Public Health Laboratory (ProvLab)

2010 - Present
  • Dr. G. Tipples was appointed Medical Scientific Director of the Provincial Laboratory for Public Health in 2012.
  • Whole genome sequencing (genomics) approaches increasingly used for bacterial and viral microorganisms for molecular epidemiologic and pathogen characterization purposes.
  • Testing volumes exceed two million tests per year.
  • The ProvLab went live on a new laboratory information system Cerner Millennium.
  • Emerging public health issues requiring the integral involvement of ProvLab included floods in southern Alberta, fatal H5N1 case (first in North America), Ebola, enterovirus D-68, Zika and Chikungunya viruses, and the immigration of Syrian refugees.
  • Licensing under the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Human Pathogens and Toxins Regulations occurred in 2016.
2000 – 2009
  • Under the direction of Dr. J.K. Preiksaitis the Provincial Laboratories in Edmonton and Calgary were united under a single administration to operate as one laboratory on two sites.
  • The new organization was renamed the Provincial Laboratory for Public Health (Microbiology).
  • The Provincial Laboratory for Public Health (Microbiology) partnered with Alberta Health and Wellness and Canadian Blood Services to provide Alberta with one of the best prenatal screening programs in the country aimed at keeping newborns and their mothers healthier.
  • The first case of West Nile Virus was identified in Alberta in July 2003 and the Provincial Laboratory responded by implementing a West Nile Virus Program diagnosing the disease in humans, screening tissue and organ donors for the disease as well as tracking and testing mosquitoes carrying the disease.
  • Bacteriological testing of drinking water including Total Coliforms and E.Coli was implemented.
  • In 2004, the Provincial Laboratory unveiled its new name and wordmark and became known as ProvLab Alberta.
  • ProvLab test results became available for viewing in the Capital Health Netcare repository.
  • That same year, ProvLab became a member of the Canadian Public Health Laboratory Network (CPHLN), a network created by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) linking provincial laboratories to alert them to unusual public health events at home or abroad.
  • In 2005, Governance of the Provincial Laboratory was transferred to the Calgary and Capital Health regional structures.
  • ProvLab Corp was established under the authority of the Board of Directors.
  • The Provincial Laboratory in Calgary was accredited by the College of American Pathologists (CAP) in 2005 and the laboratory continues to hold that distinction today.
  • That same year the Environmental Water’s laboratories at both the ProvLab Calgary and Edmonton sites were Canadian Association for Laboratory Accreditation (CALA) accredited.
  • The Provincial Laboratory established a Pandemic Steering Committee to provide oversight, management of development and implementation of ProvLab’s response for a pandemic.
  • The Provincial Laboratory was involved in Alberta’s Water for Life Strategy which was cutting-edge laboratory based research related to transmission of waterborne disease.
  • The Level III Mycobacteriology Biosafety Laboratory transitions to a Biosafety Level III laboratory for any organism considered to be level III including testing for bioterrorism agents as part of the Canadian Laboratory Response Network (CLRN).
  • In December 2007, the ProvLab reached a significant milestone of celebrating 100 years of excellence in public health services.
  • Alberta Health Services (AHS) was formed and governance of ProvLab transferred to AHS Laboratory Services.
  • During the H1N1 world-wide pandemic in 2009, the Provincial Laboratory played a critical public health role diagnosing H1N1 to contain the spread of the disease.
  • In 2009, Dr. Marie Louie was appointed the Acting Medical Director and held the position till 2012.
1990 – 1999
  • Dr. W.L. Albritton was appointed Director of Provincial Laboratory for Northern Alberta.
  • Nucleic Acid Testing (NAT) methodology was introduced.
  • The Provincial Laboratory implemented DNA “fingerprints” which was an integral tool in outbreak investigations.
  • Province-wide Pertussis (Whooping Cough) outbreak reported with 5,133 cases.
  • The National Centre for Streptococcus was established in the Provincial Laboratory for Northern Alberta in 1991 and remained there till it closed in 2010.
  • The Provincial Laboratory for Northern Alberta adopts an outbreak procedure from CDC EIS to report and track outbreaks.
  • The contract for the Provincial Laboratory for Northern Alberta is transferred from the University of Alberta to the University of Alberta Hospital.
  • Research and development focused largely on development of molecular diagnostic methods for rapid and highly sensitive detection of pathogenic microorganisms and Haemophilus ducreyi PCR was the first of many new molecular methods to be implemented.
  • The Provincial Laboratory for Northern Alberta implemented a laboratory information system in 1993.
  • The Provincial Laboratory was instrumental in diagnosing cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) during an RSV outbreak in 1994.
  • Dr. J.A. Talbot was appointed Acting Director of the Provincial Laboratory for Northern Alberta in 1995.
  • The Provincial Laboratory for Northern Alberta was accredited by the College of American Pathologists (CAP) in 1995 and continues to hold this distinction to this day.
  • Implementation of a Total Quality Management system further demonstrated the Provincial Laboratory for Northern Alberta’s commitment to quality and excellence.
  • On July 26, 1996 Health Canada commissioned the first Mycobacteriology Biosafety Level III laboratory for analyzing human specimens in Canada in the Provincial Laboratory for Northern Alberta.
    Molecular Diagnostics became a routine laboratory and Nucleic Acting Testing (NAT) testing methods supplemented serology and culture.
  • The Provincial Laboratory was instrumental in diagnosing cases for treatment during the Neisseria meningitidis outbreak from 1997 to 2001.
  • Consultative report to Alberta Health recommended the two Provincial Laboratory sites in Calgary and Edmonton be managed as a single laboratory with a single administration.
  • Ministry of Health’s look back campaign for populations at risk for acquiring Hepatitis C resulted in an increase in Provincial Laboratory testing related to Hepatitis C and HIV.
  • The Provincial Laboratory for Northern Alberta developed its first world wide website with a Guide to Services.
  • In partnership with the Washington State Public Health Lab, the Provincial Laboratory instituted fingerprinting for E.coli 0157. In return, the Washington State Lab received a modified procedure which the Provincial Laboratory developed to allow rapid 24-hour turn around for polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
  • Washington State Lab shared the procedure with Communicable Disease Centre (CDC) and it was recommended to other researchers.
  • ProvLab became a partner in PulseNetTM, a North American network for foodborne disease surveillance.
1980 – 1989
  • Universal biosafety precautions were implemented in 1981.
  • The National Reference Service for typing Group A Streptococci was established at the Provincial Laboratory for Northern Alberta.
  • In 1982, the Provincial Laboratory in Calgary relocated to the Foothills Medical Centre.
  • That same year, the Provincial Laboratory building in Edmonton was demolished to provide space for the construction of phase II of the Walter C. Mackenzie Health Sciences Centre and in August, the Provincial Laboratory in Edmonton was relocated to the new Health Sciences Centre building.
  • In 1983, the National Centre for Mycology was established in the Provincial Laboratory for Northern Alberta and remained there until 2007.
  • Radiometric technology and BACTEC rapid detection of Mycobacteria was introduced in 1984 significantly improving the quality and turnaround time of test results.
  • Dr. D.L.J. Tyrrell was appointed Acting Director of the Provincial Laboratory for Northern Alberta in 1987 and held the position until 1990.
1970 – 1979
  • Dr. Shute retired and Dr. C.M. Anand was appointed the Director of the Provincial Laboratory for Southern Alberta.
  • In 1974, pathology services transferred to local hospitals and the Provincial Laboratories became exclusively Microbiology laboratories.
  • Oxacillin screen for resistant pneumococci was introduced into the testing menu.
  • The National Reference Service for Diphtheria was established at the Provincial Laboratory.
1960 – 1969
  • In 1962, the Provincial Laboratories carried out 790,649 examinations.
  • That same year, exfoliative cytology for the early diagnosis of cervical cancer was offered at the Provincial Laboratories.
  • Meanwhile, both laboratories experienced a surge in unexpected examinations for diphtheria.
  • Gonococci were reported to have increasing resistance to penicillin.
  • Fluorescent antibody techniques were introduced to facilitate diagnosis of gonococcal infections and a new electron microscope proved valuable in “certain unusual diagnostic difficulties”.
  • In 1964, the Provincial Laboratories surpassed one million examinations in a year, an increase of almost one hundred thousand examinations since 1963.
  • Staphylococcal phage typing was in demand for investigations of hospital cross-infection and food poisoning.
  • Dr. R.D. Stuart retired and was succeeded by Dr. J.M.S. Dixon as Director of the Provincial Laboratory for Northern Alberta.
1950 – 1959
  • In 1950, a branch of the laboratory known as the Provincial Laboratory for Southern Alberta was established in Calgary, located in temporary quarters on the grounds of the Baker Memorial Sanatorium in the community of Bowness.
  • Dr. D. Shute was appointed Director of the Provincial Laboratory of Southern Alberta.
  • That same year, the Provincial Laboratory in Edmonton moved into the newly completed Provincial Laboratory building under the directorship of Dr. R.D. Stewart.
    By 1951 increasing antibiotic resistance was detected.
  • In 1952, the Provincial Laboratories carried out 252,780 examinations, an increase of 18% over 1951.
  • Cancer diagnosis was among this workload, and as the laboratory examination of biopsies increased, early recognition of cancer cells helped save many lives.
  • The great polio epidemic in 1953 prompted Provincial Laboratories’ Directors to advocate for increased funding for the set-up of specialized laboratory services to assist in the fight against polio.
  • Provincial Poliomyelitis Vaccine Evaluation study.
  • Stuart’s Transport Media paper was published.
  • A University of Alberta Researcher determined through a close study of hospital records that treatment informed by Provincial Laboratory sensitivity testing reduced a patient’s stay in hospital by as much as 75%.
  • In 1959, the Provincial Laboratory building in Edmonton was extended to accommodate a growing workload, additional staff and new technology.
  • That same year Virology services were introduced and the Edmonton Provincial Laboratory building was renovated to accommodate this new service.
1940 – 1949
  • By 1940 the Provincial Laboratory was the largest single facility of its type in Canada.
  • The staff had increased to 22 and new testing methods were continually introduced.
  • The Department of Agriculture established a veterinary laboratory, and animal specimens transferred allowing the Provincial Laboratory to deal with mounting workload.
  • The demands of war required increased vaccine production, higher volumes of Wasserman examinations and blood grouping for transfusions.
  • Despite being the largest facility of its type in Canada, the workload coupled with staff shortages, and limitations of physical space caused the Director to worry about the severe overcrowding in the laboratory so the testing area was expanded into the medical school labs at night to increase capacity.
  • In 1945, Dr. Rankin retired, and Dr. R.M. Shaw was named Director of the Provincial Laboratory and Head of the Department of Bacteriology.
  • He supervised the planning of a new Provincial Laboratory building west of the University of Alberta Hospital.
  • That same year, an amendment to the Marriage Act requiring serological examinations of blood specimens increased the Provincial Laboratory’s civilian serological tests by thousands of specimens annually.
  • The number of serological tests, soldier and civilian were 95,020 compared to 71,271 in 1944.
  • In 1946, the Provincial Laboratory secured additional space in an army hut located across from the Medical Building and Bacteriology and Serology services were relocated there while the new Provincial Laboratory building was under construction.
  • That same year the Provincial Laboratory began penicillin and streptomycin testing.
  • The Provincial Laboratory participated in the first national standardization of syphilis test methods and developing procedures for detection of emerging anti-microbial resistant bacteria.
  • The November 4th edition of ‘The Gateway’ Student newspaper reported that the Provincial Laboratory would finally be moving into a brand new modern building. The new building was budgeted at $500,000 and would include two departments – Bacteriology and Pathology.
1930 –1939
  • Harold Orr developed a mycology unit within the Provincial Laboratory in 1933 to study and investigate human fungal infections.
  • In 1935, the Provincial Laboratory human specimen analysis workload increased from 20,076 to 114,148 specimens in one year.
  • In addition to the patient workload, the lab also continued to analyze large numbers of animal specimens.
  • With the onset of World War II, Dr. Rankin again volunteered for military service.
  • Dr. J.J. Owner was appointed Acting Director of the Provincial Laboratory until Dr. Rankin returned from the war.
1920 – 1929
  • With the establishment of a Dominion Department of Health in 1920, the Provincial Laboratory was transferred again, this time falling under the authority of the Minister of Health.
  • Future Director, Dr. R.M. Shaw joined the staff of the Provincial Laboratory as assistant bacteriologist.
  • Due to Dr. Rankin’s professional commitments, Dr. Shaw took on the responsibility for the daily activities of the laboratory.
  • Under the combined leadership of Drs. Rankin and Shaw, in August of 1921, the Provincial Laboratory moved to expanded quarters in the newly constructed Medical Building.
  • In that year, Pathological examinations increased by approximately 400 percent and by 1922 there were 13 staff members in the Provincial Laboratory.
  • The Provincial Laboratory was recognized for excellence in Public Health on a national scale. In a report to the Senate on May 11, 1922, the University of Alberta President H.M. Tory declared “…Our Public Health Laboratories now rank with the best in Canada…”
1910 – 1919
  • In 1911, following discussion in which the Premier, the Honourable A.L. Sifton, was personally involved, the Provincial Laboratory is transferred to the University of Alberta and moved to Athabasca Hall on the University campus.
  • The laboratory fell under the joint jurisdiction of the Provincial Department of Health and the University of Alberta.
  • The Department of Medicine was established at the University of Alberta in 1913 and the Provincial Laboratory provided teachers for the new medical faculty as well as assisted in the establishment of the Pathology and Bacteriology Departments.
  • Dr. Revell resigned as Director of the Provincial Laboratory to take on a post as Professor at the University of Alberta and was succeeded by Dr. A.C. Rankin as the Director of the Provincial Laboratory who also assumed direction of the newly-created Department of Bacteriology in the Faculty of Medicine.
  • During the First World War, Dr. Rankin served in the armed forces and Dr. H. Jamieson was appointed Acting Director of the Provincial Laboratory.
  • Under his leadership, the provincial laboratory prepared anti-typhoid vaccine for the Militia Department of Canada and by 1918, 211,000 doses had been supplied for inoculation of troops heading overseas.
  • In addition to providing vaccine, the laboratory processed meningitis swabs for local regiments.
  • Provincial Laboratory services were in high demand by physicians and new investigations were added, including the Wassermann test for syphilis, gonococcal smear examination, tissue diagnosis for cancer and post-mortem service.
  • Following cabinet changes in 1918, the Public Health Branch, including the Provincial Laboratory, was transferred to the Department of Municipal Affairs.
  • Upon his return from the war, Dr. Rankin resumed his post as Director of the Provincial Laboratory and was also appointed the first Dean of Medicine at the University of Alberta.
  • During the 1919 Spanish Influenza pandemic the Provincial Laboratory was instrumental in performing bacteriology investigations.

During 1869 to 1876 the Canadian West experienced devastating smallpox outbreaks resulting in significant loss of life and the British authorities authorized the establishment of a territorial health laboratory in Regina. The formation of the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan on September 1st, 1905 necessitated the establishment of an independent Provincial Laboratory. Laboratory Services provided by the North West Territorial Laboratory in Regina became the Provincial Laboratory of Saskatchewan.

Rapid population growth in both provinces outstripped the capacity of a single laboratory and the Government of Alberta elected to establish its own Provincial Laboratory. On December 2nd, 1907 the Provincial Laboratory in Edmonton was created by Order-in-Council as a branch of the Department of Agriculture. Dr. D. G. Revell was appointed Director and Provincial bacteriologist. The Provincial Lab was housed in the Terrace Building and the mandate was to provide services related to public health in bacteriological, chemical, and pathological investigations including medico-legal exams.

Communicable disease activities initially focused on detection and prevention of typhoid fever, diphtheria and tuberculosis, including vaccine production, outbreak investigation and examination of domestic water and milk supplies. Other services provided were animal health procedures which included examination of chicken and cattle blood samples. Supply stations were established, chiefly in drug stores and samples were delivered to the laboratory via railway throughout the province. Between 1907 and 1908, the Provincial Laboratory completed 600 examinations.

Historical Events