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The Sanatorium

Tonight - the 29th of August, there was a public meeting held to discuss a proposal to zone the Sanatorium Land fom institutional to a R1 to allow for the demolishing of the building and the building of 19 single family homes. The proposal was brought forth by Tim Banks Inc.. Another proposal by the Martin boys was presented that allowed for the renovation of the Old San into a Senior Citizens Apartment complex. The meeting was full of potential residents for such a complex and even some who appeared willing to pay $250,000 for the preciousness of living in the other proposal. Everything was going well - back and forth - until Stella Newman stood up to deliver her usual 30 minute condescending interpertation of the "By-laws and dangers according to Stella" to council and audience. Tiresome. People lose interest and the meeting is virtually aborted. What was sad is the council did not hear the voices of many at the meeting because of the whole thing. Contrary to Stella's view point, Council is hardly able behind our backs to contemplate major changes and development, nor would it be wise for them to do so.

At the begining of this meeting, it was clear that the majority of the audience were there because they wanted to save a familiar old building - that they clearly saw another use for and they felt in the picture. If you have view points on this matter share them with your councillor... the decision is in their camp.

I wrote the following on this issue back in April. In case you did not see it then, I've brought it forward for your consideration. I see the Sanatorium not as a neighbouhood issue. This building does not belong to the people of McGill Avenue, but very much to the peo ple of this community - and Island.

For over a year now the fate of the Old Provincial Sanatorium has been in the hands of the Gods - well at least the hands of the Provincial Government. Proposals have come forth and elections have been run and public meetings held to discuss the future of the site and that of the neighbourhood. In the Official Plan for the city, completed such a short time ago, the property was designated as a Comprehensive Development Area leaving its future somewhat up for grabs...and grabbed it was. Last summer a high density proposal came forth and raised the ire of most of the residents in the area. The plan proposed a complete demolition of the entire site - nurses' home and all - and the building of a remarkable out of scale apartment house on the corner of North River Road and McGill and a number of town houses to the east on McGill. It did not please the residents.

As usual when the fate of buildings are in the hands of a generation who didn't spend the money to build them, few stop to analysis whether the building has another life. The pressure of the construction industry generally pushes for new and, of course, committees or developers like to build their own monuments. Fortunately, there often appears those who believe a redesigned monument makes some sense and with daringness and creativity tackle the renovation projects that save the familiarity of our landscapes. At the end of the day everyone wins. I have so often quoted John Kenneth Galbraith on this matter. "The preservation movement has a great curiosity. There is never any retrospective controversy or regret. Preservationists are the only people in the world who are invariably confirmed in their wisdom after the fact....".

On Tuesday we are told the Provincial Cabinet will decide what is to become of the site. There is one very good re-cycling proposal in that we know of for sure, but there might be others in the wings and of course our friend the demoltion man has his engines rivited up.

Lets have a look at the histroy of the place. It is hard today to imagine the impact of tuberculosis. It so often hit people when they were young and apparently healthy and it was do debilitating. It hit rural and urban and sometimes it was very fast and they'd be gone. The island had been given a sanatorium by Sir Charles Dalton in 1913. A progressive move - and a handsome building that was built in Emyvale. I remember the water tank of to the right of the road to Kelly's Cross. We never went there, but it was a landmark that we always watched for. Years later I visited the Coadys across the road from the now picked-apart and reshaped buildings and discovered how far off the main drag and how hilly the roads were to get there. Its history is a great story of its own, complete with all the political game playing we are sometimes famous at. The Dalton Sanatorium closed in the early 1920's even tho' the need was growing every day. It wasn't until the mid 1920's that the Canadian Red Cross and the Maritime Tuberculosis Education Committeee moved in to address the issue again. The Provincial government supported the move and in recognition, Dr. Preston Creelman was appointed as a full time medical officer. It was his work, with the support of a sanatorium committeee, that pushed to build another sanatorium. A remarkable campaign was undertaken and $77,000 was raised by the Women's Institute [who had just lost their sectrary, Evelyn Windsor to TB] and many service clubs. Hon. George Deblois led the way with a personal donation of $10,000. !!! AND those were the days when a building could be built for around the $100,000. mark and we were in the midst of a depression. The western part of the building for design by E.S.Blanchard and built by the Lowes. It opened on June 8, 1931 and many dear people that we knew in later life worked there. Dr. Creelman was the superintendent, Hazel Stern was dietitian, Kay MacLennan worked there, so did my Aunt Gert, Marjorie Cox, Gertie Arsenault, Fanny Kemp and many many more. It was a home away from home for the incumbents. The patients were treated and entertained, but they had to sleep and sleep. They had those verandahs on the west end of the building. Fresh air was a big factor in the treatment. As a matter of fact I think TB had a major impact on architectural design as be found at that period upstairs sleeping verandahs appearing on so many buildings!

The building was always so well looked after and with nice grounds. By the 1940's expansion was necessay and they added a large wing to the east and blocked our route from school to the cottage in September. It was an annoyance. It was no sooner added than they seemed to conquer in some way that TB bug. Was it penicillin? I know by the 40's my father had a VD clinic in the basement of the building [but I know penicillin helped that!] and by the mid 50's the polio epidemic had hit and a whole section was taken over by many that we hold dear. Isn't it interesting that it became an alcoholic treatment centre in its last years. Fashions change.

So today we have a building that means a great deal to many Islanders and has been a presence on our landscape for seventy years. I'll let you know what happens next - lets hope it will be a question of "the devil you know rather than the devil you don't know".

Written Thursday, August 30, 2001 at 02:05 PM

(c) 2000 by Catherine Hennessey. Questions or comments? Email me@catherinehennessey.com

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