A 2007 aerial photo of the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury. Photo courtesy of the Fort Ostell Museum

REFLECTIONS: A personal tribute to our Centennial Centre from 1911 to 2019

By Mike Rainone for the News

There will always be so many fun and favourite memories that are cherished and shared by all of us who were so lucky to have grown up and lived in and around Ponoka over the years. Along the way it was here where we were able to make a whole lot of great friends and acquaintances, while enjoying some fabulous work, social, and family experiences and challenges in a friendly community that yours truly was proudly able to call my favourite home town and stomping grounds for close to 60 years.

I vividly recall my youthful years when our little family somehow got used to Alberta winters, my first days of learning at the big old Red Brick School, and getting to move into our first real home along Riverside Drive. When we arrived in Ponoka in 1948 my father Michael Sr. would begin his employment at the huge Provincial Mental Hospital, while our diminutive mother faithfully kept the home fires burning, a good meal on the table, and always shared a a whole lot of love and patience for all of us, even though the rules were quite strict for my brother Peter and I. When dad became a member of the Recreation Hall staff and joined the P.M.H. Fire Department we all moved into Cottage 53B up on the hospital grounds, right across from the Nurses’ Residence. It was there that we made a whole lot of new friends with the families who lived on the grounds, played for hours with the other children, learned how to curl and play tennis and soccer, and were treated to all sorts of special social and sports family events, especially at Christmas and other holidays.

The Provincial Mental Hospital opened two miles south east of Ponoka in July 1911, and from an initial patient count of 16 would quickly grow over the years into a first class psychiatric treatment and training facility. By the early 1950s the PMH had expanded in all directions, and would be led by a dedicated staff of 450 extending quality special care, social, and occupational therapy programs to a peak population of over 1600 men and women. From the beginning of the 19th century the new vibrant Town and County of Ponoka districts would welcome the ongoing steady arrival of hundreds of families and individuals from near and far who would begin to establish their farms, homes, and businesses, while seeking employment as well as enjoying countless social and recreation amenities and opportunities in all facets of the community urban and rural setting. What is now the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury has seen countless changes, expansions, challenges, successes, and progress over the years, proudly celebrating their 100th Anniversary in 2011 and which was attended by many of the past and present staff members who began their training and longstanding careers at the hospital. Along the way several generations of dedicated staff have been employed in all facets of the massive facility and have always strived to carry on the longstanding traditions and highest quality and standards of treatment and care over the past 108 years. And now they will boldly look into the future for the exciting ongoing opportunity of participating and sharing their unique professional expertise and skills while providing the same quality service as well as adding countless new and excellent treatment programs, services, kindness, compassion, and understanding to hundreds of clients in all areas and roles of the facilities purpose and goals.

We have been so blessed that over the years we got to know and become friends and neighbours with so many families and individuals that were involved with the Provincial Mental Hospital as well as throughout the town and county of Ponoka. It has been a joy to be able to put together so many articles and photos about the Hospital and our great community, and I will always look forward to staying in touch or meeting with as many of these former friends and neighbours that I can. This week I was so pleased to receive this wonderful tribute that was written in 2003 by Shauna Prouten, a former staff member at the Alberta Hospital, and I will share it with you all.

Farewell to AHP

Upon arrival walls marked “Asylum” greeted me

Horrific in its archaic terminology.

Soon I came to understand Asylum meant refuge-

A Safe Place for those with Mental Health to receive treatment and recover.

Walls of compassion and care

People who believe in the abilities of all,

And the gifts they all have to offer … this is what Asylum means!

To Foster Hope and Self Esteem in those rejected by Society’s norms

Souls tormented by voices unheard by Society’s ears

Unloved by Society’s heart and unwanted in Society’s Neighbourhood

To help the emotionally distraught and downtrodden individuals see that this is not the end

It is only the beginning of something wondrous

Each day, walking through the halls, I have been greeted by the reason I am here

The gift I have been given in working at AHP, to have the honour of working with such wonderful beings.

Society is changing, and Mental Illness, although integrating

Remains an Unwanted Child, health care’s treasure trove of resources to be silently repurposed

For some seemingly more important venture

For those who still believe in the roll we play in Mental Wellness

Guard the child … you are his voice

Provide Asylum … you are his safety

Love the child … he is ours.

Twelve years have passed since I first read these words

The time I have spent here has altered my life forever.

A patient once told me, “Once you go to Ponoka you never leave.”

He was right … Ponoka captures your heart!

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