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NONIA: A Welcome Addition to the Community!

For the week of Monday May 19, 2003

On May 27, 1920, Lady Harris, wife of the Governor of Newfoundland, established the Outport Nursing Committee, which in 1924, became the Newfoundland Outport Nursing and Industrial Association (NONIA). This association clearly illustrates the resourceful and innovative spirit of Canadian organizations providing nursing care in rural areas in the early 20th century.

A NONIA nurse by a woman's bedside
© Courtesy of NONIA

In the days following the First World War, Newfoundland’s economy was quite weak. With its 236,000 residents, the island had only 45 physicians, who practised primarily in St. John’s and in large towns. Concerned with this state of affairs, Lady Harris travelled to England, recruiting a few nurses qualified to work as midwives. After crossing the Atlantic, they were assigned to coastal nursing stations. Not only did they provide care for the residents and train existing non-professional midwives, they also had to come to terms with the harsh climate, lack of transportation and isolation.

At that time, all nurses working in remote areas, either for the Red Cross or for other organizations, were called upon to perform duties that greatly exceeded their training. Every day, they did the work of doctors, dentists, veterinarians and social workers, extracting teeth, providing first aid, performing minor surgery and seeing to public health in the schools. In addition, they all helped deliver babies, even though midwives in Newfoundland had the exclusive legal right to attend to deliveries.

NONIA's headquarters
St. John's, Newfoundland
© Courtesy of NONIA

Newfoundland communities, which had to pay half of these nurses’ salaries, had some difficulty footing the bill. In 1924, the Newfoundland Outport Nursing and Industrial Association (NONIA) was officially founded by Lady Allardyce, the wife of the new Governor of Newfoundland. She formed groups of volunteer knitters who sold their work to fund NONIA’s services. In 1934, the Newfoundland government made nursing care part of the newly formed Department of Public Health and Welfare. A pioneer, NONIA showed the leaders the way in providing services to remote areas.

Today, the Newfoundland Outport Nursing and Industrial Association continues its work as an association of women dedicated to the preservation and development of Newfoundland arts and trades. Its founding was declared to be of national historical significance in 1998.

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