Metal First Aid Kit

Date / Period
mid-20th century
Object Type
Medical Equipment
First Aid

The precise date of this first aid kit from Vancouver is unknown, but it is likely from the mid-20th century -- possibly from the Second World War (1939-45). It was during this period that the Canadian Red Cross began a concerted expansion into the field of first aid instruction, in response to the wartime situation.

Although today’s kits are often plastic rather than metal, wartime first aid kits contained much the same sort of items as today: bandages, gauze, and iodine (or today, antibiotic cream), and other basic supplies for treating cuts, scrapes, gashes, and fractures. Such kits were (and are) an important addition to first aid training in how to treat such accidents, as well as how to deal with situations like choking, unconsciousness, or heart failure.

"Although today’s kits are often plastic rather than metal, wartime First Aid kits contained much the same sort of items as today."

The St. John Ambulance Association provided first aid training in Canada from the late nineteenth century, with the Canadian Red Cross joining the field on a national scale during the Second World War. Fears of enemy attack, and a desire to keep Canadians healthy and able-bodied to meet wartime emergencies made it important to train as many Canadians as possible in first aid. The Red Cross’ thousands of small wartime branches made that task easier. 

The Red Cross and St. John Ambulance already had an agreement governing other aspects of their wartime work. For instance, the Red Cross raised funds for both organizations, while St. John Ambulance standards were used by both organizations to train nurses’ aides known as “VADs.” This agreement was expanded in 1943 to include wartime first aid instruction: both organizations taught Home Nursing and First Aid classes from their own manuals, but shared a common examination standard.

A similar peacetime arrangement was reached in 1951, when the Cold War made attacks on Canada seem possible once again. The Red Cross took sole responsibility for the civilian blood system and blood-typing of civilians, while St. John Ambulance set the Canadian standards for first aid training that both itself and Red Cross would teach. These sorts of agreements not only reduced potential friction by clearly defining respective roles, but also reassured Canadians that their donations were being used efficiently.

Since the Second World War, the Canadian Red Cross has been a leading provider of first aid instruction across Canada, helping to increase Canadians’ ability to respond effectively to injury and illness in the crucial first moments after discovery.

Metal First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit
British Red Cross Society First-Aid Manual
First Aid Manual

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