Local History Advent Calendar 2022 – Day 24 – Doll Hospital

It’s back! I has been 3 years since I published my last Local History Advent Calendar! So much has happened since that last time—including the publication of my first book, Mount Pleasant Stories—that I figured it was about time to dust off the Local History Advent Calendar once again. Similar to a regular advent calendar but instead of chocolate treats, each day you “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder– 24 facts or stories about local history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

Vancouver was home to Western Canada’s first Doll Hospitalduring the time when we repaired broken items instead of just throwing them out and buying new.

George Coe was a partner in the pioneering chinaware and toy shop business, Millar & Coe founded in 1912. After selling out to his partner, Miller in 1925, Coe opened his “Dolls’ Hospital” at 195 East Hastings.

“Dr. Coe” with one of his patients. Province Newspaper, December 14, 1942

Coe’s foray into chief surgeon at his own Dolls’ Hospital started with a rather unconventional Christmas window idea for Millar & Coe described in this December 14, 1942 Province newspaper clipping:

Christmas time was an extremely brisk time. Dolls of in various states of “brokeness” would be “admitted” to Coe’s doll hospital.

The Province, Nov 12 1955 photo by Villy Svarre.

After Coe died in 1948, there was a void that needed to be filled. Enter, the Sirmuls and their Doll Hospital at 2241 Main Street. Mrs. Vera Sirmul, along with her husband, not only “cured” dolls but created new ones too. The Sirmuls once owned a doll factory in their native Latvia. When the Soviets took control of Latvia after WW2, their factory became “nationalized”. The Sirmuls escaped and came to Canada.

Like Coe, the Sirmul’s busiest time was during the Christmas season. The rush carried on into the spring “when the larger department stores [sent] in dozens of patients who became “sick” before their guarantee expired.”

The Doll Hospital made quite an impression on the children of Mount Pleasant in the 1950s. Several former residents recall the rather creepy sight of dismembered doll parts through the front window.

You can read more Mount Pleasant stories in my walking tour book, Mount Pleasant Stories. Copies are available for purchase in Mount Pleasant at Pulpfiction Books – 2422 Main Street and in Chinatown at Massy Books – 229 E Georgia St. It makes a great gift or stocking stuffer for your favourite local history buff!

4 thoughts on “Local History Advent Calendar 2022 – Day 24 – Doll Hospital

  1. I love this article; thanks so much for writing it. Growing up in the 60s and 70s I believe the doll hospital was still around, as I’d heard of it. Isn’t that funny? But I never broke any dolls so I didn’t need it! Do you know when it closed? I think I’ll have to purchase your book. Thanks for your amazing blog. Merry Christmas!

    1. Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed this year’s advent calendar. I’d have to check the directories to see how long the Doll Hospital on Main was around ( I ran out of time yesterday) I’ll update the post when I find out. Merry Christmas to you too!

  2. What a charming bit of history. I didn’t know about the Doll Hospital, but I certainly recall the Millar and Coe china shop on Hastings. It must have closed down decades ago by now.
    Thanks for all your research, and Merry Christmas !

    1. Thanks, Jeff. I don’t think the Doll Hospital on Main St was around that long, but Coe’s on Hastings was. I’m glad you enjoyed the Advent Calendar. Merry Christmas to you.

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