Sandersons reflect on role of Red Cross
By Jenn Watt
July 19, 2016
Ken Sanderson was 10 years old when he first began helping out with the Red Cross.
His mother was president of the local chapter in Wilberforce and young Ken was also president – of the Junior Red Cross at his school.
It was a crucial institution to the rural hamlet, which functioned without a hospital, connected to the world through rail lines and muddy roads.
The Red Cross Outpost, on the Loop Road, was part of the organization’s new mandate in the 1920s: to improve the health of Canadians in vulnerable situations. It was the first outpost to be built in Ontario.
Now 92 years old, Sanderson is still connected to the Red Cross and believes he could be one of the longest serving members of the organization. Since the Outpost was one of the first and he has been volunteering since he was 10, it’s unlikely there are many others with as long-standing dedication.
Sanderson explains that Wilberforce got its Outpost thanks to Alfred Schofield, a local inspector with the Children’s Aid Society, and his concern for his fellow residents.
“What started it all, we had an old chap here by the name of Alfred Schofield and he went to the cemetery and he saw how many mothers had died in childbirth so he went to the head of the Red Cross and they told him if he could get a location and support they would back it,” says Sanderson.
Before long there was the Outpost with a nurse on staff and a team of volunteers who raised money and took care of basic health care and social needs in the community.
Ken’s wife, Nadeen, has also been a dedicated volunteer with Red Cross.
“We were married in ’56 and I said I married into it. I used to look after the loan cupboard,” says Nadeen, 85.
“We loaned crutches and wheelchairs and bedpans and urinals,” says Ken.
“Commodes, walkers, canes, you name it,” Nadeen finishes the list.
Red Cross volunteers were also tasked with fundraising. Given quotas and assigned regions, they would go door-to-door asking people to chip in.
“We used to go every March and get money for the local Red Cross. We’d go from Gooderham to Highland Grove,” says Nadeen.
When a tragedy would happen in the community, the Red Cross would help the victim. After a fire, the committee would jump into action, gathering supplies for the family, giving vouchers and putting them up in a motel for several nights.
A person the Sandersons refer to as a “dental coach” would also come and set up shop in a large motorhome on the property. He offered free dental services to children and families.
When Haliburton and Bancroft built hospitals, the Outpost was no longer needed and was converted into a heritage building. It ended medical services in 1963 and was converted to a private dwelling and then sat empty for years until it was eventually converted into the museum it is today. Though it was appreciated and loved, the Sandersons say those in Wilberforce were happy to have hospital services closer to home. That said, it still was a long trek to find a doctor.
“With Bancroft and Haliburton open to give better service we had no objections,” says Ken. “When I had my appendix out, they brought me from the farm, that’s two and a half miles in a buggy, and I got on a handcar ... and a section foreman was at Wilberforce so Mother and I rode on a handcar to Bancroft.”
While the train was an option for emergencies, mother and son would have had to wait a perilous amount of time. The handcar was about the size of a kitchen table, Ken recalls, and gas powered.
Over the years, Red Cross has scaled back in the community, but the Sandersons have remained members. They still participate in events at the Outpost and believe the role the organization – and the volunteers – played in Wilberforce were crucial to the village’s health and development.