The History and Development of the Operating Room

A hospital patient today expects the very latest in medical technology for diagnosis and treatment. In earlier centuries, however, those who could afford it were treated at home even if surgery was needed, and hospitals were regarded as a refuge for the poor in times of sickness.

British surgeon Lord Joseph Lister (1827-1912) developed the principles of “Antiseptic Surgery” in 1865, based on Pasteur’s germ theory of disease. Surgery moved from a ward side-room or the kitchen table to a dedicated, sterile operating room. This landmark of early medical technology changed the role of the hospital for rich and poor alike.

1896 The Pemberton Memorial Operating Room is built for the sum of $3,614.00 with funds donated by the estate of J. D. Pemberton, the first Surveyor General for the colony of Vancouver Island.
1896 The first year of the Pemberton Operating Room
1897 Electricity comes to the hospital and the operating room. Lord Lister (founder of antiseptic surgery) and Sir Charles Tupper (founder of the Canadian Medical Association) visit the Pemberton Memorial Operating Room.
1904 A total of 280 operations are performed, half of which are for appendicitis or pelvic conditions.
1910 The first year that Interns are required to wear white uniforms.
1921 Electric Light Present in the Operating Room
1925 Construction of a new hospital wing and new operating rooms. The Pemberton Memorial O/R goes on to other uses over the years, but with no major structural changes being made.
1995 Provincial Heritage designation is granted to the Pemberton Memorial Operating Room. Sketch of the Operating Room by Mr. Barry King.
2006 National Historic Designation Granted by the Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister for Parks Canada and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
2007 Restoration commences.
2008 Restoration of the roof.
2009 Restoration of the exterior
2010 Commemoration of the National Historic Significance of the Pemberton Memorial Operating Room.
Present The Victoria Medical Society is working towards restoring the Operating Room as a medical history museum and home for the Society medical archives library and offices. The Victoria Medical Heritage Society has been formed to oversee the Fundraising and Restoration of the Pemberton O/R. The restoration of the Pemberton Memorial Operating Room as a public medical museum has been encouraged and supported by medical historians and heritage organizations. Included among them are: The Victoria Civic Heritage Trust, The University of Victoria Professor Martin Segger, Author of “Exploring Victoria’s Architecture”, The Heritage Canada Foundation, The Canadian Coalition of Health-Care Museums and Archives.

Pemberton Memorial Operating Room: Preserving the Past, Envisioning the Future

The Daily: News Story Featuring the Pemberton Operating Room

Historical Artifacts


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