From the archives: Montreal Children’s Hospital needs grandparents’ love

Bertha Rosen, grandmother of seven, feeds a six-month-old baby at the Montreal Children's Hospital in 1989.

From time to time, we will visit the Wayback Machine to read stories from The Senior Times archives. This story by Joe King was published in December 1989.


As  you walk down the corridors of the Montreal Children’s Hospital, you realize that you are in a very special place. And this place is frequented by more and more grandparents every day.

The most important ingredient in the recovery of an ailing child is love. This is evident in the care children receive from doctors, nursing staff and volunteers. There are 200 volunteers assigned to the task of giving love.

Bertha Rosen, grandmother of seven, feeds a 6-month-old child. “It’s like holding treasures,” she says. Bertha’s grandchildren live in Australia, Texas and the Arctic. Although she misses them, Bertha attends to countless other grandchildren three days a week.

After she finishes feeding the baby, she shows the nurse booties and a cap she knitted for her charge.

Down the hall, Denise St-Cyr, a widow since 1976, has been volunteering in both children’s hospitals — the Montreal Children’s and St-Justine — for more than five years. The grandmother of a 21-month-old girl, Denise gently handles the tiny child in her arms.

“My life has been happy,” says Denise. “I wanted to give back something.”

Londoner Chris Cant moved to Canada in July and immediately offered her services at the hospital. “Loving is the most important thing,” says Chris, whose grandchildren and overseas.

“It was hard coming here and seeing a child who is not well. But you toughen up.”

The hospital foundation is engaged in a fundraising drive. Despite rising costs, allocations from the government haven’t been raised.

The hospital is engaged in unique research and treatment programs. For example, the hospital is adapting pacemakers for children of two or three years old.

And there has been good progress with children with leukemia. At one time, Dr. Louise Chevalier saw no child survive the disease in her oncology clinic. Today, some of her patients have survived to graduate university.

“I started the oncology clinic in 1962,” Dr. Chevalier says. “At that time, there were hardly any survivors of malignancies. Around 1967, we started to see some positive results.”

Dr. Chevalier has worked with volunters since she’s been at the hospital. Some, she claims, have been volunteering as long as she’s been on staff. “I find the grandparents extremely important for families — morally and emotionally.

“Although the children like the staff, we represent invasion to them. These volunteers don’t represent any pain, they represent loving.”

Of course, not all the children make it. And Denise St-Cyrl, broadening her commitment, is studying palliative care at Montreal’s Université du Québec so “I can help the parents whose children cannot be cured.”

To volunteer with the Montreal Children’s Hospital in 2021, please visit thechildren.com/volunteer.

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