Series S3 - Chinese Cooks

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Chinese Cooks

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  • 1972; 1977 (Creation)
    Department of Dietetics

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5cm textual material
10 photographs

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(1937; 1945, 1960-2004)

Administrative history

The Winnipeg General Hospital became incorporated on May 14, 1875 and at that time the Board of Trustees was put in charge of the purchasing and maintenance of the food for the patients. The doctors determined a patient’s meal as the hospital lacked a formalized training program for Dieticians. The Dietary Department of the Winnipeg General Hospital began informally with the creation of the diet kitchen. The diet kitchen was operated through the Winnipeg General Hospital School of Nursing and was staffed as a part of the nursing rotation. The ward kitchens were where the specialty food for the patients was prepared by the nursing students. The dieticians were strictly clinical as the main kitchens were run by the so called Chinese cooks, beginning with the first Chinese head cook of the Winnipeg General Hospital, Joe Mar (Yock Mah) who was hired in 1912. The diet kitchen and main kitchen were separate entities under the banner of the hospital’s food services. It was not until 1954 that the dieticians gradually began to integrate into the kitchens, bringing the departments together under one cohesive management. The Diet Kitchen was finally removed from the hospital in 1960 and in 1961 a new cafeteria was opened which changed the organization of the hospital’s food services.

With the opening of the new Cafeteria in 1961 and the change in the administrative structure throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s the dietary department began to encompass purchasing, staff feeding areas, catering, menu planning, budgeting, food research, patient diet as well as retained control of the kitchens. It was in this period that the dietetic internship program was revived.
The Winnipeg General Hospital Dietetic internship began an experimental program offered in 1928 to provide a work experience program for university graduates in home economics. The program was stopped in 1944 for reasons unknown and was not revived until 1967 under the leadership of Alva Gross. The program would grow to become the largest in Canada before its closure in 2004 to integrate with other regional programs in Manitoba. The student transcripts and records relating to the personal information of the Dietetic Interns were given to the new regional program under the authority of Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA).

The department of dietetics was formally created in 1918 with the director charged with the administration of patient diets, formula for newborns, tube feeding and other clinical tasks for patients. The student nurses prepared special diets set forth by the dieticians. The following people served as Dietary Department Directors between 1918-2004: Mary M. Bruce (1918-1928), Kathleen Cunningham (1928-31), Elizabeth Pickersgill (1931-1939), Anne Livingstone (1939-1941), Marion Hobbs (1941-1943), Alice Vasey (1943-1946), Erma Baldwin (1946-1948), Beth Seys (1948-1950), Mrs. Earl Dagg (spring 1950-fall 1950), J. Bennett (1950-1959), Betty King (1959-63), After the department was changed to Department of Dietetics Alva Gross (1963-1975), Marianne Schumacher (1976-1991), Lorraine Cook (1991-1994), Paul Brewer (1994-1997), Colleen Koch-Mcdonald (1997-2004)

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Scope and content

The series records the history of the Chinese cooks at the WGH as part of the history project undertaken by the Dietetics Department for the centennial anniversary of the hospital. The records were arranged by subject matter and were compiled for a narrative presentation on a unique aspect of the department’s history. The project files contain recorded personal memories, compiled lists of first employees and correspondence with the descendants of Joe Mar.

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consult archivist as some restrictions apply

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For background information on Joe Mar and his family, see the local section of the Winnipeg Free Press obituary on his daughter, Winifred "Winnie" Paktong (September 3, 2013)

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Judge Galt the president of the board of trustees was put in charge of hiring a head cook for the hospital. While on vacation in Victoria, British Columbia he had dinner aboard the Navy Cruiser Raleigh. The Judge enjoyed the meal so much he hired the cook Joe Mar or (Yock Mah). Joe was from the ship’s home base of Hong Kong and was installed as the first Chinese cook at the Winnipeg General Hospital. He was given a staff of five, all of whom came from Hong Kong to run the main kitchens. The dominance of Chinese personnel in the kitchens was so strong and contact with other staff members was so limited that all the signs in the kitchen were written in Chinese. The hospital paid the kitchen staff wages to Joe and he would administer the funds to the rest of the employees. When Joe returned to China in 1936 the hospital began to pay the kitchen staff per person and did away with the older system. The kitchen staff initially lived in a room off the main kitchen between the old “C” and “F” wings of the Winnipeg General Hospital. The hospital eventually purchased housing on Pearl Street for the staff. After moving out of the hospital grounds Joe Mar and his family lived in a house on Emily Street, which was also owned by the hospital. The general kitchen was run by a Chinese staff until 1954 when two dieticians were officially installed as permanent staff. The last member of the old Chinese kitchen staff would retire in 1977.

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