• MCHPat30

In the early days

By Charles Burchill, Eileen Boriskewich, and Shelley Derksen

In those early days, we weren’t all at one location. Some of us would work from St. Boniface Research Centre the rest of us would work either at Health Sciences or be split between the two locations. Those of us who worked from St. Boniface often joked that Health Sciences Centre was “the dark side” and those of us working from Health Sciences Centre would say the same thing about St. Boniface Research Centre.

One of MCHP’s biggest successes has always been the diversity of disciplines that staff come from. Leonard came from natural sciences, Oke is an actuary, I [Charles] came from botany. Les has always had great success with hiring good programmers. He seems to have this sense about a person if they would make a good programmer. People have come from very different disciplines but it has always worked out.

I [Shelley] remember when I had been with MCHP for maybe two months we were all invited to Ron Wall’s wedding at Les and Noralou’s house. Ron was a Ph.D. student with Noralou. I kind of knew Ron at that point but everyone at the Centre was invited to Ron’s wedding. We all left work early to go to the wedding, and that’s when I knew that I had found the right place.

The Centre is a group that supports one another over the years. During the 1997 floods, we were there for each other. It was pretty incredible to see people from the Centre coming to help erect dikes and sandbags to help protect their co-workers' homes. And once the floodwaters lowered a bunch of people from the Centre went back out to help take it all down.

Staff at MCHP have been fairly tight-knit. We used to often have Friday lunch activities like going bowling or skating on the river in the winter. When we still had offices at St. Boniface we would go out on the river in the winter and either skate or walk down to The Forks. Around that same time, a few people from the Centre started serial stories that went on for weeks. One story was about the “alien autopsy lab” at the St. Boniface Research Centre. It started with big circular cement pads outside in the yard. Nobody knew what the purpose of those pads were so obviously they must be landing pads for alien spaceships. During those days the Centre faced an open courtyard and you could see through the large windows into the other spaces that also faced the courtyard. One day one of the spaces was suddenly curtained off so that you couldn’t see what was happening in that space. There were a lot of guesses as to what was happening behind the curtains. At some point, someone from psych health put a drawing of an alien in their window, which just fed our collective delusion. We had a lot of fun with these stories, the software at that time was another story.

During those early days, there was a lot of terrible software. We had something called a fax board that was absolutely awful. When we first got the fax board I [Eileen] remember being almost in tears because I couldn’t figure it out. Doug could see the stress on my face that day and sat down with me to go through the manual to figure it out. There was no internet, no email or voicemail, everything went through the reception phone in those early days. There has been so much change since then. We got the internet, email, direct lines, and call forwarding. And now we’ve been able to work from home for months and use Zoom for meetings.

It’s hard to imagine the future of MCHP in the next 30 years. We hope to see virtual reality and data visualization in the future. Better data visualization could really help people to connect with what the data is trying to tell them.

We’ve come so far, changed so much and MCHP will likely continue to evolve in our next 30 years. At the Centre, we’ve always found a way to innovate. Leaders at the Centre have always been smart enough to see the future or at least known to take advantage of opportunities when they arose. We’ve been always been really lucky that way.


Eileen Boriskewich, Administrator for the Get Your Benefits project

Shelley Derksen, Data Analyst

Charles Burchill, Associate Director, Repository, Data Access and Use

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