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Prince Albert’s Elegant European Spa and the Precursor to Medicare Disappears

At the turn of the 20th century Tuberculosis was at pandemic level. The government of Saskatchewan responded by building three sanatoriums – Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatoon, and Prince Albert. 

Prince Albert’s (built in the 1920’s and 30’s) was the last and the largest. It was nestled in the beauty of the Little Red River Park, just north of the city. Drafted in the ‘elegant style of a European Spa,’ it was designed with the intent of providing a sense of rest, and ease, highlighted by the wonder of nature. 

The only treatment known at the time was prolonged rest in well designed facilities, healthy diet, and close medical monitoring. It worked - but it was extremely expensive. 

To make treatment available to all, the Saskatchewan government paid the bill – medicare! 

With the advent of antibiotics in the 1940’s and 50’s, the need for elaborate facilities and extensive care diminished. In May of 1961 the Prince Albert Sanatorium was closed, and along with it the example of the free medicare it provided came to an end. 

However, the remarkable complex of buildings did not sit empty for long, and full medicare for all of Saskatchewan  arrived soon.  

On July 1, 1961, under the name of the Saskatchewan Training School, the Centre opened as a home for the mentally challenged. Over 250 residents soon filled the complex under the care of more than 120 employees. 

Relatives of the residents reported that their family members, “... are happy and receive high quality care.” 

  Skills and lifestyle abilities, intended to allow for various levels of autonomy, were taught. The goal was that the residents would eventually integrate into the outside society. 

Landscaping, gardening, how to work on farms, in bakeries, or in butcher shops, along with life skills involving self care, sewing, cooking, and doing laundry were all part of the curriculum. Physical and social recreation were also made a part of each day’s activities.

 As the 1960’s progressed, pressures emerged to have the school accept long term residents. This soon became the main thrust of the institution.    

In 1974 the name of the complex was changed to North Park Centre. It was a viable enterprise and provided much care. The residents and the city benefited greatly from its existence. 

As the 1980’s progressed, Government policy emerged that stressed the moving of the residents from North Park into community integrated housing.  As this process unfolded,  the average age of those living at North Park reached 62. Finally, in 1987 the order came to close the facility.

 This announced closure was met by major resistance.

A group of concerned relatives joined by the Centre’s employees and several of the city’s citizens was formed. It went by the anagram of TEARS (Together for Equality and Resident’s Security). They stressed that the residents were happy and well cared for, and were concerned that the older age of most residents would lead to major trauma for all involved. Further, that the closure would have dramatic impact on the city’s economy. So the call was made to preserve North Park and look for additional uses for the complex. The union representing the staff joined in, along with local politicians. Suggestions of establishing a geriatric facility for seniors, the creation of a forestry centre, naming the site a Heritage Property, and exploring possible post secondary education services were all voiced. 

Despite these efforts, by the early 1990’s the centre was empty and demolition of its buildings was well underway. The original Power House was left standing and for a short while was used as a theatre by local drama groups. Eventually that building too, fell to the wrecker’s ball.

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Wednesday August 4, 2021