August 1917, Lilly had a visit from her brother Noel and also a chance encounter with a patient — Murdo McLeod from Tofino! Murdo was having a “plastic operation” (nose reconstruction), a result of an injury in October 1916 at Courcelette. Murdo later wrote to Frank Garrard: “met two of your family namely Sister L Garrard and Noel, Noel was on leave and had called to see his sister, what a surprise I got when I met Lilly, didn’t know she was over on this side of the water, was awful glad to meet them…”

Buxton, Derbyshire in the Peak District. View taken from the grounds of the Palace Hotel which was a war time hospital where Lilly Garrard nursed.

Granville Canadian Special Hospital – Buxton, Derbyshire

The War Diary for No. 16 Canadian General Hospital on November 7 1917 notes: “Struck off Strength….N/S L.A. Garrard…proceeded for duty at Granville Canadian Special Hospital, Buxton.” This hospital had recently moved to Buxton after it had been bombed in Ramsgate, Kent during German air raid on August 22 1917.

Lilly’s grandmother in Ealing was glad she had been moved away from Greater London. Frank Garrard later noted: “two letters from mother on the 5th and 10th November 1917…she mentions having been in touch with Lillian who was then at Buxton Derbyshire and Mother thought she was safer there than at Orpington. She says ‘the air raids keep us on the alert, to us they are only an excitement but to London and its near suburbs a terrifying trial.”

Buxton was a renowned spa town in the Peak District, known for its curative waters. Lilly wrote to her mother it was “like one big park like summer resort or rather health resort, they have the thermal baths and everything for a good easy time, with many hotels and hospitals.”

The Granville Canadian Special Hospital (located in the Palace and Hydro hotels) was a primarily a rehabilitation hospital for amputation and shell shock cases. The hospital had 1600 beds. Lilly worked at the Granville from November 1917 to July 1919. She may have crossed paths with Mina Craighead, her classmate at St. Joseph’s, who worked at the Granville from January 1918 to end of April 1918.

The Palace Hotel was taken over as part of the Granville Canadian Special Hospital

A letter home in May 1918 – tired feet!

By Mother’s Day 1918, Lilly wrote to her mother that her work was very heavy just then. Although she had not much sleep lately, “fresh air is the main thing, one can’t keep up without it, I found out now.” Lilly was going to move her bed right into the window. This comment about fresh air may have been in reference to her living quarters. Reports from the War Diary for the Granville Canadian Special Hospital show that there were complaints from nursing sisters about their accommodation in the Grosvenor Hotel, where it was cold and damp and there was “an unpleasant odour of escaping gas.”

Lilly also noted that some of the other nurses were going in for golf, but it was “too much exercise for me for the feet.” However, Lilly was able to go horse riding. She told her mother that she was going for a ride that evening for fresh air, saying “it is a treat to be able to get the air and not have to walk, our feet get so tired at the end of the day so that it is not much pleasure walking.”

The nurses held dances but Lilly didn’t enjoy them. She felt that a dance Wednesday evening was enough and far too much. They were always short of girls, she did not know where all the officers came from. It was too crowded for pleasure, “I go and feel it is a duty.”

Yet, despite the complaints, Lilly must have been doing well. In November 1918, Lilly’s uncle wrote to Frank Garrard, who reported: “Lilly was in charge of two wards containing 80 beds, so he says she had definitely demonstrated to the ‘Tyees’ that she is a good nurse.”

buxton granville nursing sisters march 1918
Granville Canadian Special Hospital nurses, March 1918. Lilly Garrard should be in this photograph but the print quality is not clear enough to tell which one is her. Image from the Canadian Hospital News, March 16 1918, Library and Archives Canada

Return to Canada

Nursing Sister Lillian Annie Garrard was demobilized in September 1919. She returned to British Columbia and immediately went to Balfour Sanatorium to visit her brother Burdie. She was with him until he died in October 1919. Lilly continued nursing, briefly working in California and New York. In 1922, she left her job and travelled to England with her father. On her return, she began working in Berkeley, California, where she was a private nurse for the next 20 plus years. She made annual holidays to Vancouver Island to visit her family. Lilly died in Victoria in 1986.

possible lilly garrard at beach
Frank Garrard and daughter, beach at Tofino circa 1930. This woman is believed to be Lilly Garrard, home on her annual holiday to Vancouver Island. Source – Harold Monks collection