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In sickness and in health: A look at the Canadian Red Cross legacy for World Red Cross Day

By Hannah Blanton, Canadian Red Cross Digital Volunteer
The Canadian Red Cross has been helping Canadians since 1896. This World Red Cross Day, we take a look back at its long legacy of relief, hope, and comfort for people in Canada and abroad.

Helping the sick in times of war

In the early years, Canadians helped the Red Cross respond to wars and support soldiers overseas, such as during the Boer War of 1899-1902 and We were called intoPhoto of Red Cross nurse action again during World War I. Women featured prominently in the response, knitting “comforts” like socks and scarves and sending medical supplies. Volunteers also sent food parcels for prisoners of war and sick or wounded soldiers.
When sickness struck Canada after the war in the form of the 1918 flu pandemic, local branches provided assistance and leftover wartime medical supplies.

Between the World Wars, the focus in Canada shifted to the health of mothers and children. We established outpost hospitals and nursing stations in remote areas, created public health nursing training programs, and taught schoolchildren about good health and citizenship.
When World War II hit, we stepped up once again to provide aid to sick and healthy troops, imprisoned soldiers, and civilians.
Keeping people safe and healthy

Following the World Wars, the Canadian Red Cross continued to keep people safe through swimming lessons and lifesaving instruction. Many branches also set up health equipment loan services for Canadians recovering at home, loaning crutches, wheelchairs, and similar items.

Beyond our borders, in the 1950s we helped bring Hungarian refugees to Canada and sent financial aid and relief workers to countries including Yugoslavia, Guatemala, and the Congo.
Photo of Emergency Response Unit
As the 20th century gave way to a new millennium, we adapted to an ever-increasing number of natural disasters and international conflicts. Since 2000, we have helped hundreds of thousands of people through fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, and even terrorist attacks.
  • Canadians donated $360 million in response to the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean
  • After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, we partnered with the American Red Cross to provide 270 shelters and 500,000 daily hot meals
  • During the Syria crisis, we gave support for urgent and ongoing medical needs and helped refugees in neighbouring countries and Europe
  • When Haiti was hit by a deadly earthquake in January 2010, the Canadian Red Cross immediately broadened its scope of intervention to help the Haitian Red Cross. This included improving access to healthcare and providing safe shelter and housing solutions to over 20,000 families.
  • During the 2014–2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, we sent 56 aid workers and helped establish an Ebola Treatment Centre in Sierra Leone
  • After the 2015 Nepal earthquake, we set up an emergency field hospital and treated 5,400 people over three months
  • In response to the 2013 Lac-Mégantic train derailment, we raised $14.8 million for the tight-knit community
Equipping Canadians with lifesaving skills

Of course, it’s impossible to talk about the legacy of the Canadian Red Cross without mentioning first aid. Not only has the Red Cross been administering first aid since its inception, but it also teaches these vital skills to thousands of people today. There’s now even a first aid app and a psychological first aid course!

Be it an international crisis, a small-scale disaster, or a personal emergency, the Canadian Red Cross is there to help, as it has been since 1896. Happy World Red Cross Day!
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