In the 1950s, an Adventurous Nurse Took This Horse-Drawn Wagon on a Cross-Canada Trek

Working her way from Ontario to British Columbia was the experience of a lifetime for the "Milk Wagon Nurse."

I am a volunteer member of the Saanich Historical Artifacts Society museum and park located at Heritage Acres, north of Victoria, just off the Patricia Bay Highway.

We have a horse-drawn milk wagon in our collection that was recently restored. Horse-drawn milk wagons were a common sight in Canadian cities until shortly after World War II, when they were replaced by trucks. A simple but enjoyable part of our history, they were an enjoyment for children, who would get to know the horses by name and would feed them apples and carrots. The horses, knowing the routes just as well as the milkman, would move the wagon along the street unattended as the milkman delivered to each door.

The wagon in our collection, however, is no ordinary milk wagon, having played a starring role in an unusual adventure that took place more than 60 years ago. Once used for deliveries on the streets of Toronto, this particular horse-drawn milk wagon served the rather unique purpose of conveying a certain Miss Audrey Goodchild from Galt, Ontario, to Sidney, B.C., over a period of three summers, from 1958 to 1960. Miss Goodchild, a registered nurse, arrived in Canada from England in 1957 and worked as a pediatric nurse in Hamilton and Brampton, Ontario. She soon conceived the idea of travelling west to British Columbia in a gypsy caravan, but unable to find one, settled for the milk wagon being sold at the Walnut Ranch in Waterdown, Ontario. Having also bought a horse and harness from the dairyman, she had the wagon painted blue, installed a bed and stove—and a good brake.

Milk Wagon Nurse 2Photo: Norman D. Smith
The restored milk wagon purchased by Nurse Goodchild is on display at Saanich Historical Artifacts Society museum.

Bill, the horse, was a medium-sized draft horse. Miss Goodchild also acquired a German shepherd named Jade to accompany her on her travels.

The trio left Galt, Ontario, in 1958, travelling through northern Ontario to Port Arthur in eight weeks. They wintered there while Miss Goodchild worked as a nurse throughout “the longest cold spell on record.”

In June 1959, they headed west to Taber, Alberta. Again, Miss Goodchild nursed through the winter. East of the Rocky Mountains the average travel day was about 30 kilometres. Once into the mountains and British Columbia, the average dropped. For example, it took them one week to travel from Princeton to Hope, B.C., a distance of 133 kilometres, with no travel on Sunday.

During the trip, there were no mechanical breakdowns and the second-hand automobile tires survived the trip without any flats. Jade proved her worth guarding Miss Goodchild and the equipment at night. As for wildlife, they did see a bear or two, but Bill the horse was the only one worried about it.

To date, we do not know if anyone has duplicated Miss Goodchild’s feat of endurance crossing so much of the country by horse-drawn conveyance—a trip well over 4,500 kilometres.

While this event was well publicized at the time, I thought it was worth repeating for the current generation!

Next, check out the quirkiest roadside attractions across Canada.

Originally Published in Our Canada