Health care workers are heroes: dedicated, courageous, and altruistic. These qualities are exemplified by Dr. A. W. Park, a pioneering doctor in southern Alberta, who arrived in the region before the province was even created.
Born in Ontario and a graduate of McGill University, Dr. Park (Walter to his friends) set up his practice in Cochrane in 1904. Frequently, he had to ride his horse 20 miles to help those in need. In 1906, he brought his new bride, Amelia, to the West and she sometimes accompanied him on patient visits.
Medical practices of the time were primitive — there were limited medical facilities, few vaccines, and no antibiotics. But Dr. Park did the best he could for his patients. He once saved a young farm girl’s life by removing her appendix on her family’s kitchen table. He stopped a smallpox outbreak in Cochrane by quarantining the afflicted, and he successfully treated all sixteen patients. Dr. Park also encouraged the founding of Cochrane’s first hospital, which consisted of a few rooms in the home of the Davies family. Today, this building is the CHAPS Cochrane Historical Museum.
Although the Parks lived four miles from Glenbow (which was located in the centre of today’s Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park), they were an important part of the community. Dr. Park delivered several babies at Glenbow and was a first responder to accidents at Glenbow Quarry. One Glenbow family was particularly affected by the Parks: when Lydia Wall died a week after giving birth, the Parks adopted the newborn.
During WWI, Dr. Park joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps. He spent most of the war in various overseas hospitals — as a patient. After the end of hostilities, he re-enlisted and served in Calgary’s veterans’ hospital until his retirement almost three decades later. Throughout his life, Dr. Park worked to help the underprivileged and the sick, and he was a board member for many charities.
Health care workers, past and present, are special people. To them we we are eternally grateful.