Wrinch biography author donates memorabilia to museum

Bulkley Valley Museum is now the owner of Dr. Horace Wrinch’s oscilloscope and medical encyclopedia

The author of an upcoming biography about Dr. Horace C. Wrinch has made a significant contribution to the Bulkley Valley Museum (BVM).

On Aug. 7, Geoff Mynett and his wife Alice, a Wrinch granddaughter, turned over the doctor’s oscilloscope and what is almost certainly his original Encylopaedia of Medicine.

Kira Westby, BVM curator, said the museum made an exception to accept the artifacts.

“We’re not actively collecting right now because we are so full, she said. “Taking these in is solely because of the connection to Dr. Wrinch because he was so significant in Smithers’ early medical history.

“During the Spanish Flu epidemic, it may be a bit of an overstatement, but saying that he saved lives in this town because he was the one who put it under quarantine, he was the one who said ‘close all your public spaces and your churches’… we only had two fatalities in Smithers from the Spanish Flu and it’s probably due to him and his knowledge and sense of public health. So, he’s very influential to our early medical history.”

Mynett is a retired lawyer who qualified for the bar both in his native United Kingdom and British Columbia. An avid history buff all his life, he said he was inspired to write about Wrinch not only because of the family connection, but because of just how influential a person he was.

“He’s a fascinating character,” Mynett said. “He’s a major contributor to the history of the north and he was so accomplished in so many of the things he did.

“He was a farmer for the first 30 years of his life, he was a lay-preacher, he was a doctor, a surgeon, qualified with top honours in Toronto. He came out to the Skeena River in 1900 as a medical missionary and he built the first hospital in the whole northern interior and this is an area from Atlin down to the Cariboo and from Port Essington to Edmonton.”

That hospital was located in Hazelton and additionally, Wrinch established a training school for nurses and a hospital farm.

“With the river being closed half the year, he had to not only get all his supplies in, but also feed the patients at the hospital, so the hospital farm was a very important part of the success of the community,” Mynett said.

Of course, Wrinch’s medical legacy in Hazelton is recognized with his name on the current hospital there, but his contributions go well beyond service as the first resident doctor in the northern interior.

Mynett pointed out he was a community leader, head of the Red Cross in Hazelton during the First World War, helped set up the B.C. Hospitals Association and was president of the organization for two terms.

He was also a pioneer in progressive social causes, Mynett explained, after being elected MLA in 1924.

“[He] championed public health insurance in British Columbia, which was the only place in Canada at that time where it was a lively topic.”

Mynett’s book Service on the Skeena: Horace Wrinch, Frontier Physician also promises to shed some light on the context of the times with provocative chapter titles such as “Murder, Missionaries and Medicine”, “Community, Cars and the Coming of the Railroad”, and “Mining, X-Rays and Daylight Robbery.”

The reference it ‘service’ in the book’s title may be particularly pertinent as Mynett’s research gave Mynett the sense it was Wrinch’s true motivation.

“He could have stayed in Toronto and had a brilliant career,” the author said. “But no, he wanted to come out where he could be of most service. So, I think religion was a prime motivation.”

Alice Mynett, the only daughter of Wrinch’s youngest son, was not yet born when her grandfather died in 1936, so she said having a book about his life is gratifying.

“I think it’s hugely impactful because I was an only child and I never knew, obviously, my paternal grandparents, so when you’ve got a really small family every person counts highly,” she said.

“I remember I was about eight when I realized my dad had parents too.”

Service on the Skeena is scheduled for release in October.

In the meantime, Wrinch’s oscilloscope and Encyclopaedia of Medicine will be safely in storage, but Westby said they would bring them out for the book launch.

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