BARRINGTON, SIBELLA ANNIE, registered nurse and administrator; b. 4 Dec. 1867 in Sydney Mines, N.S., daughter of York Ainsley Walker Barrington and M. Matilda Mahon; d. unmarried 7 Dec. 1929 in Saint John and was buried at Barrington Park, Sydney Mines.
Sibella Barrington (also called Bay or Bey) was probably named after her father’s sister Margaret Sibella, who had married Richard Brown, a mining agent and engineer in Cape Breton and the future author of three books. Her roots had been established on the island when her paternal grandfather, Charles Barrington, a captain in the British army, settled around 1825 near Sydney Mines. Charles’s third son, York, was a gentleman farmer who filled a number of public offices and eventually inherited a baronetcy.
Little is recorded of Sibella’s early life. In 1901, eight years after her father’s death, she entered the Aberdeen Hospital School of Nursing in New Glasgow. Her work habits may have been influenced by its superintendent, Jessie Muir Sheraton, who had the reputation of being “very forceful, commanding and a great disciplinarian.” Sibella, attired in a dark blue dress and white apron, would have gone directly to work on the wards, for 12-hour shifts, while living on the third floor of the hospital under the eaves. She graduated in 1904. She would become an rn when registration was introduced to Nova Scotia in 1922.
Evidence of her sincerity in her profession, she pursued postgraduate studies in Chicago and overseas. In Dublin she studied the public health and tuberculosis work that had been launched in 1907 by Lady Aberdeen [Marjoribanks*] and was carried on by caravan throughout the country; thus she learned about teaching people to combat illness. In London, England, she was associated with Dr Frederic Truby King, a pioneer of child welfare in New Zealand who believed in public participation in preventive medicine.
By 1917 Sibella was working in Halifax, where she apparently had a large private practice; she is credited with voluntary service during the massive explosion of 6 December that year and was awarded life membership in the British Red Cross Society. She had concentrated on obstetric cases since beginning her career, and from 1918 to 1923 she was superintendent of the Halifax Infants’ Home, which took in unwanted children and also served as a women’s hospital. She was noted particularly for her sympathy towards the unmarried mothers who made up the usual clientele of the maternity ward. She also served as vice-president of the Children’s Aid Society for five years. In 1919 she became president of the Graduate Nurses’ Association of Nova Scotia, having previously served as local vice-president, and with her colleagues she met with provincial health authorities to enquire about legislation on various health and professional issues. One of the councillors for Nova Scotia of the Canadian Nurses’ Association by August 1924, she also served on its education committee. She was convenor of the public hospital committee of the Halifax Local Council of Women, and in the 1920s she would occasionally be a delegate to meetings of the National Council of Women of Canada, where she was a member of the public health committee. Her chief contribution, however, was with the Canadian Red Cross Society in New Brunswick.
At the close of World War I, the Red Cross had sought a role for itself in peacetime and had taken on a program of improvement of health, prevention of disease, and alleviation of suffering. One of its initiatives was the provision of classes to teach women how to identify illnesses and provide basic nursing care in the home. Dominion organizers of home nursing were appointed and fully paid for initially by the Central Council of the Red Cross. Lent to Saint John by the national society in December 1924, Sibella set to work with vigour. Her primary goal was saving children. In 1925 the work involved 101 personal visits, 119 addresses, and the organization of 62 home-nursing classes for 1,558 pupils. The following year she organized 77 classes. The home-nursing program depended on the voluntary service of graduate nurses to teach the classes, a contribution that the Red Cross gratefully acknowledged.
A brilliant speaker, Sibella used her gift to the full. She reached out to other organizations, including the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire, of which she was a member, and to professional associations such as the New Brunswick Association of Registered Nurses and the Victorian Order of Nurses for Canada to support her campaign. She was skilled at arousing community spirit, travelling daily to various points in the province to speak under the auspices of the local councils of women, but she was particularly effective among nurses. Because of her efforts, New Brunswick’s record of home-nursing classes completed from 1924 to 1928 was better than that of any other province except Ontario. She was also instrumental in establishing Red Cross outpost hospitals in St Leonard and St Clair (Clair) and the Red Cross nursing service in St George.
In 1928 the Central Council decided to eliminate grants for the home-nursing program. Perhaps as a consequence, in that year Sibella became port nurse for Saint John, where the first port nursery in the world had been established through another post-war initiative of the Red Cross. There nurses and local volunteers combined to assist immigrants, initially the dependants of soldiers, on the last lap of their journey. The care provided by such nurses to mothers and children was complex and, although physicians were on call, their work resembled that of nurse practitioners. The following year Sibella did the Red Cross another service. With the New Brunswick Division at the end of its resources that spring, she accomplished “excellent work” in organizing communities to campaign for donations.
Sibella Barrington died suddenly in December 1929 following surgery at the Saint John General Public Hospital. She had apparently been unwell, one obituary noting that “she carried on her work with tireless energy in the face of tremendous handicaps of ill health.” John Barrington accompanied the remains of his sister, an Anglican, to the family home, Barrington Park, where the funeral was held. An irreparable loss to New Brunswick, she was memorialized by glowing tributes in the Maritime press.
The contributions of women like Sibella Barrington are often ignored in the history of nation building; yet women, particularly nurses, were always in the forefront of shaping the direction of communities. Through the Canadian Red Cross, often among a populace far removed from health care, they undertook work that improved the lives of thousands. Sibella Barrington transformed her vision for New Brunswick’s women and children into a workable plan. Her positive image, ability to link organizations to a cause, and skill at persuasion were crucial to the success of her goal.
Beaton Institute, Univ. College of Cape Breton (Sydney, N.S.), Biog. and geneal. files, Barrington; Brown; MG 12.208, D (Elva Jackson papers), geneal. charts, Charles Barrington; Newspaper clippings. College of Registered Nurses of Nova Scotia (Halifax), Graduate Nurses’ Assoc. of Nova Scotia, minutes, 1919. Nurses Assoc. of New Brunswick, Nursing Hist. Resource Centre (Fredericton), New Brunswick Assoc. of Graduate Nurses, minutes, 22 June 1927, 16 Oct. 1928; Scrapbooks. Telegraph-Journal (Saint John), 25 Jan. 1930. Canadian Red Cross Soc., A history of Red Cross outposts in New Brunswick, 1922–1975 (Saint John, 1976). Faye Hoare et al., 90th anniversary booklet of the Aberdeen School of Nursing, 1987 ([New Glasgow, N.S., 1987]; copy in Aberdeen Hospital Nursing Alumni Arch., New Glasgow).