For those us as children of the many staff families who lived up on the massive grounds of the Alberta Hospital, Ponoka through the 1940s and on into the 1970s, there will always be so many fond memories to cherish and share with everyone over the years. We will never forget our daily adventures around the cottages and far beyond, the countless friends that we made, and of the great respect that we gained along the way for the outstanding growth and successes that have been achieved at this first class psychiatric treatment facility.
During our very joyful years living with my parents, Michael and Irene and Brother Peter in cottage 53B across from the nurses’ residence, I fondly remember the Stack family and so many others, and I would like to sincerely thank Yvette Stack for sharing this delightful story with our readers.
The following essay recalls a few memories of what it was like to live on the grounds of PMH, as it was known in those days. My family, consisting of my parents and my two younger brothers, Robert and Maurice, moved to “The Grounds” in 1945, when I was nine years old. My mother, Gabrielle Stack continued to live there until about 1970.
ALBERTA HOSPITAL, PONOKA, 1950
By Yvette Stack
“The hospital dominated the landscape of the rolling parkland of central Alberta, and its presence dominated the lives of those who lived in its shadow. The main building was a solid three storey weathered orange/red brick, with Virginia creeper vines clinging to the main entrance, giving it a deceptively homey look. Annexes and auxiliary buildings sprawled out from the center, all connected by a maze of tunnels and corridors.
Behind the hospital was the water tower, the tallest structure in central Alberta, visible for miles. Around the tower, the maintenance buildings were clustered: the powerhouse, tinsmith shop, furniture shop, sewing rooms, the bakery, the kitchens, and the canner. Beyond these buildings there was a narrow road, then a skating rink, and the curling rink.
Fanning out from the hospital buildings, were three long, winding tree-lined lanes, each with a row of houses for the staff and their families. Strict hierarchy was observed among the staff and this was reflected in the housing. The doctors’ row consisted of only five houses: two large imposing stucco two-storey homes and three smaller bungalows. They were surrounded by caragana hedges which enclosed spacious lawns and vegetable gardens. Inside, there were hardwood floors and fireplaces.
Behind the doctors’ row were the tennis courts and the bowling greens, for the use of patients and staff. Beyond that area was a second row of houses. Most of these were brick duplexes. They were two storeys, built of brick, with screened- in verandas, also covered with Virginia Creeper. Here too were the caragana hedges, but the yards were small. These houses had only a kitchen and living room, a pantry, and upstairs, two bedrooms and bath. Here lived some of the psychiatric nurses or attendants and their families. The two houses at the end of this row were not duplexes. They had four bedrooms and dining rooms and large yards, though not quite as large as the doctors’ yards. These houses were for the business manager and his family, and for the head steam engineer and his family. Across the road from this row was a strip of forest separating us from the nurses’ residence. Behind the houses across the alley was a ravine full of stinging nettles and trees, with a creek at the bottom, which could become quite dangerous in spring.
On the other side of the curling rink was the third row. These houses were frame duplexes, again with screened in verandas. They were for other employees of the hospital; tradesmen, technicians and so on.
The houses were all part of hospital property and belonged to the provincial government. But until about 1950 there were also two small lanes of privately owned houses. For some reason, those in authority decreed that these houses couldn’t stay on government property and so they were all moved down the road towards town, where many still remain today.
The hospital was a self sufficient community, not unlike the monasteries of medieval times, and so it had its own farms and gardens. There were acres and acres of vegetable gardens; cabbages, corn, peas, beans, beets, turnips, salad vegetables, and whole fields of potatoes.
Beyond the gardens were fields of sheep, and beyond that, the dairy farm. There were three more staff houses at the dairy farm, and one mile south of that, the chicken farm, with still another house.”
Yvette’s Stack’s story and pictures of the Alberta Hospital grounds will be continued in future editions of Reflections in the Ponoka News.