Here is a 1980s photo of the always very busy sewing room staff at the Provincial Mental Hospital, which along with the tailor shop have been providing all sorts of clothing needs and repairs for hundreds of patients and staff since the opening of the psychiatric treatment and training facility in 1912. Photo submitted

Sewing and serving the patients and staff of the Alberta Hospital for decades

Looking at the many support staffs at then sewing room and tailor shop at the Alberta Hospital

By Mike Rainone for the News

Among my very favourite memories of working for 10 great years at the Ponoka Rising Sun Club House was filling the big van with members to visit the always busy sewing room and boutique at the Alberta Hospital (now Centennial Centre).

It was there amongst a big room full of colourful material, fancy and noisy machines, and hundreds of hangers and boxes full of clothes for all occasions that the congenial staff would patiently assist hundreds of excited clients and staff to find and fit an item or two of seasonal clothing and uniforms for all occasions, as well as skillfully repairing something precious that had become a little worn.

A long history of sewing and sharing

From the very beginning when the Provincial Mental Hospital opened on the big hill south of Ponoka there has always been a sewing room to prepare and repair clothes for the rapidly growing population of patients and staff that were arriving every day from throughout Alberta, Canada, and the world. Mrs. Alfred (Anna) Lawrence was the lead staff member from June 4, 1912 to June 23, 1928, and was replaced by Mrs. Henry, who also supervised the making of all female staff uniforms as well as dresses, nightgowns, dressing gowns, and countless other articles for the patients. Mrs. William (Rose) Bowden served as the charge of the sewing room from 1932 to 1940 and was followed by Miss Edith Peacock, who faithfully served in that position for 32 years, as well as being very active in the community as a member of the Anglican Church and the St. John’s Ambulance Association.

It was very interesting to note that the hospital sewing shop also kept 12 female patients employed at all times, and as an example of the always growing demand for these services, their impressive work list of 1933 would include the preparation for the hospital of no less than: 75 blue uniforms, 73 blue pants, 564 corduroy trousers, 449 corduroy coats, 1162 shirts, 72 cook’s trousers, 62 cook’s coats, and 3 cook’s caps, 4 surgeon’s white trousers, 116 white overalls, 31 restraint suits, 54 pyjama suits, 364 nightshirts, 219 white smocks, three laboratory coats, 82 kitchen aprons, 175 white attendant’s coats, 30 rubber aprons, 1202 ties, 2036 sheets, 608 towels, 64 re-covered mattresses, 813 pillow cases, 176 strong blankets, 1 special mattress cover, 151 rubber sheets, 17 bath hammocks, 41 pack blankets, 89 tablecloths, two pack mattresses, 14 bath covers, 171 draw sheets, one strong bed cover, 10 pack sheets, one cushion and pillow, 51 pillow ticks, 13 recovered sheep-skins, and one billiard table cover. The hospital tailor shop staffs were also responsible for making all the male staff uniforms, white coats, sheets, pillowslips, and related mending jobs. Some of the early tailors in this department were Wilfred Potter, Albert Bedard, and Frank Turner, along with seamstresses Olga Fate and Mary Olsen. Over the years both the sewing room and the tailor shop were always given dedicated support from the staff of the PMH laundry, which opened in 1911, cleaned and pressed hundreds of thousands of items, and still continues this vital 24-7 operation at the Centennial Centre to this day. As well as their regular day-to-day tasks, both the sewing room and tailor shop never hesitated to take on some very special projects such as making banners for special celebrations, as well as all sorts of costumes, hats, and unique outfits for Christmas concerts and countless other annual events at the Recreation Hall, on the wards, and throughout the hospital.

With the opening of the Alberta Hospital Boutique in the 1990s, the overwhelming and kind and ongoing support of the residents of the town and county of Ponoka and beyond resulted in thousands of items being donated every year to assist over 500 very appreciative hospital clients. Vehicles full of all sorts of clothes for men and women were delivered to the hospital year round, as well as warm coats, socks, toques, and gloves for the extremely cold Alberta winter seasons. The Boutique, which is now located in the main street area of the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury is open on regular hours to serve the patients, with a lot of kind assistance and good advice over the years from the dedicated volunteers.

The now over 1,000 Reflections and Remember When weekly features that have appeared in your Ponoka News have been made possible over the past ten years thanks to the wonderful contributions of photos and story ideas from so many families and individuals from both the Town and County of Ponoka, and beyond, as well as the ongoing support of the congenial staff at the Fort Ostell Museum. We love to tell the great tales of our colourful history, to salute our pioneer families, individuals, and teams, and to celebrate special events, milestones, and community efforts and causes of both yesterday and today. If you have a story idea or some classic old photos please contact Mike Rainone a call at 403-341-5750, email: jrainone@telus.net, or get in touch with the Ponoka News at 403-783-3311 and we can arrange a casual interview.

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