1965 – 1966 CNA activities and CNA House


CNA Executive Director Helen Mussallem

As we moved into the mid 60s, approaching Canada’s centennial year, there was a significant increase in the number of national governmental committees and commissions. I seized the opportunities offered and advised the President and Board that CNA should take advantage of the opportunity to participate. This suggestion was not always received with great enthusiasm. There were the inevitable questions about how much will it cost, who will do it, should CNA risk being in the midst of controversy, and so on. I knew, however, that if CNA was to gain status as a national organization and elevate the status of nurses while enhancing their ability to provide better nursing and health service, we had to seize every opportunity. This meant that I was often left writing the brief – in consultation with the president, Isobel MacLeod. She was a wonderful person to work with and she gave me full reign.

The four major brief and submissions went to:

– The Senate of Canada Special Committee on Aging

– The Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism

– The Canadian Conference on Mental Retardation

– The Canadian Centennial Council and Centennial Commission

For the Senate Brief on Aging, CNA recruited Trenna Hunter of Vancouver, who was knowledgeable in this area, to assist in writing the brief. Trenna and I appeared before the Special Committee . We were well received. Senator Ferguson, the interrogator, was very thoughtful and sympathetic to our point of view.

The CNA Brief to the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism was not a stellar effort. I canvassed all members of the Executive Committee for their points of view and, guided by the terms of reference, wrote the brief CNA appeared before the Royal Commission and was well received.

The other two submissions, to the Canadian Conference on Mental Retardation and to the Canadian Centennial Council and Centennial Commission, were written, to a large extent, by members of the Executive Committee who had expertise in these areas. No strong positions were taken in either of these submissions.

Centennial fever was rampant and all non-governmental organizations were asked to submit project proposals. CNA decided to produce yet another film on nursing. The most impressive CNA centennial project, however, was the establishment, on site at Expo ’67, of a nursing station of the future. It was completely high tech and, in 1967, it boggled our minds. In less than 20 years, our high tech station has become a reality. Staffed by Rita Lussier and Viola Aboud, who created the exhibit, it was a popular display at Expo. The students and staff who worked at this Expo ’67 exhibit formed close personal ties and continued yearly meetings in the subsequent decades.


CNA House finally got its start with the digging of a massive hole in the ground at 50 The Driveway. It was a long, convoluted road which led to the construction of this “house” financed and built by and for Canadian nurses as their national headquarters. I must confess that, in the beginning, I was not very enthusiastic about this project as I thought it might take an undue amount of time away from CNA’s main objectives. We had already spent a great deal of time negotiating with the owners of two lots at the corner of Laurier Avenue and Charlotte Street.

Ottawa’s then mayor, Charlotte Whitton, said that she would oppose our purchase of this site as “the Catholics” who owned the lots on either side would eventually expropriate our property. We had been forced to bow out at that point even though our architect, Mr. James Strutt, had already submitted a very classic design for a building which would have met CNA’s current and future needs. A House Committee took responsibility for finding a new site. I admit that I begrudged the time the committee took for meetings which I was required to attend, with little apparent outcome. Eventually, our architect, Mr. Strutt, advised that Capital Storage, at 50 The Driveway, was selling and we began to negotiate. New designs were submitted to fit the new site. The south side of the proposed building had to be made to fit into the adjacent NCC property and that is how CNA House got its jagged silhouette. In the end, we had been able to trade the back portion of our lot for the NCC land on the south side of the site, but by then it was too late to change the original design. We had been delayed in acquiring the necessary property as Mrs. Murphy, the property owner, knew we wanted it and held us for ransom. We paid dearly for that small wedge of land and the house on it which had to be demolished.

Alternate version of the CNA House story:

. . . she approached the problem of developing plans for a new National Office. First of all, a site had to be found and, eventually, a very desirable property next to Le Cercle Universitaire and the Newman Club was located. However, when Ottawa’s mayor, Charlotte Whitton, heard that CNA was attempting to purchase this land and the buildings thereon, she was absolutely enraged. “Don’t you dare buy those,” she said. “Those Catholics on either side will expropriate and you will not have a place for your building in 10 years time.” As it happens, the mayor was wrong –30 years later the houses are still there. But, as mayor, Charlotte Whitton would not give CNA permission to build on that site. Luckily, an architect who had submitted drawings for that particular location knew of another site at 50 Driveway, where Capital Storage was located. CNA negotiated with Capital Storage and all went well.

Negotiations with the National Capital Commission who had property behind and at the side of the site were also successful. Then there was Mrs. Murphy! She had a small piece of land between the front and back part of the property CNA was buying and she held CNA to ransom for this little slice of soil. She would not sell her house unless she was paid an exorbitant sum. CNA, reluctantly, paid.

During the previous year, when the Executive was about to meet and while I was having dinner with the President, Electa MacLennan and the PresidentElect, they asked to see the site of CNA’ s new home. During this visit, we decided to have a sod-turning ceremony with all members of the sub-committee of the Executive present. We needed a shovel, so I telephoned Georgina Clarke at home and she agreed to bring one. Georgina had class. Next day, 1 April 1965, she arrived at the meeting with a gold-painted spade. Such was the commitment of CNA staff.

That same year, I thought it would be a great idea to have a time capsule embedded in the walloutside the Board Room. Once again, when the time came, staff came through for us. They procured a metal box and placed inside it copies of The Canadian Nurse and L’infirmiere canadienne, minutes of board of directors meetings, postage stamps, coins, letterhead and envelopes etc. for cementing into the wall. Perhaps in 1996, 30 years after the opening of CNA House, CNA could have a celebration marking this event.

Before CNA House was officially opened, we were staggered by three deaths (reminiscent of the triple crown of deaths over the original Board Room). They were: the Chairperson of the House Committee, Mildred Walker; President Katherine MacLaggan; and Governor General Georges Vanier. The latter was to have presided at the official opening of the building -invitations had been printed — and then all the arrangements had to be changed.

CNA House opening with Governor General Roland Michener


When, as CNA Director of Special Studies, I was able to persuade Dr. Kaspar Naegle to carry out approved Recommendation One of the Pilot Project for Evaluation of Schools of Nursing in Canada: “That are-examination and study of the whole field of nursing education be undertaken,” I was absolutely delighted. He had all of the required qualifications and then some. He met with the CNA Board of Directors on two occasions and I met with him, in Vancouver, on three other occasions. He was brilliant. Without question, he was the pre-eminent sociologist in the health field and we worked well together. In fact, I was always learning from him. His preliminary papers, submitted to the Board of Directors, had been well received. Then, on 6 February 1965, we got the news of his tragic death, by suicide. I was saddened beyond words. Apparently, a series of mistakes in judgment by his psychiatrist and hospital staff and allowed this tragedy to occur. I remember him so very well. These few words which follow are my reflections on a great man:

“..Modest and humble in the extreme. He perceived others with clarity and compassion but could not see in himself the greatness of his gifts. This was his tragedy and now it is ours. .. He asked us to live to the last minute and then at that moment we would see our equations written out. We can say that for him all actions were symbolic. These were statements. And he has made a statement, discrete and final, and it is true.”

The papers he wrote for CNA were compiled into a booklet, “A Course for the Future”, published in 1966. It is a rare gem.

Strangely, the death of Kaspar Naegle opened another door for me. Dr. Naegle had been asked by the Royal Commission on Health Services to carry out Recommendation One of the Pilot Project for Evaluation of Schools of Nursing in Canada and to carry out A Survey of Nursing Education in Canada. On his death, I was asked to take over both of these tasks. My survey of nursing education for the Royal Commission was published in 1964. I believe it is the best survey and report I had completed yet, strangely, most researchers refer to Spotlight on Nursing, A Report of the Pilot Project on Nursing Education in Canada.

An alternate version of the preceding:

It seemed logical, therefore, that Recommendation 1 on the whole field of nursing education be assumed by the person carrying out the examination for the Royal Commission. Dr. Naegle was a superb sociologist and scholar and Helen was delighted that he would be directing the project on nursing education for both CNA and the RCHS. His abrupt and untimely death was a devastating blow! The Director of Special Studies was asked to step into the breach and undertake this project. Although sure she could never produce a study the quality of one directed by Dr. Naegle, Helen agreed to do her best. The final report, when completed, was well received by the Royal Commission.

Study of Recommendations of Royal Commission on Health Services, 1964-1965

A study of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Health Services revealed that 79 of the 200 recommendations were “of concern to nurses”. Fifty-nine had direct implications for nursing.

This study was carried out “… with a view to establishing its own position and course of action.” It is impossible to calculate the effectiveness of the thousands of person hours that were expended on this study. At that time, however, a “position and course of action,” as well as a study of the recommendations, was required. In retrospect, I believe more time should have been spent on strategizing these studies.

Of great interest to me are the discrepancies between my recommendations in the survey Nursing Education in Canada (1964) and the recommendations of the RCHS. I recommended that the control of diploma nursing education be removed from hospitals and moved into the educational stream. The Royal Commission recommended only that the budget of the school of nursing and the hospital be separate. This was, in my view, unacceptable. The change suggested was only cosmetic and did not address the root of the problem.

Journals Editor, 1965

When I arrived at CNA, Margaret Kerr was the long-time, respected editor of The Canadian Nurse . She had been one of my teachers when I was a student at Vancouver General Hospital, and I stood in awe in her presence. I recall that, when she came to teach our classes, she wore a hat as was the dress code of the day. Each class, after about one minute, she removed her hat, with much verbal condemnation of the practice. Horrors! A woman with her head bared!

Margaret Kerr, as editor of CNJ, had fought hard to have her position considered equivalent to that of the Executive Director of CNA. She had had an on-going feud with the previous Executive Director, Penny Stiver, and she had won and, in so doing, had become Executive Director of the Journal. Margaret Kerr made it quite clear that she was at least on an equal status with me. As always, I was speechless.

When her retirement became imminent, we searched for a replacement. I was not satisfied with the recommendations of Mr. McGuire (PR counsel) and Ernest Van Raalte (General Manager). Suddenly, while talking via telephone with the two gentlemen, I had a flash of inspiration. We already had two great assistant editors, Virginia Lindabury (English) and Claire Bigue (French).

Why not have two editors –one English and one French? Mr. McGuire and Mr. Van Raalte were silent for a while but finally agreed to get back to me. Apparently, they discussed the idea with Margaret Kerr and she adopted it as her own. Great! So, on Margaret Kerr’s retirement, we replaced her with two editors. It seemed to work satisfactorily but was finally discontinued.

Committee on Social & Economic Welfare, 1965

When I arrived in Ottawa in 1957 for my two-year project, I was warmly received but whenever nurse’s salaries were discussed, I knew that I was viewed with suspicion. The west coast of Canada at that time was the militant promoter of UNIONS. Horrors! The Registered Nurses Association of British Columbia had authority to bargain collectively for nurses and was actively doing so. Other provinces lagged behind but gradually the “union movement” was gaining recognition — especially in Saskatchewan.

Louise Miner (Saskatchewan) was aware of the need to have national recognition of “collective bargaining” for nurses. After many meetings and much soul searching, the Executive Committee, in 1965, finally took a brave step forward and established a “Social and Economic Welfare Program”. The words “collective bargaining” were carefully omitted.

New Brunswick Association of Registered Nurses, June 1965

My first visit to St. Stephen, N.B. was to attend the annual meeting of the New Brunswick Association of Registered Nurses (NBARN) 2-5 June 1965. CNA’s President Elect, Katherine McLaggan, of N.B., was an important figure at these meetings as she was at all provincial, national and international nurses’ meetings. Katherine and I attended the meetings together as we planned strategy for convincing delegates that all nursing education belonged within the system of general education. Katherine was an inspirational leader and, at this meeting, she quoted liberally from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery. I have used these quotations on many other occasions:

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye;” and

“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”.

Following the meetings, Katherine had made arrangements for me to see the Ganong Chocolate Factory. On the way over, she told me that what she really wanted was not chocolate but jelly beans. At the factory we were met by no less than the President of the company, who insisted on taking us on the tour himself. It was fascinating. Very early on, Katherine told the company president that she would like some jelly beans. Poor man, I thought he was going to have a stroke. He was adamant “no jellybeans”. He was not proud of that product and confided that the company only produced them because of demand. As we progressed, Katherine continued to whisper to me that she “must” have some jelly beans. At one point, I excused myself and headed for the ladies room with a detour past the jelly bean sections. I gather the president -or someone – had instructed that jelly beans were not to be given to the distinguished visitors. I held firm. Finally, the supervisor said that, if he was not looking, I could take some candies from the tray. I did. Thank goodness, too, because, after we left, the first thing Katherine asked, with fire in her voice, was “Where are my jelly beans?” I produced them and she gave me, in return, the chocolates the president had given her. The story does not end there, however. Katherine told me much later, in Ottawa, that the president knew that I had taken some jelly beans and he was not amused. Each time I see the ashtray given to me by the Ganong president that day, I am reminded of jelly beans. And that was in the pre-President Regan era!