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Taking a Covid Break – Memories of a Motorcycle Gang – and Prince Albert’s Elegant Spa

The other day Fay and I, in order to get out of the house and take a break from Covid updates, jumped in the car for a little ride. Our destination was The Little Red Park just north of the city. Part of the reason we made our way to that beautiful spot was to pay a visit to the site of the old Sanatorium and later The Prince Albert Training School which had been located on the western edge of the park.

That site, until the 1990’s, was the location of a major complex of buildings dedicated to the health and well being of many. It is now devoid of buildings, with the surrounding evergreen forest slowly taking over. 

Sitting at the entrance to that at onetime complex, we recalled, with nostalgia, the fine looking buildings previously located there.  But, we also chuckled, as we shared another memory of a similar trip to the area way back in 1971.

We were, then, making our way home from a ball game held at the Burns Ball Park, now the Lakeland Ford Park, found near Little Red. As we passed the gates of the Training School our car was suddenly surrounded be a group of loud sounding motorcycles. Forced to stop, I locked the doors of the car. Fay commanded, “Don’t you dare get out!” I wisely took her advice, until the riders were close enough for me to recognize as a ‘menacing gang’  of my students from the Prince Albert Technical High School. I jumped out and shook my fist at the grinning tough guys. 

Just as I was doing this along came a car carrying one of the ball players we had been watching – he was well over six feet tall. He scrambled from his car fists at the ready and yelled, “Morley are you ok?” I smiled and said, “Yeah, these guys are just a group of pretend delinquents that I will give detentions to on Monday morning.”  

But now back to that health centre that no longer exists.

In the 1920’s, Tuberculosis, a highly contagious disease that usually attacked the lungs, and known colloquially by the term ‘consumption,’  was one of the leading causes of death. In 1921 health surveys showed that Tuberculosis or TB was rapidly spreading among school-aged children. The only known treatments were complete rest, fresh air, and a rigorous healthy diet. This meant long periods of confinement. 

Saskatchewan had already taken steps to meet this growing threat. A sanatorium, a medical facility for long term treatments, in this case for tuberculosis, had been established in Fort Qu’Appelle in 1917. This was followed by the construction of a sanatorium in Saskatoon in 1925 and in 1929 a third, the largest of the three, in Prince Albert. 

The Prince Albert site was officially opened January 6, 1930.

At that time, as stated above, the only treatments available were rest, fresh air and healthy diet. Well no site could be better suited for such an undertaking than that chosen for Prince Albert. Nestled in the beautiful forested area near the Little Red River, the sanatorium quickly became a ‘haven of health.’ The Prince Albert site’s effect and affect was furthered by its own physical attractions. It was built in the elegant style of a European Spa. The main building was very large, three stories in height, its arms appearing to spread inviting one to enter the main door. Adjacent to this was a nurses’ residence, a gymnasium, nurseries that provided seedlings and plants for the well manicured gardens, a power house supplying the required energy, and several other outlying buildings. The centre truly was an awe-inspiring edifice. Dr. R.W. Kirkby was the medical officer in charge. It soon became home for over 260 patients and a staff of 150. 

The treatments of prolonged rest, close medical attention, and a prescribed, monitored diet were extremely expensive, putting the care needed beyond the financial reach of most. The Saskatchewan government responded to the challenge. A law was passed making the treatment of TB free. (A remarkable precursor of Medicare as we know it – over 30 years before its time.)

Prince Albert’s sanatorium made possible the saving of thousands of lives. A proud accomplishment.  

However, with the advent of antibiotics in the 1940’s and 1950’s the need for the restful and picturesque settings of such elaborate facilities diminished. In May of 1961 the Prince Albert Sanatorium was closed. 

 What became of that remarkable site, set in such forested beauty?

The end of the story – next WHALE OF A TALE.

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Wednesday August 4, 2021