History of the VON

History – A Century of Caring …

…”The story of the Victorian Order of Nurses is a vital part of the very history of Canada itself – – of its early expansion and social development, and of its changing ideals through two world wars, a great depression and the introduction of new medical technologies…….As the century draws to a close, VON remains a Canadian treasure…..”VON Nurse

For over 100 years, VON has pioneered health services in Canada. We have a proud tradition of often being the first to identify emerging health and social needs, and then providing innovative services that meet those needs. That’s the way it’s been since the founding of the Victorian Order of Nurses for Canada.

In the Canada of the late 1890s, nurses, doctors and hospitals were desperately needed in remote areas and in rapidly growing towns and cities.

Lady Ishbel Aberdeen, wife of Canada’s then current governor-general, visited Vancouver in 1896. During this visit, she heard vivid accounts of the hardship and illness affecting women and children in isolated areas of our young country.

Later that same year, Lady Aberdeen was a participant at the annual meeting in Halifax of the National Council of Women, where similar horror stories were exchanged by the women in attendance.

In her autobiography, VON’s founder was later to write of this meeting:

” …many of the members told pathetic stories of cases where young mothers and children had died, whilst husbands and fathers were traveling many weary miles for the medical and nursing aid which might have saved them…”

Lady Aberdeen responded with determination to a resolution passed at this meeting, asking her to found an order of visiting nurses in Canada. The order was to be a memorial to the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s ascent to the throne of the British Empire.

At a meeting at Rideau Hall (Government House) on February 10, 1897, Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier offered the motion inaugurating the Victorian Order of Nurses for Canada …. “as a mode of commemoration by the Dominion (Canada) of the Queen’s diamond jubilee.”

Lady Aberdeen was chosen VON’s first president.

When criticism from Canada’s medical establishment caused Parliamentary support to falter, she appealed to the children of Canada for help, writing to their schools about the need for nurses to care for sick people in their own homes:

“In the towns they will go to those who cannot now afford the care of trained nurses and often die for lack of it… “

“On the prairies, in the forests, in mining districts – – everywhere throughout the country – – they will go hither and thither amongst our brave pioneers and bring help to these heroic people who are building up the future of this beautiful country amidst many hardships and privations…”

As part of her campaign to establish and solidify VON, Lady Aberdeen enlisted the help of Dr. Alfred Worcester, professor of hygiene at Harvard University and founder of the Waltham Training School for District Nurses in Massachusetts. To help convince his Canadian fellows, Dr. Worcester explained the importance and potential of the district nursing idea to large audiences of doctors in Ottawa, Toronto and other Canadian cities.

He also encouraged Miss Charlotte Macleod, superintendent of the Waltham school, to come to Ottawa and help set up VON. Miss Macleod, a Canadian who had studied with the legendary Florence Nightingale, became VON Canada’s first chief superintendent.

VON’s first 12 nurses were admitted to the order at a ceremony in November 1897 – just a month before Queen Victoria granted the organization its royal charter.

A few months later, in 1898, Charlotte Macleod directed the formation of a team of four nurses to accompany the Canadian Field Force – – an expedition of military and government officials, to the rough and ready scene of the gold rush then taking place in the Klondike region of the frontier Northwest.

These nurses’ exploits in providing care to the miners under the most difficult of conditions became one of the earliest epic tales in VON’s long and colorful history.


The first VON sites were quickly organized in the cities of Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Halifax, Vancouver and Kingston. In 1898, a VON “cottage” hospital was opened in Regina to provide care to pioneers and early settlers VON Logo 1898on the prairies.

Through the successful fundraising efforts of VON’s second honorary president, Lady Minto, 43 more hospitals were soon established in local communities and within isolated areas throughout Canada. Responsibility for running these institutions was gradually assumed by community groups, with the last VON-run hospital being placed in the hands of local citizens in 1924.

During the aftermath of the horrific explosion of a munitions ship in Halifax harbour in 1917…through a deadly influenza epidemic in 1918, on through two world wars…a great depression…the advent of modern medicare and high tech’ medicine — VON has continued to innovate to meet the changing health care needs of Canadian society.

Prenatal education, well baby clinics, school health services, visiting nursing and coordinated home care programs have all had their earliest origins with VON!

More recent initiatives include home-based palliative care, adult day programs, footcare clinics, respite care, primary health care clinics and health services in shelters for women, children and youth at risk.

Today’s VON delivers its more than 75 different programs and services through 52 local sites staffed by 4,500 health care workers, and by a dedicated army of 9016 community volunteers.

Each site is jointly operated by volunteer boards of local citizens and professional staff who together ensure that the exact mix of VON services they deliver is based on the unique and specific needs of the community served.

Through these local, provincial and national organizations, VON Canada is also working to influence the nation’s fast-changing health and social policies on behalf of all Canadians.

VON joins forces with similar organizations, families, communities, governments and other interested parties to advocate policies that ensure health care is available and accessible to everyone.

And it continues to seek creative and innovative ways to respond directly to the evolving needs of individual Canadians and enhance their health and quality of life.

Committed to a Second Century of Service

VON Canada will continue to be a dynamic and responsive community-based organization, working with local people everywhere to help identify health care needs and develop appropriate services.

Volunteers will continue to play a vital part in this ongoing task.

VON’s non-profit role will continue to provide governments with services that fulfill universal public health care programs, while the development of related service ventures will provide new revenues to supplement existing funding for VON’s charitable services.

As decreasing health dollars leave government-funded programs struggling to meet demands, the need for charitable services in Canada is increasing.

Given this fact of life in difficult economic times, VON is especially committed to ensuring that its vital charitable work continues.


 VON Algoma

The Algoma Site was incorporated in 1954 and has responded to changes over the years always providing quality in-home and community support programs. VON Algoma offers a variety of Community Support programs such as an Adult Day Centre, Volunteer Hospice Service, Bereavement Support Service, Palliative Pain & Symptom Management Consultation Services(NEO), Interdisciplinary Palliative Care Education, Nursing Programs, Wellness Clinics and Foot Care Services.

VON Algoma will continue with a commitment to meet the changing health care needs of Canadians. We are proud of our over 60-year commitment to providing in-home quality nursing care, support services and community health programs to the Algoma District.




List of programs


Adult Day Centre

Bereavement Support Service

Foot Care

Interdisciplinary Palliative Care Education Program

Palliative Pain & Symptom Management Consultation Services

Volunteer Hospice Service


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