Naomi Allsebrook was born and grew up in Kaslo, BC. In the mid-1940s, she entered the UBC School of Nursing, graduating from Vancouver General in 1950 and from UBC in 1951. Her class was the first to receive Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees rather than Bachelor of Applied Science (Nursing) degrees and, because, alphabetically, she was the first to receive her diploma that year, Naomi jokes that she is “UBC’s first BSN graduate.”
She then worked as a head nurse at the TB Willow Chest Centre, then at Pearson Hospital in Vancouver. After her marriage in 1953 to Peter Miller from UBC Engineering, the couple moved around the country – Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario. During these years, they began their family of one boy and five girls. As her daughters grew, she volunteered with the Girl Guides of Canada, which became a life-long interest and she advanced in the organization to become a Guide Trainer and continues to attend and support the Guide organization and to attend and serve on provincial councils. She was given honorary life membership in the Guides in 1987.
In 1968, the family returned to the mountainous, eastern BC area that was “home,” first to Golden, BC, and she continued to work, at times, in nursing and to establish a wonderful province-wide network of nursing friends and colleagues. Her husband, who was now a teacher, had always been interested in history and was working with the Golden and District Historical Society, so she joined in this passion and from 1974-83 was Curator of Golden and District Museum. In 1983, the family moved to Wasa, BC, and she soon became actively involved in the historical societies in that area. In 1980, she was elected to the Council of the British Columbia Historical Federation and in 1983 launched the Federation’s first annual Writing Competition for BC History Books. She served as president of the Federation from 1986 to 1988 and then volunteered as Editor, for 10 years, of the British Columbia Historical News. She reorganized it, increased its circulation, and firmly established it as a prestigious quarterly journal.
During the 1990s, she was particularly active in provincial history activities, serving as a member of the BC Heritage Minister’s Advisory Committee and as a Director of the BC Heritage Trust, and she worked with the innovative Kootenay “Living Landscapes” Committee. In recognition of this work, she was named an Honorary Life Member of the Kootenay Lake Historical Society in 1999. She was a founding Director of the Friends of Fort Steele Society – and if any of you have visited Fort Steele, you can appreciate the magnificent effort required to make this an important provincial heritage site. Since 1989, she has served each summer as a volunteer in Fort Steele Heritage Town. And from 1999 to 2005, she was Secretary of the Wasa and District Historical Association. From 2003 to the present, she has served as Secretary of the Fort Steele Cemetery Society.
Not only did she serve as Editor of the BC Historical News during the 1980s and early 1990s, but her own writing career also matured and flourished. In 1998, she and Wayne Norton edited the book The Forgotten Side of the Border, an important work in pulling together and sanctioning the history of the area. She also began writing articles on the history of nursing in BC’s eastern and central areas for the BC History of Nursing Newsletter; she was determined to bring to light stories of nurses from outside the province’s Lower Mainland and Capital District areas. From 2001, she has served on the editorial committee of the BC History of Nursing Society, and usually edits one issue a year.
In 1999, she received the prestigious BC Heritage Award, a provincial recognition of her many contributions. In 2002, her excellent book – Fort Steele: Gold Rush to Boom Town – was published. In recognition of her volunteer work, a tree was planted in her honor at Fort Steele in 2006.
Her recent writing relates to biographies of retired nurses from around the province. She believes these stories prove “History can be Fun” and plans to turn these stories into another book. She encourages nursing historians not to write just about nursing leaders, but about the details and mechanics of nursing in years gone by. For example, she urges we think of the early hospitals with two or three stories and no elevator. “Can a reader born past 1950 visualize carrying a patient up or down the stairs on an old-fashioned stretcher for the case room, ward, or even the operating room,” she asks. “An early nurse in a tiny cottage hospital was responsible for everything, for 24 hours a day. She would prepare meals as well as change dressings and administer medications,” adding, this was “before telephones, autoclaves, electricity.” Her own interviews abound in these descriptive details. In May 2010, she was named an Honorary Life Member of the BC History of Nursing Society.
Information from BC History of Nursing Society, by Glennis Zilm, May 2010