Hospital/community: 100 years of sharing, caring, co-operation – Reflections of Ponoka

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Early photo of the new Provincial Mental Hospital.

During the gala 50th anniversary celebration of the Provincial Mental Hospital in 1961, Superintendent Dr. Tom C. Michie expressed heartfelt appreciation to the fine people of Ponoka and district for their ongoing support. “The hospital owes a great deal to the people of Ponoka and district….their warm and willing co-operation is a major contribution toward our successes and the solving of some very difficult problems along the way!”

Now, 50 years later as the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury prepares to celebrate the establishment of the first class psychiatric hospital 100 years ago this summer on the outskirts of the Town of Ponoka, both have superbly achieved their goals of growing and developing successfully together. That same longstanding close and friendly relationship between town and hospital remains today, and has taken many exciting paths for patients, staff, and members of our community.

A century of working together

No serious disagreement has yet arisen between the Centennial Centre and its Ponoka neighbours, and this long record of the most friendly relations possible is certainly a striking tribute to the calibre of administrative personnel and staff of the hospital and the ongoing understanding of the community. The constant concern of everyone to maintain this good neighbour policy, and the ongoing efforts of the hospital to provide highly qualified staff and treatment methods has always encouraged the town and districts to co-operate in this harmonious and vital relationship.

The town has never felt that the hospital staff members were outsiders, and right from the start they have been welcomed as bona-fide Ponokans, who in turn have responded by striving to be excellent, involved, and long-standing citizens. When the provincial government’s psychiatric treatment centre first opened it was known simply as the Ponoka Insane Asylum, a designation that carried the definite implication there was little hope for the unfortunate people who were admitted there.

Shortly after the end of the First World War 1, great improvements in medical and psychiatric treatments promised new hope for those suffering from mental illness, and an entirely new viewpoint began to come to light. It was soon recognized that a person might become a victim of a mental disorder just the same as one may suffer from a physical illness, and that many mental illnesses were curable with proper treatment, care, and time. A major result of the ongoing progress became a vital fact in the first steps toward the elimination of the early stigma and fear of mental illnesses. Later efforts led by Superintendent Cook sought a name change for the institution, eventually settling on the Provincial Mental Hospital (PMH) but for many decades the majority of folks proudly referred to the P as Ponoka. It was interesting to note that one of those new names suggested was the Morningside Mental Hospital.

As the hospital became established and grew quickly, the fine people of the town and county soon came to look sympathetically and favourably upon the mental hospital as providing the best of treatment and care for various mental illnesses. If a patient wandered away from the grounds, they were usually taken in by farmers or households in the area, offered a cup of tea, and after a phone call to the hospital were given a casual car ride back by a couple of friendly psychiatric nurses. As a special part of their ongoing therapy, some patients were allowed and encouraged to walk the one-mile unescorted into town, enjoy the sights, do a little shopping, chat with the always-congenial staff of the local stores, then return home with many stories to tell. Social contact and acceptance will always be very important to patient care and treatment, and on many occasions women’s groups and service clubs would visit the hospital in the afternoons or evening, bringing goodies, good will, and special entertainment. There was always many delightful outings and events on the grounds, camping at Lake Eden, or visit to the lakes, parks, sports events, and countless special occasions, where patients could mingle with the general public and always feel welcome and safe.

As years passed and new treatment, medications and therapy were introduced at the Alberta Hospital Ponoka, the number of discharges would increase rapidly. From a patient population that reached over 1,700 in the l940’s, many were able to return to their homes or become active citizens in and around Ponoka. There will always be the ongoing support of the Centennial Centre staff as well as excellent professional care and clinical services in the community and countless year-round volunteer individuals and clubs willing to lend a helping hand.

Services such as the Rising Sun Clubhouse have provided countless day-to-day activities and opportunities for members, while group homes and affordable housing units have been steadily added to our community.

Everyone is invited to the gala celebration of ‘100 Years of Caring’ Reunion Weekend July 29 to 31 at the Centennial Centre, the Kinsmen Recreation Centre, the Fort Ostell Museum and in and around Ponoka. It will feature a wonderful sharing of memories as well as a salute to the ongoing care, dedication, and progress by thousands of staff, past and present, as well as to the town and districts of Ponoka for their compassionate support and understanding along the way.

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