EMS Classics is a feature column I write for Canadian Paramedicine.

It is my attempt at giving the younger generation who work in EMS today, a snapshot into the history of ambulance service.

If you are interested in purchasing the images or the text copyright to any of the columns please email me at

1973 Ford ambulance, Port Hardy BC

photo Bill Leverett Column

July 1st 1974 newspaper ad

photo Fraser Field Column
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Column 18 February/March 2009

BC Government Takeover

Prior to July 1st, 1974 ambulance service in British Columbia was provided by a mix of organizations including commercial ambulance companies, funeral homes, municipalities, fire departments, hospitals and volunteer organizations. Typical of ambulance services in that era, competition was often intense between privately operated services. Training and equipment standards were inadequate throughout the province and patient care often suffered.

The 1973 Ford ambulance serving Port Hardy was typical of many small town ambulances in BC prior to the government takeover. The ambulance was built by Universal Manufacturing and featured a large box on the roof to store a metal basket stretcher - standard equipment on many BC ambulances. The large Red Cross identifies the vehicle as an ambulance, (the blue Star-of-Life emblem found on ambulances today was not created until the following year). The large Kinsmen emblem indicates the Port Hardy Kinsmen Club probably donated funds for the purchase of the ambulance and Kinsmen members may have also been involved as volunteer ambulance personnel.

In 1974 the BC government created the British Columbia Ambulance Service and on July 1st of that year took over all ambulance services in the province. The newspaper advertisement shown here featured a 1973 Superior wide-body GM ambulance (commonly referred to as a Fat Albert), and a 1973 Superior Pontiac ambulance. Both ambulances sported the new colour scheme - white with red stripes forming a red cross when viewed from a tall building, an aircraft, or the side of a mountain. This colour scheme on BC ambulances endures to this day.

Other information in the July 1st newspaper ad:

Anywhere in BC
Better equipped, More comfortable,
No cash outlay. Just a flat five dollar fee for
which you'll be billed later.
Existing and added staff will be qualified under
the new provincial Ambulance Training Programme
as soon as possible.
Later, it will have its own Zenith telephone number,
but, for now, call the existing ambulance
service in your area.
Yours to use.

Now in it's 35th year, BCAS is still providing land, sea, and air ambulance service to the residents of British Columbia.

Copyright 2009 Peter Adsten