Page 21 - May 8, 2017
P. 21

Special Feature:

Harry Rusk's new life

started at Camsell hospital

by Adrienne Tait coming out- that families were split and people put
in isolation, I will add to that. That is true because
It is a story that may defy contemporary views TB was very contagious. They [the medical team
but local resident Harry Rusk has a different at the hospital] had to quarantine. Everything they
memory of Edmonton's Charles Camsell hospital did was to try to get our health back. In my case
than what is often portrayed. they not only gave me my health back but my
“My career and new life started at the Charles whole life,” said Rusk.
Camsell hospital,” said Rusk. Rusk said one of the things that gets overlooked
Born near Fort Nelson B.C. to parents who did when stories of people being taken away from their
not speak English, Rusk is full blooded Slavey communities are told, is that times have changed
Indian. “I like the word Indians, you folks are First and travel is much easier now than it was then.
Nations,” said Rusk. Rusk moved to Fort Nelson “Any long travels were very rare. Travels to the
to attend a “regular school” at his father's insistence 'outside' were quite unheard of in those days. I Local resident Harry Rusk shares memories of Edmonton's
when Rusk was nine years old. know because I was the very first of our Fort Charles Camsell hospital. photo Dana McArthur
As a child of three Rusk lost his brother to Nelson BC Band to own a car. This was in January
tuberculosis and at age seven he lost his father. At 1956,” said Rusk. today 'you're only going to live six months.' From
the age of 11 an American doctor, who was “TB was just like cancer is today. I saw it, and the time I entered the front room of that hospital all
volunteering his time, detected that Rusk was friends it's different when somebody has been there I ever heard was 'You're going to be ok. Don't
infected with Tuberculosis (TB). In 1942 the rather than somebody who tells you the story or worry. We'll help you.' Everything was edifying.”
American army was building the Alaskan highway reading a book. I was there. I saw TB completely The doctors told Rusk they had a new drug but
and with the army came medical personnel. wipe out four Indian families,” said Rusk. they didn't know what exactly it was going to do
“They detected that Indians and Eskimos were Rusk said his step-dad did not believe there was but asked if Rusk wanted to try. The drugs were a
dying of TB when they were building that anything wrong with him and would sometimes combination of streptomycin and PAS. Rusk
highway,” said Rusk, “The word was plight – keep him out of the hospital. One time he was kept agreed and he was placed in a private room to die
which was true”. He was sent to the sanatorium at out for too long and the disease in his lungs in November of 1950. “The disease in my system
Camsell where he would spend the next four years advanced. “The medical team tried to help me but was so bad they had to change gowns and masks
of his life. at that time there wasn't really a cure for TB. The upon every entry in to my room and they checked
Rusk was confined to the hospital for four years, best at that time was 'rest cure.' The stories came
between the ages of 11 and 15, and spent much of out that people had casts all over there body. That on me about every 15-20 minutes. That's how
much good care we got.”
that time on bed rest. Rusk said, “In December of is not true. There were children being children. I Rusk recalls the moment his fever broke. Pat
1950 they put me in a private room to die.” was on every ward except for ward 7 which was for Grant, formerly of Edson, was the nurse who came
However, not only did Rusk recover but the time the little, little guys,” said Rusk. “Some patients running when he called out. “She took my
he spent in the sanatorium turned out to be a were caught early enough that they were feeling temperature and everything was normal and I got
pivotal time in his life. ok.” Those children, because they were children, terribly hungry. All of a sudden my room was
The Charles Camsell hospital began as a did not want to rest. Rusk said, “The only way to filled with nurses and they asked if I was feeling
seminary for Jesuit priests in 1914 before being hold them down was to put a cast on them,” and ok. I said, 'of course I'm ok I want something to
used as an army barracks for the American Army indicated a cast that would have spanned the upper
eat!'” said Rusk, “Dr. Brick came and he said 'well
what do you want to eat?' and I said, 'A bowl of
vegetable soup – Campbells.' The kitchen was quite
a ways away from where we were at and they
brought it right away. I emptied it and I have been
eating it ever since.”
During his years at Camsell Rusk recalls nurses
and visitors brought in comic books, goodies,
chocolates, fried chicken, and reading materials.
Celebrities, athletes, and musicians visited the
hospital, and movies were played to cheer the
Rusk made many friends while at the hospital
with patients and staff alike with whom he has kept
contact over the years. Some of the patients went
on to have successful careers including jeweler,
business owner, mechanic, musician, and pilot
while others did not fare as well.
A pivotal moment came for Rusk on June 13,
- Provincial Archives of Alberta 1952 when Hank Snow, who was performing in
Edmonton, was convinced by hospital staff to come
Unidentified patients making crafts at the Charles Camsell hospital in Edmonton. and play for the 560 patients in the hospital. It was
then that Rusk met the man who was to become his
Engineers while they built the Alaskan highway. thigh to waist. “Some of the children cut off the idol and mentor. “Out of the group of boys I was
After the war the property, which had grown to cast. In other words the staff were trying to help us the only one he spoke to,” said Rusk.
include several outbuildings, was turned over to the but they had a lot of opposition – especially by the While hospitalized Rusk's mother sent him a
Canadian government to be used as a tuberculosis ones that were feeling ok!” Rusk recalled watching small guitar on which he learned to play.
(TB) hospital for Indigenous peoples from the children compete to see who could jump the Rusk was discharged on March 2, 1953 and
north. One ward, Ward 6, was delegated to the highest to grab onto the conduit that ran along the returned to Fort Nelson. He soon discovered it was
DDAs that contracted TB while serving overseas. walls. not the life he wanted. Through hard work and
During his time at the hospital Rusk spent several Rusk said the nurses checked the patients every determination Rusk earned enough to leave and
months on the DDA ward with the ‘white’ people. 15 minutes. “They were really good. They were joined the Air Force.
"In the dark we are all the same color and I was on not short staffed like others have said.” In the Air Force he was met with discrimination
a white ward. The Indians and the whites were The cure at that time was rest and good food and soon decided to join the Army instead. Signing
treated all the same,” said Rusk. which Rusk said they received. “They tried in up in Vancouver he found friends right away and
As a Slavey Indian Rusk has dealt with every way to help me. They said, 'Harry we trust was encouraged to continue with his music.
discrimination and prejudice for much of his life you' and they never put a cast on me.” In 1966 Rusk moved to Edmonton, and soon had
but, according to Rusk, his time at Camsell was not “By 1950 I was just getting sicker,” said Rusk. In a recording contract and some hit songs. On June
one of them. “I never experienced any tinge of the later part of 1950 new pharmaceuticals came 13, 1968 Rusk received a call from Hank Snow
these during my four years at the Camsell. We out. “My mother could not read, or speak English who invited him to come to Nashville. In 1969
were all given the best of care, encouragement and or talk English. The doctors came to me one day Rusk met Hank Snow again in person and had the
outstanding attention by all the doctors, nurses, and said, 'Harry we have tried in every way to help chance to tell the artist that Rusk was inspired by
assistants and hospital staff,” said Rusk. you and it's not working but you're going to make him. Snow asked Rusk for some of his records.
“TB is very contagious. The stories that are it.' We were never told at any time, like they do
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