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45th Reunion of 1972A in August 2017
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45th Reunion of 1972B in September 2017
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50th Reunion of Class of 1967

Victoria General Hospital nurses reunite after 50 years



A lot has changed in 50 years. Just ask any one of the 47 nurses attending the Victoria General Hospital (VGH) nursing class of 1967 reunion. Every five years, the graduating class gets together in alternating locations across the province. This year, it’s in Halifax at the Delta Barrington Hotel. And no one would know better than these amazing women who have seen plenty of tragedy and triumph over the past five decades.

“During our student days [from] 1964 to 1967, the public transit in Halifax was the electric powered trolley coaches and a few new diesel buses,” says Ruth Douglas, a VGH alumna who also sits on the planning committee for the three-day reunion, which runs Sept. 15 to 17. “Scotia Square was under construction [at this time] and postage for a regular letter was five cents,” she adds.

On Sept. 6, 1967, 125 nurses finally donned their caps and gowns after three years of schooling.

“From the time I was a little girl, I wanted to be a nurse,” says Carolyn Kunz, another registered nurse who will be reuniting with her fellow classmates this month. “I remember my dad gave me this little nurse’s kit when I was five or six,” she adds. “I never thought I’d be anything else … I never wavered.”

Kunz, who describes nursing as very different today than it was 50 years ago, says “It’s very taxing mentally for new graduates, although we also had our challenges back then as well — just different ones.” And one of those challenges was especially difficult.

In the very early morning hours of Sept. 5, 1967, Czechoslovakian Flight 523 crashed in Gander, N.L., just seconds after taking off. Of the 69 people onboard the plane that had stopped in Newfoundland to refuel before embarking on its final leg of a Prague- to-Cuba flight, 37 souls were lost. And 16 of the severely burned survivors were airlifted to the VGH for treatment and the remaining 17 went to Montreal.

The day of the horrific crash, Kunz remembers being on the bus, which was taking the nurses to the Queen Elizabeth High School auditorium for a rehearsal for the graduation ceremony the following day.

“Miss [Florence] Gass, the director of nursing at the time, asked if there was anyone who could work that night because they needed staff for the burn patients. So, I volunteered.”

That night, Kunz got her first patient, Gabriellia Trujillo.

“She was a skater or a dancer from Germany and she lost her foot in the crash. And after she came here, she ended up losing her leg below the knee.”

Fifty years ago, they used large rolls of gauze soaked in saline to treat burns.

“There were no creams,” says Kunz. “So, that night, Dr. Tim Ross, Dr. Roberts and several residents worked around the clock just changing dressings because the burns were so bad.”

Kunz says it was incredible to watch how everyone worked together to help the survivors.

“Unfortunately, we lost one woman who had third-degree burns over her entire body. The only place that was not burned on her little body was where the seatbelt was.”

Kunz remembers her well and says she was travelling with her son, who did survive.

As the patients, who had varying grades of third-degree burns, recovered, they were slowly discharged and returned to Czechoslovakia. Kunz says Trujillo remained in hospital the longest and when she was well enough to return to Prague that February, Kunz was by her side for the whole trip.

“She was petrified, as one can imagine,” says Kunz, who vividly remembers flying on Air Canada to Gander, and then on to Czechoslovakia on a large, “cargo-like” plane with Trujillo on a stretcher beside her. Kunz, who was just 21 years old at the time, and scared herself, says she calmed the woman with Valium and much needed reassurance on the long, overnight flight.

“That’s all I could do,” she says. “How do you reassure someone who has been so traumatized?”

But Kunz did because that was her job. That’s part of the job for all nurses, whether 50 years ago or today, says Kunz.

And on Sept. 15 to 17, Kunz and fellow classmates, who called what is now the Bethune Building their home for three years, will celebrate their time on the job. “There was never a day that went by that I didn’t enjoy it because it was never the same. I was constantly learning.”

Carolyn Kunz will be joining her fellow classmates at the Victoria General Hospital class of 1967 reunion this month. Here she is proudly displaying her uniforms.


Subpages (1): Reunion 72 A
Iris Shea,
Feb 23, 2018, 10:25 AM