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It's All History by Jon Malek

Searching the archives for Manitoba’s

Filipino health care pioneers

By Jon Malek

In my recent visits to the Manitoba Archives, I have been on the hunt for references to Filipinos applying for licenses to practice in Manitoba as Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs). The body governing this profession at the time was the Manitoba Association of Licensed Practical Nurses (MALPN), and their records are stored at the Manitoba Archives. With the basic knowledge I had of when Filipino health professionals began arriving in Winnipeg, I started reading the records of the MALPN Advisory Council from 1956, to set up the context of Manitoba’s health care profession.

What became apparent was a growing concern that an upcoming shortage of nurses, including LPNs, was coming as changes to Canada’s health care system were implemented. At the same time, Manitoba’s population was still experiencing a post-World War II population boom. There are numerous references in the MALPN Advisory Council’s meeting minutes to requests from the provincial government on the ability of the MALPN to supply more LPNs. At the time, this governing body of LPNs had responsibility for training LPNs and maintaining an up-to-date curriculum.

In response to these requests from government, the MALPN increased class sizes and frequency, began to encourage high school students to consider a career as an LPN more rigorously and, important to our discussion here, accepted increasing amounts of overseas applicants. One of the first mentions of immigrant applicants that caught my attention was a nursing student from the British West Indies, in particular Barbados, who entered the LPN course in 1956. Black Barbadian immigration to Canada was significant during this period, as both countries had very strong ties to Britain that aided in the ease of mobility. This student appears to be one of the first non-white and non-Aboriginal students the MALPN had encountered, and reports on the student’s progress often appeared. The student also presented a new challenge to the MALPN: How to support the success of immigrant students? After the student’s performance improved following the enrolment of fellow students from the British West Indies, the MALPN suggested that overseas students might perform better if they worked alongside their compatriots. However, given the initial support from the MALPN, by August 1958 it was decided to not accept students from the British West Indies due to the difficulties they were having in adjusting to Canada and the fact that they could not afford to retake the LPN course.

In the late 1950s and 1960s, there were increasing numbers of Caucasian applicants from abroad, in particular from Greece and Hungary. Many of these applicants for a LPN license were educated abroad, however, when they came to Manitoba they were told that they would have to update their training. This was either through taking extra coursework, clinical rotation, or the entire LPN program. Because the education programs were not recognized, many from Greece and Hungary had to take the entire LPN program.

I have spent numerous hours on these MALPN meeting minutes and, while this background information was interesting, it did not directly relate to Philippine immigration. I had begun to wonder if I was looking in the right spot or if my energies would be better directed elsewhere. For those who do archival work, this is a common worry. In this case, persistence and confidence in my expectations paid off. In a 1966 MALPN Advisory Council meeting, there was mention that there was a steady increase in the number of out-of-province applicants that required attention. (It should be noted, too, that in 1966 the federal government of Lester Peterson introduced the Health Care Act, which allowed for universal health care in Canada.) After a page long list of names of those applying from out-of-province and their individual requirements, came a heading that sang out to me, a weary researcher at the end of a long week: A list of applicants from the Philippines! The list was short – only five – and all had taken a course in midwifery in the Philippines, requiring them to take the full LPN course.

In the years following this discovery, more applicants trained in the Philippines appear in the pages of the MALPN meeting minutes, along with numerous other applicants from abroad. These health professionals, together with the large numbers of graduating Manitoba residents, worked to fill the gaps in Manitoba’s health care service. Remember, this only refers to LPNs – this discussion does not include those who came to Manitoba as doctors, registered nurses (RNs), or other health care professionals. As Darlyne Bautista notes in Winnipeg’s Filipino Health Professionals (c. 1950-1970) (Vol. 1 of From Manila to Manitoba: Celebrating 50 Years with the Filipino-Canadian Community in Winnipeg), Filipino health professionals played a vital role in Canada’s health care at this time, not only through their hard work, but through their support of a universal health care system.

Now, to me this find was an archival discovery. Materials in archives can often be associated with people, organizations, or events that are in the distant past; however, this is not the case. Many of the people listed in the meeting minutes of the MALPN would still be alive today. The Filipinos who are named in this source were members of the first wave of the Winnipeg community, the first of what would become an active body of health care professionals.

Were you or someone you know one of Manitoba’s early applicants to the province’s various health care professions? If so, I would love to hear from you! Please e-mail me at jmalek7@uwo.ca to talk more. Your experiences and memories will contribute to the history of your Winnipeg Filipino community and its contributions to Canada. Visit www.pearloftheprairies.ca.

Jon Malek is a PhD candidate in History at Western University, and is a member of the Migration and Ethnic Relations program.

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