Dr. Telford

Robt T.

From British Columbia: From the Earliest Times to the Present, Vol. IV, 1914 (S. J. Clarke)

There were, in fact, three men known as “Dr. Telford” in early Vancouver and the three were brothers – dentist George (1876-1920); James Lyle (1889-1960), an M.D. who was CCF MLA for Vancouver East and later became the 24th mayor of the city*; and Robert (1869-1938). All three were interesting in their own ways, but the most intriguing to me is Robert, the founder and principal force behind an early private hospital called Burrard Sanitarium.

Robert Telford first came to B.C. from his native Ontario in 1891 when he was 22. He earned a teaching certificate and taught in public schools on Vancouver Island for three years. Afterward, he took a medical degree from McGill University and then returned to the Island (Nanaimo and later Chemainus) where he set up medical practice. In 1902 (after completing a few months of post-graduate work in Chicago and Montreal), he established a practice in Vancouver and developed a surgery specialization after receiving a F.R.C.S. designation.

In July 1902, Telford married Ella Maude Monroe in his home church, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian (the church was at the corner of Georgia and Richards, just a few blocks from the Sanitarium) and they later had a family of six (Gordon, Douglas, Kenneth, Jean, Dorothy, and Robert).

Burrard Sanitarium

Telford established the Burrard Sanitarium in 1902 or 1903.

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 8.06.24 PM

An advertisement for Burrard Sanitarium.

Although there seem to be no clear, head-on, photos of the institution among the online collection of the City Archives (nor among the historical photos of the Vancouver Public Library), the cropped CVA image below shows two – apparently at-one-time residential – buildings on the lots (1010 and 1016 West Georgia) where the Sanitarium was situated. It was on Georgia just west of Burrard (where the Burrard Building is today).  The Sanitarium was a private hospital and, as such, received very little or no public funding for its operation. But it seems that it did participate in a program for nurse training, although few details are today known.

Ch P91 - Wesley Church, Georgia [Street] 1901:02 R H Trueman photo

CVA – Ch P91 – Wesley Church, Georgia [Street] 1901/02 R H Trueman photo.

By 1915, the Sanitarium closed and Dr. Telford seems to have assumed a private practice located in the iconic old Birk’s block on the SE corner of Granville at Georgia.

He retained his practice at the Birks building until his death in 1938.

Political Avocation

Although he didn’t play the political game to the same extent as his younger brother, Lyle, Robert apparently dabbled in politics. According to a paper written on the history of the proportional representation movement in BC, he became president in 1917 of the Vancouver PR league: “Here was a major find for the reform forces as Telford was a well known and highly respected surgeon of international reputation. He had built one of the city’s first modern medical facilities, the Burrard Sanitorium (sic), in 1903. He also had a hand in a number of other reform movements, notably prohibition.” (Dennis Pilon, The Drive for Proportional Representation in British Columbia, 1917-23. M.A. Thesis, SFU, 1996. p. 34). Exactly what these numerous “other reform movements” were (aside from prohibition), isn’t clear to me.


* James Lyle Telford died of a stroke at age 71. His wife, Mabel (45 at the time of JLT’s death) was an apologist for parapsychology and outspoken about her ability to communicate beyond the grave. She claimed to be in regular contact with JLT after his passing (in the book Strings for a Broken Lute, 1971-72). She died in February 1972.

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2 Responses to Dr. Telford

  1. Kimball R. Nichols says:

    I am the eldest grandson of Robert Telford and his wife Maude, having been born in 1939 and having lived in greater Vancouver virtually my whole life. My mother was Jean Roberta Telford
    the eldest daughter of Robert and Maude. All her brothers, Gordon, Douglas, Kenneth and
    Robert also continued to live in Vancouver and raised their families there (save and except
    Gordon who with his wife Mary did not have any children). The other daughter of the Telford
    senior family, Dorothy, moved to California in the late 1930’s where she remained for the rest
    of her life.

    Therefore, I also wish to correct 2 details in the otherwise very informative VAIW article:

    Firstly, as noted above, there were 6 children of Robert and Maude. The omitted child Robert
    was the youngest of the siblings. He served in WW 2 in the Canadian Air Force and later stud-
    ied dentistry and came to practice dentistry in Vancouver and later in West Vancouver. His
    children are scattered around the province.

    Secondly, the location of the Burrard Sanitorium was, I have always been told, at Georgia and
    Thurlow Streets (not Georgia and Richards as the article states), and that accords, I believe,
    with the address that appears in the displayed advertisement. My mother Jean used to state
    that the hospital sat in landscaped property with a cow tethered there (presumably for its milk) visible to the public.

    • mdm says:

      Mr Nichols,

      Thanks very much for taking the time to read this piece and comment on it. Thanks for the addition of Robert!

      As for the address of the Burrard San., I think you’ll see, upon re-reading, that I have the San. at approx. Georgia and Thurlow — although I described it as being “on Georgia just west of Burrard (where the Burrard Building is today)”. The San. was nearer to Burrard than it was to Thurlow, as I understand it, and so I prefer that description.

      It is St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church which I identified as being at the corner of Georgia and Richards.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting on this piece!

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