From the archives: Celebrating the anniversary of The Ankh

While many do not know its proper name and others have no clue how to pronounce it (or spell it!), everyone recognizes it and knows that it holds a special place at Women’s College Hospital (WCH). It is the Ankh. May marks the anniversary of WCH’s adoption of the Ankh as its official symbol.

During WCH‘s first fifty years, the hospital didn’t have a coherent “brand”. It used a variety of symbols and slogans on its publications to convey messages about itself to the community. However, by the late 1960s, the hospital was inspired by the growing use of marketing and branding by other large organizations throughout North America. In 1968, WCH decided that it needed to develop a stronger visual identity to differentiate itself from other healthcare institutions.

WCH hired Toronto’s MacLaren Advertising Company to develop a unique symbol that would represent the spirit of hospital.

The final design was revealed at the May 22, 1968 WCH board of directors meeting. To represent the hospital, the agency’s design director had chosen a stylized version of the Ankh – an ancient Egyptian object meaning “symbol of life”. After much discussion, the board approved the adoption of the Ankh as the hospital’s official symbol. As WCH President Cecilia E. Long explained, “The Ankh does, we feel, symbolically express the “Spirit of Life” in our hospital.”

The Ankh made its first public appearance on the front cover of the hospital’s 1968 annual report. However, it was presented slightly differently than we know it today. The Ankh initially appeared alone, inside a circle. The symbol later appeared on publications without the circle, slightly above the now familiar “WCH” acronym.

However, fifteen years later, the hospital realized that its public brand needed a drastic overhaul. In October 1983, WCH had opened its doors as part of a month-long community education program called We Care Here, featuring public lectures, activities and open houses. Unfortunately, staff and administrators were quick to learn that while the public knew of WCH, most did not know what the hospital did anymore. The community was clearly not familiar with WCH’s growing list of new and innovative programs. The WCH board concluded that the hospital needed a new modern image – beginning with a revamped symbol.

On February 22, 1984, WCH officially adopted a new logo. It was a simple and straightforward logo consisting of the international hospital “H” joined with WCH’s beloved Ankh. WCH board chair, Mrs. R.S. Montgomery, explained, “Our new logo is a symbol of the dynamic thrust of the hospital organization.”

It should be noted that the Ankh did not just appear as the hospital’s logo, but it also became an important symbol in daily hospital life at WCH. The Association of Volunteers paid tribute to the symbol by naming its gift shop The Ankh Gift Shop. For a while, its members’ newsletter was even named “The Ankh”. And all long-time WCH staff fondly remember the hospital’s cafeteria – The Ankh Café.

​While these physical spaces no longer exist at WCH, the Ankh remains. More than fifty years later, the Ankh still appears front and centre as an important part of the hospital’s logo, signifying life – a most fitting symbol of the spirit of Women’s College Hospital.