A man sits outdoors on a rock with a book.

Seeking Leek Island: A Place of Healing

By Aliya Rahman ~

Across the globe, World War I—known by contemporaries as the “The War to End All Wars” —took millions of lives and left hundreds of thousands more with a variety of physical and psychological disabilities. However, despite all the chaos, violence, and death brought forth during wartime, there were a few areas of peace that could be found thanks to generous individuals of the day, and one of these places was the Leek Island Military Hospital.

Two men in uniform stand on a dock.North of the US-Canadian border lies a piece of land in Thousand Islands National Park, not too far from where the St. Lawrence river opens into Lake Ontario, by the name of Thwartway Island. Though, long ago, it went by a different name: Leek Island. It was meant to be a vacation home, a retreat for the wealthy, and for a while it was. In 1904, Ira A. Kip Jr. and Katherine Kip, an affluent couple from the United States, purchased the island to serve as their summer getaway. However, it didn’t last long as one. A bulletin published in 1918 reported that almost immediately after the United States entered the war in 1917, Mrs. Kip offered “to entertain from forty to sixty [Canadian] soldiers at a time at Leek Island… [and]…to bear the entire expense herself and to conform to the highest requirements of the Military Hospitals Commission in regard to the treatment of the patients.”

The Kips were not the only ones who had decided to transform their summer home into a convalescent hospital. According to the bulletin from 1918, other wealthy families residing in the Thousand Islands, as well as families in Chaffee’s Locks, Cap-aL’Aigle and Winnipeg Beach, offered their properties to the Canadian government as well. Despite this, Leek Island and the Kips were specifically remembered fondly long after their service. One may ask, why them?

It’s worth noting that the Leek Island Military Hospital was the largest of these Canadian convalescent hospitals—about 100 acres—and therefore could care for the most soldiers, but that does not fully account for what made Leek Island so unique. The 1918 bulletin discusses briefly the aesthetics of the Kips’ island, illustrating how the “spacious lawns [were] well supplied with shade trees” and how “the rocky shore” had a few “sheltered spots where a sloping sandy beach allows good bathing.” They mention the buildings in which the soldiers and staff lived, which were described to be “uniform rustic style, a series of substantial log palaces of varying sizes.” They even mention the boat-house, “which was remodelled in the spring into quarters as attractive as the imagination could conceive.” Luckily, we don’t need to use our imagination to picture what life was like on this lavish island over 100 years ago. We can see for ourselves.

Leek Island Hospital scrapbook title page.

The National Library of Medicine recently acquired a rare scrapbook kept by someone during the summer of 1918, while they were living in Leek Island. Within this scrapbook is an abundance of beautiful, surprisingly pristine, black and white photos of the soldiers, of the nurses, and of the land. The images themselves are enough to draw anyone’s attention. However, it is the captions beneath these photos, handwritten in white ink, that give us a unique, unfiltered glimpse into the day to day life of the people in Leek.

What is particularly special about these captions is the commentary provided by the creator of the book. Under a photo of five men sitting on a bench, the scrapbooker wrote, “A familiar sight everyday. Waiting outside the Doctor’s office to have their dressings done.” Since we now know this is a “familiar sight,” we suddenly have a better understanding of what day to day life might have been like on this island a hundred years ago. Under another photo, the caption reads, “Mrs. Bodley teaching basket work. Jolly and Green were apt pupils, especially Green, who made nearly all the baskets in the picture.”

From this, we can now begin to see that Leek Island was more than simply a hospital. These men, who had names*, were being educated and doing recreational activities. They were enjoying themselves, all thanks to this extraordinarily generous service the Kips were providing. Sometimes, a bit of the scrapbooker’s humor even comes through. Under one photo, they write, “An intense game. The Canadian Soldier will get just as eager and excited over a game of croquet as an American over golf. He will dispute and fight over small points of the game, and invariably plays for money.”

I find that the most interesting captions in the book are the ones that speak of the different relationships and personalities of the people who lived there. Near the middle of the scrapbook, there are several pages dedicated to portraits of some of the men who were being housed and cared for. Under some of these photos, the scrapbooker, in addition to writing their names, tells a little bit about their reputations in the community. Under one photo of two men, the caption reads, “Larson – one of the boatmen and Hamilton, whom the men disliked, calling him a conscript.” Another caption reads, “Private Douglas. Very unpopular among the men. Called a ‘Conscript.’ Supposed to be shell-shocked but had never been overseas.”

Scrapbook page of five photos at Leek Island.
From Left to Right: Miss Gondon, Netta and Miss Ladds with Cookie, Dunsky and King; Private Douglas. Very unpopular among the men. Called a ‘Conscript.’ Supposed to be shell-shocked but had never been overseas; Corporal Gleadall; Bicks the Barber, who considered himself very highbrow; Major – or Buddy as he called himself.

In contrast to how the soldiers seemed to have regarded Hamilton and Douglas, the scrapbooker indicates that several of the other men were widely liked. For example, “Private Henry Jolly, one of the favorites” and “Private A. Major, Jolly’s faithful pal, and also a great favorite,” who they also call, “A ‘Princess Pat’ man.” These nicknames appeared to be a common occurrence, like in this caption: “Private Franklin, I called the fox-terrier, because he was so wild. Argued by the hour, and would pick a fight with anyone.”

Scrapbook page of three photos of different soldiers.
From Left to Right: Private Henry Jolly, one of the favorites; Private A. Major, Jolly’s faithful pal, and also a great favorite; A “Princess Pat” man; Private L.  J. Ellis.

There was Private Griffin, “the boiler-maker by trade. His face was disfigured by a shell, and a piece of his tongue shot away, so that he talked indistinctly.”

Cookie, was also “one of the favorites. Always cheerful, and always a smile as he hobbled along on his two canes.” And there was Private N. E. Root, “the man who caused much excitement by losing his glass eye while in swimming one day. A great many dove for it, but it was never found.”

Scrapbook page with three photos of soldiers.
From Left to Right: “Cookie,” one of the favorites. Always cheerful, and always a smile as he hobbled along on his two canes; Private N.E. Root – the man who caused much excitement by losing his glass eye while in swimming one day. A great many dove for it, but it was never found; Private Wm. Dale A shell-shock patient. He had been buried alive and was only found because they were looking for an officer who happened to be under him.

Morris, “with a bullet near his heart, and who swears he died on the battlefield, and Ryan and Finnan, who managed to always have some whiskey about them.”

Scrapbook page with five photos.
From Left to Right: Ryan, Heagle and Morris; Morris, with a bullet near his heart, and who swears he died on the battlefield, and Ryan and Finnan, who managed to always hare some whiskey about them Cookie the cheerful, Sergeant Batterson who had a war cross, McGuillan with the red head and Morris; Two devoted pals, Sandy and Jimmy Varley. Sandy stuck by Jimmy through thick and thin when Jimmy was tight one day; Burns, the snob in a characteristic pose. A “Princess Pat” man.

We learn that Private Spencer, a “poor tailor,” was not only “fond of reading and could always be found in a hammock with a pile of books,” but also quite “fond of whiskey” as well, “and was very scrappy when he’d had too much.”

Scrapbook page with three photos of soldiers outside.

During war, when positivity and happiness runs scarce, finding ways to make the unfamiliar familiar, the uncertain more certain, and the uncomfortable more bearable is important for recovery and healing. It is essential, therefore, that we hold on to Leek Island through this scrapbook. So many amazing people and their individual, unique stories would have been forgotten had this old scrapbook not survived or had the scrapbooker who created this record decided not to document his or her experience. Now that this record remains preserved—and available for further research—in the NLM History of Medicine Division, we can always look back on this great act of kindness the Kips and so many others provided, and know that no matter how hopeless or horrible the situation, there may always be some good to be found.

Read more in “Seeking Leek Island: A Personal Journey,” to learn about the creator of the scrapbook.

Visit the National Library of Medicine to view this and other photographic collections.  For questions about this album, please contact the History of Medicine Division Reference staff at NLM Customer Support.

Outdoor portait of Aliya RahmanAliya Rahman is a Pathways Intern in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.

 

*The scrapbook included a list of the names of all the men who were treated at Leek Island. 

Leek Island scrapbook end page names of men.

1. Sergeant F.F. Batterson
2. Private E.W. Burgess
3. Private W.C. Burgis
4. Private J. Burns
5. Private E.N. Bicks
6. Private W.H. Cooke
7. Private H.W. Dunksy
8. Private Wm. Dale
9. Private G. Douglas
10. Private L.J. Ellis
11. Private E. Finnan
12. Private H. Fraser
13. Private Franklin
14. Private R.J. Green
15. Private F.J. Gurt
16. Corporal A. Gleadall
17. Private C. Griffin
18. Private J.A. Heagle
19. Corporal H.J. Hamilton
20. Cadet G.H. Haesman
21. Private A.J. Jackson
22. Private F. Jeffers
23. Private H. Jolly
24. Private T.G. King
25. Private B. Kimming
26. Sergeant Kent
27. Private A.E. Kelsey
28. Private H. McGuillan
29. Private G.G. Morris
30. Private A. Morrow
31. Private O.L. Miller
32. Sergeant C. Moore
33. Private A. Major
34. Private J.C. McGrath
35. Private Newton
36. Private B. Owens
37. Sergeant J.H. Parker
38. Private J.J. Ryan
39. Private N.E. Root
40. Private J. Rothwell
41. Private F. Spencer
42. Private W.M. Sanderson
43. Corporal E.M. Thoume
44. Corporal J. Varley
45. Sergeant J. Waterman
Egg-nog Patients.
1. Miller; 2. Kent; 3. Green; 4. Newton; 5. Jolly; 6. Guit; 7. Moore; 8. Franklin; 9. Burgis; 10. Hamilton; 11. McGrath; 12. Dale; 13. Morris; 14. Spencer; 15. Morrow; 16. Thoume; 17. Kelsey

 

 

3 comments

  1. Intriguing article! It left me wondering about the scrapbook’s owner — who was she/he? Why was the person on Leek Island? It also made me wonder if the personal feelings about patients influenced patient care. And, of course, I noted the lack of overall diversity…what would the scrapbook reflect if both the nurses and the soldiers were more diverse groups? Thank you for a thought-provoking article.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.