Marking its 50th anniversary this year, the Cross Cancer Institute has delivered expert care, compassion, and cutting-edge treatments to tens of thousands of Albertans facing cancer. It’s hard to imagine Edmonton without this flagship facility, but Donna Cross Stewart-Williams recalls a time before there was a Cross Cancer Institute. It was a time when her father, Wallace Warren Cross — for whom the Cross Cancer Institute is named — was the Minister of Health in Alberta and saw a need in Edmonton for a dedicated cancer-care facility. Thanks in large part to Cross’ tireless efforts serving the province for well over two decades, his vision for the Institute turned to reality. Here, Stewart-Williams shares her father’s story and the impact he had on both the City of Edmonton and her life.
As told to Jennifer Dorozio
“I was an only child and remember well the day my father and mother told me we would be moving to Edmonton from Hanna, Alberta, so my daddy could work in the legislative buildings. I was seven, and that was in the fall of 1935.
“Dad was Minister of Health for 22 years in the Alberta Social Credit government, which he said was humbling. From that came his opportunity to start improving the life of Albertans, even though Alberta was a poor and bankrupt province at that time.
“I never heard much of the goings on, as he did not discuss work with me. But I would really enjoy him when we would go on holidays. “Wherever we went as a family, I know he was respected and was looked upon to solve people’s problems. Dad was very quiet and a good listener. He would always listen to what people had to say or what they needed, and he never thought himself any better than anyone else.
“Eventually, the administration made use of the windfall revenues from oil development and could finally give more health benefits to Albertans. Dad [helped ensure] free treatment and hospital care for tuberculosis and polio, free insulin for diabetics, free maternity care services, and established free blood transfusion clinics and cerebral palsy centres.
“In the 1950s, he improved nursing services, established an investigative team to study diseases carried by insects and wildlife, and established a department of health nutrition and many health units. He also gave hospital, medical and dental care to pensioner groups, grants to the Alberta Alcoholic Foundation, and legislated Blue Cross hospital insurance in 1948. And he planned many auxiliary hospitals for chronic care patients, convincing the cities to donate the land.
“I am very proud of all he did, how he could change the lives of people.
“He started [the city’s] cancer services in 1941 as a department in the old maternity ward building of the University of Alberta hospital. It became a special government program, and he could see the need for future development, which meant specialized staff and money for a real cancer hospital. It was his dream to build it, eventually.
“After six consecutive elections, and with the developmental planning of the new cancer hospital well into reality, he retired in 1959.
“I saw the [Cross Cancer Institute] when it was first opened. It was certainly smaller [at that time], but they were doing wonderful work even then. I know it’s like a family — anyone that went there as a patient just felt so loved and so taken care of.
“He was a fine man, and I’m just so proud that there is a hospital here in his name. He would be so flabbergasted to see it now.” — Donna Cross Stewart-Williams