Dr. Henderson originally studied pharmacology, but his passion to be a doctor drew him to McGill Medical School. Graduating alongside another amazing Canadian pioneer, and colleague, Sir William Osler, Dr. Henderson began practising at Montreal General Hospital in 1880. However, three years later, the newly built Canadian Pacific Railway reached the Rockies, and he was ready to ride the rails to Calgary, becoming the first civilian doctor for the Calgary division of the North West Mounted Police, and opening the first drugstore in Calgary in conjunction with his medical office.
For the next four years, Dr. Henderson would provide varied medical services for the NWMP, the CPR and First Nations people of the Blackfoot, Cree and Stoney Reserves. After serving as the Brigade Surgeon during the North-West Rebellion in 1885, Dr. Henderson contracted to provide medical services for the extension of the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway in 1887, and subsequently moved his family to St. Paul, where he taught clinical medicine at the University of Minnesota.
The move to Minnesota was pivotal in Dr. Henderson’s future connection to Powell River. While in St. Paul, Dr. Henderson became friends with Dr. Dwight F. Brooks, who was in partnership with his brother Anson Brooks, and M.J. Scanlon as principals of Brooks Scanlon Lumber Co.
Already a large lumber corporation, the lumber barons had logging interests near the soon-to-be developed company town of Powell River. They discovered the potential for what would become western Canada’a first pulp and paper mill, and once the leases and water rights were signed in 1909, the mill in the town of Scanlon, Minnesota where Dr. Henderson had been charged with overseeing the hospital and medical services was closed.
The entire Scanlon operation, including hundreds of construction workers and Dr. Henderson were moved to the Powell River logging camp to begin construction of the new hydroelectric dam, mill and company town.
The town’s first hospital; a tent and converted bunkhouse, opened June 29, 1910, and Dr. Henderson set about having his house constructed adjacent to the hospital at 80 Walnut (now 6211 Walnut). Both house and property were given to Dr. Henderson as incentive to relocate his family to Powell River, and at the time, was the only private residence in the Townsite.
Under the terms of Dr. Henderson’s contract with the Powell River Company, he agreed to “build and equip within a reasonable time, a modern hospital at Powell River and operate the same during the life of this contract, in a manner reasonably satifsactory to us and our employees.” Dr. Henderson built St. Luke’s Hospital in 1913, and he negotiated that each mill employee have $1 withheld from their pay each month to cover the costs of “medical attention, hospital care, and medicine without further cost”, effectively creating Canada’s first Medicare system.